Looking Forward, Looking Back

Mother and Daddy at home on the farm
Mother and Daddy at home on the farm

I always get contemplative at this time of year.  I think we all go into the new year hoping for the best, making resolutions, looking for better days.  Most of us think, “If I could lose 20 pounds, my life would change for the better,” or “If I got a new job, everything would be great!”  We look back as well.  Remembering the bad times and the good, progress made or lost–I think of that Bruce Springsteen line, “One step forward, two steps back.”

A lot of us have had to face a new reality during the years of the Great Recession and afterward.  The old life is not coming back.  That job, that money, that ease of living, will not be ours again.  It’s the new normal, and unpleasant as it may be, we have to adjust.

Like most people in their 50s, I didn’t expect this.  But when I remember my parents, I see that it happened to them as well, for different reasons.

Daddy worked for several years for a government contractor driving ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) into the tunnels where they were stored after the warheads were assembled.  Yes, that’s really what my dad did for a living!  But when the Vietnam War came about, gradually the cold war lost emphasis, government spending for nuclear “defense” was cut–and Daddy was laid off.  His life was never the same.

He was reduced to doing hard physical labor, unloading trucks and carrying meat in to the commissary freezers at Ft. Campbell, KY when he was in his late 50s.  He had a heart attack and couldn’t do that job any more, so he drove a school bus.  All the while he was farming our small farm.  He died of his second heart attack not long after I graduated from college.

The good news in all this was, he loved the farm and was never happier than when he was feeding the cows or driving the tractor.  We managed to keep our house and the farm despite mortgages, and when Daddy died there was property to sell so Mother had something to live on.  It was never carefree or easy, but we had family and friends and fun.

So when I feel like whining I try to remember that this is a new cycle and I’ve been given a second chance to keep going, to make this life work.  And hopefully to have some fun along the way!

Father’s Day Special: Don’t Try This at Home

Daddy and Mother

I’m the youngest of five children, and there are almost 20 years between my oldest sister and me.  Daddy turned 40 years old not long after I was born.  That’s not unusual today, but in my parents’ day they were considered old enough to be grandparents!   There are seven years between the next-to-youngest and me, so I’m sure Mother and Daddy thought their family was done long before I came along.

You’d think they would not have been pleased, but from all accounts they were thrilled.  Even when I was a teenager, Daddy still spent time with me and did things with me, difficult as that was for him with a girl who wasn’t athletic, and at a time when we didn’t have money to spare for movies or dinners out.

One inspiration he had falls squarely into the “don’t try this at home” category.  It rarely snowed more than a dusting in our part of Tennessee–ice storms were more prevalent.  So any snow was a huge treat and a special occasion.  One winter we got a few inches of snow, and school was closed.  I had a sled, but the runners kept getting bogged down in the wet snow.  Then Daddy had his big idea.  He took a discarded car hood from my uncle’s garage, and chained it upside-down to the back of his tractor.  “Get on the hood, baby doll, and hold on!” he said.

We spent a good part of the afternoon going up and down the slushy, ice-slick road with the tractor and car hood.  Looking back on it now, I wonder why the hood didn’t slide into the tractor’s rear wheels, and how on earth I kept from falling off.  But I had no problems at the time, and it was exhilirating to ride and slide in the cold.

Finally we went home, and Daddy unchained the hood.  My boy cousins next door had been watching enviously.  “Uncle George, could we use that car hood?” Dale asked.  Daddy said they could.  Dale and Don launched themselves down a hill, completely unable to steer the hood.  They hit a tree and Don broke his arm.  Oops!  Like I said, don’t try this at home!