Welcome to My Time Machine
Pull up a chair on the porch here. I’ve got a nice cup of hot chocolate for you, and a story to tell. It’s a magical story because it actually transports us back to the 50’s and 60’s, kind of a time-machine-story if you will. I’m not sure how it works, the physics of it all, but I promise you it won’t be a bumpy ride at all.
Are you comfortable? If so, let me pull this lever down, adjust the speed control so you don’t get motion sickness, and we’ll pull away from the curb of reality as smoothly as possible.
A Valuable Lesson From the Great Depression
There really is no way to explain to others what the Great Depression was like. I’ve heard countless stories from my parents and grandparents. I’ve seen countless videos, and read multiple books and still, I can’t wrap my brain around how bad it was for working-class families. We are going through some tough times, as a nation, during this COVID thing, but we aren’t even close to approaching the horror of the 1920’s.
Bank accounts simply disappeared as banks closed. Homes were foreclosed on at all-time record rates. People only had the food they could grow, or they could stand in “bread lines” for hours, hoping there would be a loaf of bread waiting for them after the long wait. People literally ate dandelion soup, or “weed broth,” for their only nourishment.
And, worst of all, hope was lost!
My dad dropped out of high school after his sophomore year, making him what, sixteen, and rode on freight trains across the Midwest in search of part-time work, so he could send a few dollars back to his mother. My grandparents lost most of their 300-acre corn farm to the bank.
It was horrible, and even saying it was horrible doesn’t come close to capturing the horror of it.
I remember asking my parents, when I was old enough to care and comprehend, what lessons they learned from it all. Did any of it help them in any way?
My mother told me that people grew closer to their neighbors. She said it was not unusual at all for neighbors with a little extra to bring that extra over to a neighbor’s home or farm. If someone had a bounty of potatoes during the summer, they would separate out what their family needed, and then share the rest. People would go to churches and leave old clothing there for people to pick up. They would do whatever it took to make sure no one felt hopeless and alone.
My dad told me he learned that most jobs around a house or property were jobs he could learn to do himself because, well, during the Great Depression, people didn’t have money to pay repairmen. Things like plumbing problems and electrical repairs and just basic carpentry jobs, a person learned how to do them all using the “trial and error” method.
And all of those lessons carried over into the 50’s and 60’s. My parents were generous, giving people when I knew them. My mother was quite active at the church, helping to prepare meals for the poor, and working on clothing drives. And my dad, God bless his soul, I don’t think he ever called a repairman during the twenty years I knew him. He just dove into any repair job with determination and grit.
And I was right alongside them both, soaking up lessons, and learning during my pre-teen and teen years.
Both of my parents believed it was important to teach me those valuable lessons. They believed it was important for me to have multiple skills in case, God forbid, times got tough again and I needed to fend for my family. So every weekend I was following my dad around, doing odd jobs, learning how to fix a light fixture or stop a leaky pipe, and every Sunday I would go to church with Mom and help her tend to the needy.
An odd, random memory: my dad wouldn’t allow me to get my driver’s license until I proved to him that I could change a flat tire, change the oil in the car, and change the sparkplugs. That’s just the way it was! No son of Dale LeRoy Holland was going to call a repairman to fix a damned tire! And I couldn’t get my driver’s license until I learned how to drive both an automatic and a manual transmission.
I can’t say I always appreciated having my spare time taken away from me. There were many times I grumbled about missing out on a pickup baseball game. But I went, and I learned, and today, fifty years later, I look to the skies and shout thanks to my parents for taking the time to teach me how to survive in this sometimes-cruel world.
I Wonder About Today’s Kids
I’m not one of those guys who sits on his front porch and grumbles about the young whipper-snappers who don’t know how to tie their shoes and chew gum at the same time. Live and let live is pretty much the Bible of Living I follow. If kids want to spend all of their spare time playing video games, or hanging out on social media, so be it. But I do wonder if parents, these days, aren’t doing a disservice to their kids if they don’t teach them how to be a bit more self-sufficient.
What will those kids do, twenty years from now, when another pandemic arrives on our shores? What will they do if they lose their job and have very little disposable money available for repairs or food? What will they do if they have no practical experience to draw upon when times get tough?
But then this thought just came to me: what if their parents don’t have the skills to teach their kids those lessons? We are far-removed from the Great Depression. We have had at least two generations come, and go, since those days. It’s entirely possible that the majority of adults say, between the ages of 25-50, have no clue how to do basic repairs or grow vegetables or succeed with a craft.
This is just one reason, among many, why I continually tell kids that I think they should give some thought to going to trade school rather than college. People need plumbers and electricians and HVAC technicians and carpenters more now than ever in our history, and twenty years from now those skills will be like gold in the marketplace.
Just random thoughts as I sit on the porch, looking out over our millennial neighborhood.
All I Know for Sure Is This
I’m very grateful to my parents for taking the time to teach me how to be self-sufficient. They wanted the best for their boy, but they also knew times would come when the best simply was not available, and during those times their little Billy better be able to fend for himself.
Listen, thanks for taking the time to sit with me and “listen” to my musings. It seems to be pretty predictable that old men spend a lot of time thinking about life and lessons learned, ruminating, if you will, sometimes to others, but most often to themselves. So it was nice of you to pay attention while I headed off on this tangent.
Any old time you want to chat you can find me on the porch, looking out at life, pondering heavy matters of the mind and heart.
2020 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)