I have always admired songwriters because they seem to have a unique way of conveying complicated feelings in short, simple phrases.
The headline for this column comes from one of my favorite singer-songwriters, Cheryl Wheeler. The phrase comes from a song she wrote about her father turning 75 years old.
I have no idea how it happened, but I recently turned 75 myself. It seems as if it was only a flash of time back to when I was 15 years old, listening to the hits by Elvis Presley, and being in on the beginning of the great folk revolution in music.
Things were so much different back then. Most people living today probably haven’t thought much about what we didn’t have 50 or 60 years ago. Today’s hunters don’t think about how there were no deer or turkeys in southern Illinois back then. There were more rabbits and quail, but hunting was just something to do on Thanksgiving afternoon, or a few other times. It was a local outing for men and boys. Almost no one traveled to southern Illinois for hunting trips other than goose hunters.
Nature lovers could also not find river otters or beaver, and it was very rare to see an eagle.
We also did not have interstate highways, so, of course, the traffic was heavy on U.S. 45 going through Vienna, Metropolis and Brookport. The through-town traffic certainly did provide more income for people renting rooms, selling gasoline or providing meals. Some would say, those were the good old days. For people graduating from high school, there were very few scholarships or student loans. So, college was just a dream for most people from lower income families. I am pleased to say that tattoos, which are everywhere today, were almost never seen 50 years ago. Tattoos were mostly seen on the arms of sailors who had ink to honor their ship, mark their unit, or designate crossing the equator. I would really like to see us go back to that situation.
We did have a wide variety of mom-and-pop stores and restaurants. The little grocery stores were in walking distance of nearly everyone in towns.
Of course, in the larger towns, there were Sears & Roebuck and J. C. Penny stores where one could buy just about everything they really needed. And, for people unable to travel to the larger towns, there were the Sears and Montgomery Ward catalogs. They were the Amazon of earlier times. When I was young there were many families that either had no vehicle, or only had the farm pickup, which was used to go to town on Saturdays and church on Sundays. Very few families had more than one car. And, the cars were very basic. In the 1950s most all cars were straight shift, and maybe had an AM radio.
None of them had seatbelts.
In western Kentucky where I grew up, most every pickup had a gun rack with a rifle and a shotgun. But those guns were almost never used in anger.
In my little town of Calhoun, there were lots of poor people, and lots of middle-class people. But almost no one appeared to be rich.
Maybe it was because people back then in rural areas didn’t try to show off how much money they had.
I can remember one family in town had a Cadillac, and another family had a Lincoln. But, I think both of those cars were bought used.
I guess anyone who is 75 or older should know some secrets to life. But really important secrets are hard to find, and even harder to share.
So I’ll call on another famous singer-songwriter, Iris Dement, who says, ”I think that easy is getting harder every day.”
Of course, easy things are very difficult in this time of the coronavirus. It has been so hard on people all over the world, and it is a long way from being over.
In my 75 years this pandemic is probably the hardest thing most people have had to endure. People in Europe would say that World War II was much worse, and for them it was.
But here in America, where we have been able to escape the total destruction of wars, this pandemic is killing thousands of people and driving the rest of us crazy trying to avoid the virus.
Here in Massac County there have been almost 125 people who have had COVID19 and two have died from it.
But unlike the people who have fought our wars, we don’t know the names of those who have had the virus or succumbed to it. That is something new to rural areas.
I will close with another phrase from an Iris Dement song. She says, “Well I am older now, and I just don’t have time to cry.”
Well, I still have time to cry, like when I hear taps being played at a veteran’s burial, when a child never lives to adulthood, or when we lose someone who has worked so hard to improve our lives, like Ruth Bader Ginsburg.