Dad says, “The good old days were mostly just old.” He has gotten a couple of magazines about the old days over time, and they seem to be quite popular, but I am beginning to notice that most of the pieces are written, like mine, from the point of view of the kids! Seldom have I seen one by a farmer, touting the romantic benefits of rising well before dawn in the coldest month of the years to hand milk his herd before breakfast. Or of the other half of the farming pair, also up before dawn to stir up the fire, make a heavy breakfast, get the kids up, get the water hot and a million other things before the guy got back from the barn and the young ones were off to school (two miles, up hill both ways, right?)
These are winter thoughts, but it is winter. But no water froze in my bedside glass overnight, and thought the cat sleeps on my feet, my toes didn’t get frost-bitten over night even before the latest feline addition to my household. I am not sure we can totally appreciate what we do have, ever. Folks seem to think that hardship turns out a closer family and better morals but that is not a given – there are better and more gifted people in any generation, and there are always people with less charity and courage. There have always been homeless people, grinchy sorts, kind souls – cold weather seems to show these up more that summer does. Back in the early 1800s in northeast Vermont, a woman and her children were on the road and denied shelter by neighbors who sent her on the road to the nearest village. They all died in a snowbank of exposure and the neighbors were all appalled and resolved to have a better system. That is a thin reference, yes, and is lacking names and dates, but I can’t recall where I read it, and looking at many of my Vermont sources was not able to come up with it. I apologize, but I didn’t make it up!) Rowland Robinson, who is renowned for his anti-slavery work and stance, was also angrily against French Canadian residents and warned how they would degrade the Vermont quality. These things are omitted or glossed over by people touting the state, and I will admit to doing it myself. But try not to make the mistake of thinking it was a Williamsburg sort of community with only the best characteristics and finest people.
We are warm and wonderful and welcoming — and also standoffish, hard, and have blinders on. It’s not all one way or another (even Williamsburg!) So it is with the good old days – some things were great, easy to remember, peaceful and strong. But there has always been poverty, loneliness, rejection, and just plain meanness. It is the same all over. We are blessed with some of the most beautiful scenery in the world, but as one friend, struggling to pay his property tax and told that the prices had increased because of his beautiful surroundings, said, in his ture Yankee voice, “Well, you can’t eat scenery.”
I have been told many times how much you like reading these pieces, and I don’t intend to spend much time on the depressing side. But I would like to make it clear that I have never lived in Utopia, any more that you have, or our forbears did. Remember what my dad says: “The good old days were mostly just old.” As to new days, I hope the coming year is good to you all.