Because today is my birthday, and whenever I have a birthday, I like to look back and reflect. I think back of the days when I was a boy growing up, observing my grandfather ease through his remaining days. He mostly hung with the other retired guys at the soda fountain on Main street where he played cards. He tinkered in his garage, tinkered with grandma, smoked his pipe, and always sat in his chair in front of the TV for the evening news broadcast. Like him, most days I too now sit and relax more often. I like watching the neighbor folks going about their business, working and interacting with each other. I also enjoy watching the children play and I can watch them for hours. (Although I cannot speak the language, I am beginning to understand the dialect of Waray. I believe I pick up more language listening to the children while they interact when playing their games on the street just outside our gate.) Observing them reminds me of my boyhood days where we would spend hours on end outside playing. My mother was a hard-working woman who raised six kids (me being the oldest) and I can remember she was the worrying type. What woman wouldn’t worry with all them kids? But she always seemed at peace when we were all outside playing…unless we didn’t come home at meal time.
On the internet, there is no shortage (to us baby boomers) of reminders about how things “used to be” when growing up. The complete matrix runs through tales of the good ‘ole days, from drinking from the garden hose to nightly curfews signaled by the lighting of the streetlights. Many of us are always reminded of the “good old days” every time that online meme comes around: “You know you grew up in the 50’s & 60’s when…”.
As my generation passed through the working years, we all eventually would sucumb to the societal merry-go-round, whereby once you get on, there was no getting off. It just keeps turning and, just like with centrifugal force and gravity, it never ends and we are forced into changing our ways, to keep pace with the rest of society. I call it “forced acceptance.” It seems from year to year, we were forced to think and act differently from what we were used to. That’s called change (these days it’s called political correctness). Some folks became materialistic while others learned to go with the flow. Today though, materialism seems to have gotten the best of many.
I remember when my wife and I relocated from California to North Mississippi in 1995. It was like going back in time…literally. We left what we perceived as an overly progressive society where many liberties had already been curtailed or lost, to a place where people still took the time out of a busy day to talk with strangers, and smoking was still allowed in public places (not that is a good thing). It seemed strange. Really strange. Shortly after arriving in Mississippi, I can vividly remember the day I met up with a younger fellow who had his truck advertised for sale in the local paper. Rather than give me directions to his house, he offered to meet me along the highway where I could then follow him to his house. It’s a good thing because I would have never found it. Once we left the highway, we travelled about a half mile then turned off on a gravel road. Then about a half mile further, the road became dirt and after two more turns, we ended up in a small clearing with about four homes. Well, cottages were more like it. It was like taking a step back in time. I spotted the truck immediately. It was a 1980 GMC and definitely looked its age (about 15 years old). Upon pulling up to the front of his simple dwelling, his young wife (I guessed about 20 years old) and their 4 children (a simple assumption) accompanied her onto the front porch. I should also probably mention that she looked pregnant, since I am painting a picture here. We approached the truck, opened the hood and he proceeded to crank it up. It was loud as loud could be, given that both exhaust manifold gaskets needed replacing. It was also a large engine. He said it was a 454 and I think he was trying to sell to me thinking bigger is better, but I believed it was the stock 400 that GM used up until 1981. Any way it was a monster engine. I asked him what kind of gas mileage it got and you would have thought I asked him to describe an infrared surface to air missile system. After a short, really confused look, he simply replied (in a strong Mississippi drawl “I’m not to sure ’bout dose things, but it’s fine!” He then proceeded to explain how far his place of work was and how many times he could get there and back on a quarter tank of gas (not many).
So after I told him I would think about it, I thanked him for his time, we waved goodby to the nice family (with no shoes) still standing on the front porch, and we drove off. I never went back. Upon leaving my wife says to me that she was reminded of back home in the Philippines (her own reflection, not mine). I told her, “Oh, you ain’t seen ‘nutin yet!” and reminded her that the KKK was still holding active meetings the next county over*.
I guess what I am eluding to here was that these uneducated county folks seemed happy. They didn’t have much but they did have enough smiles to go around to last a full day! He had a job that paid money, she had a job raising young’uns, they had meals to eat and they enjoyed a simple life. And that brings me to the following story I happened across the other day. Reading this was a deja vu moment for me and reminded me of that one day in Mississippi.
One day a very wealthy father took his son on a trip to the country for the sole purpose of showing his son how it was to be poor. They spent a few days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family.
After their return from the trip, the father asked his son how he liked the trip. “It was great, Dad,” the son replied. “Did you see how poor people can be?” the father asked. “Oh Yeah,” said the son.
“So what did you learn from the trip?” asked the father. The son answered, “I saw that we have one dog and they had four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lanterns in our garden and they have the moon and stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard and they have the whole horizon.
We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that go beyond our sight. We have servants who serve us, but they serve others.
We buy our food, but they grow theirs. We have walls around our property to protect us, they have friends to protect them.” The boy’s father was speechless. Then his son added, “It showed me just how poor we really are.”
The Final Frontier – Retirement!
Too many times we forget what we have and concentrate on what we don’t have. What is one person’s worthless object is another’s prize possession. It is all based on one’s perspective. Sometimes all it takes is the perspective of a child or, more seemingly, a step back in time to remind us what’s important. When we finally left Mississippi some 18 years later, we once again took a step back in time…a big step! We made our move to the Philippines. This time though it felt entirely different…because it was what we choose to do. And life got better…again.
* FYI, when we left Mississippi in mid 2013, the KKK was still regularly meeting in Pontotoc, Mississippi.