Monday, March 21, 2011

The past is another country...

My dear grandchildren, sometimes we have to digress a bit. Life is about more than just our personal pleasures.

I've come to the conclusion that I'm an old man. Not old in years by current standards perhaps but far removed from my past and living in another country. L. P. Hartley's opening line in "The Go Betweens", "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there," has been paraphrased as "The past is another country." It is so widely known because it is so very true and as we age we see the truth of it more clearly.

In my country a man held the door for a woman and didn't expect an interlewd in return. In my country children minded their manners around adults and listened to them because they were older, bigger, and interesting. They didn't dare be rude or see them solely as a source of prescription pharmaceuticals. That is no longer true.

I remember great adventures when I was young. Walking down the hill and across the highway to the post office in Huntersville, WV to get the mail. I was just 6 years old. I also walked to school, two rooms one above the other and that about the same distance behind the house. I've no doubt now that Mom watched me but I didn't think so at the time. I was on my own. Later, I escorted a younger boy across downtown Elkins to the YMCA for swim classes. Neither his parents or mine felt that was out of line and I was just 8-years old. We stopped once to see the toys in the Western Auto. Mom knew we'd been there and I was corrected for not following instructions. On reflection, the store must have called my mother. I would also walk across town to Dad's office on the other side of the park, near the Davis and Elkins campus to see him or if Mom wasn't home after school. Later I wandered around Menifee County, Kentucky and met a number of interesting people. Even later we'd bicycle from Bridgewater to Dayton and back, walk to and from school and so forth. We couldn't allow that with our children. What a pity.

In that other country a grilled cheese sandwich and strawberry pie at the Jerry's Restaurant in Winchester, Kentucky was a real treat. Now, it is just another, less than filling, night of eating out. I used to enjoy the rainy days of summer vacation reading a book or Reader's Digest while listening to my parents and grandparents discuss sundry happenings to family, friends and community. I could close my eyes and smell the mouthwatering smells of good food cooking in the kitchen. I could get a little closer to the pot-bellied stove and it would take off the damp. We stayed up late to watch man go to the moon and come back.

As we got older and learned to drive we asked permission to take the car to school, loaded the shotgun in the trunk and after school went dove, quail, grouse, squirrel, rabbit or deer hunting. Our teachers would sometimes ask to borrow a boy's pocket knife (and you were expected to have one). Boys might get in fights at school but a teacher would simply break it up and then scold them. Nobody ever pulled out their pocket knife or ran to the parking lot to get their shotgun. Never.

Everybody who lived in those times thinks about this now and again. Massad Ayoob even published a letter from a resource officer (as we call the police in the schools hereabouts) who talks about how the children are all too aware of the circumstances in which they live. I wish I could reproduce the whole letter here but can't and I hope you take the time to follow the link and read it. When you have a child tell you to arm yourself against the bad guys you have proof positive that we've allowed our society to deteriorate, perhaps beyond immediate redemption. Yes, the past was another country and we did things differently there...

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