Fond recollections of the past often seem to overlook that much of those by-gone eras were not as pleasant as some imagine
I get a kick out of reading comments from what I can only consider to be “good but simple-minded” people who reflect back on earlier times as the “good old days”. A time when “men were men and women were glad of it” (I want to attribute that quote to Groucho Marx but I’m thinking it was Moe Howard of 3 Stooges fame).
The refrain from such people also tend to muse about how it was a time when life was simple and each person carried his own weight, lifting himself up by his bootstraps and knew who his neighbors were. I think to myself when I hear this, “did such a world exist in my lifetime”? To be honest I’m pretty sure it didn’t. Perhaps it may seem like it to some now when there is more demand for our time in a more technically advanced culture; where the news cycle changes in seconds rather than days and weeks back when.
And if you thought I was being chauvinistic for using the male gender to describe this bygone era, its only because males were the dominant character in a time that must surely be when these “good but simple-minded” people reflect back on. Constant references to what our founding fathers intended comes from people who seem oblivious of the fact that these great men were essentially white aristocrats that maintained traditions where only the landed gentry could vote (women were not granted this right for better than another century) and blacks were only counted as three-fifths of person as a compromise for Southern plantation owners who for the most part didn’t recognize their slaves as human at all.
If such an idealized time truly did exist it was long before I or my parents’ parents time here on earth. For such a condition to exist would had to have been in a time when this country was first being settled. People in those “good old days” pulled themselves up by their bootstraps or went to the aid of their neighbors, not because they were god-fearing humanitarians as much as it were that they were isolated out in frontier regions where other human contact was minimal at best and failure to address your needs or help a neighbor was out of necessity.
There is this romantic notion out there by many conservative-oriented people who bemoan the fact that things have changed for the worst over the last half century. Much of this can be heard in the conversations, or shouting, from the right-leaning Tea Party crowd who are always wondering aloud where their America has gone to.
Most of these folks are no older than I am and some are considerably younger, so I’m confused as to what America they are referring to. Now, granted it seems like kids are more disrespectful to their elders today than when I was a kid but you wouldn’t have gotten that impression from my Mom back when I was a teen. Not that I was disrespectful towards her (at least I didn’t think so) but none-the-less, that was the expressed sentiment I heard from her frequently AND from my grand-mother.
It’s true too that the pace was a bit slower then but I can also recall hearing complaints about how it took forever to do this and forever to do that. Standing in line longer may have been accepted back then or waiting for an order to arrive but it was never found to be something we would look back fondly on. Yes, the years of our youth do seem happier and carefree but that may have had something to with the fact that we were youths, not responsible adults who had to worry about getting a pay check and providing for our families.
There is also the notion by this sentimental crowd that your neighbors were always there to help you when you needed it instead of looking for assistance from the government as many are accused of doing today. There is an element of truth to that in more rural communities and small towns but that would depend on the extent of the help needed.
There is only so much others can do to help their neighbors, friends and family when there is a crisis. Not everyone had the resources and time to disrupt their own life and put things back in order for individuals who just happened to occupy an area in close proximity to them. These needs usually went unmet and either people somehow managed to suffer through their ill-fate, occasionally coming back into their own, or where many perished or simply disappeared from sight after languishing so long.
One writer to the “Letters to the Editor” column in my local paper recently ruminated over how weak we have become as a people who rely too heavily on the government to “address and solve” our problems today. “In 1920” the writer opined, “if it came a heavy rain and washed out a culvert, folks would get together and fix it. Today, in the same situation, the media, political leaders and individuals begin hollering immediately to FEMA and begging publically(sic) to the governor, the president, and every politician between here and there to ‘declare this a federal disaster’.” (You can read his letter here)
I’ve never known any federal agency to get involved fixing someone’s culvert, especially if it only affected their property. Somehow this “good but simpleminded” person equates the damage a “heavy rain” does to a small culvert to that of the massive damage a force four Hurricane does to an entire city or region. Little did it seem to dawn on this writer that back in the 1920’s there were no federal or even state agencies to help citizens address the damage done by natural disasters.
People then were forced to help each other just as they are today in the immediate aftermath of destructive forces that overcome us. But long-term help either came from government assistance that was created to meet that special one time circumstance or it didn’t come at all, especially for many families whose income was inadequate to rebuild. Flood and natural disaster insurance wasn’t available to most people then just as it isn’t now in the private sector.
The National Flood Insurance Act passed in 1968 was a reaction by our government to cover this deficiency. Those independent types that “good but simple-minded” people today harken back to were not always bright enough to realize they had built in a flood plain and there were no local regulations to prevent them from doing so if city fathers were even aware of this condition. So, the belief that neighbors were always there to help rebuild a man’s culvert was probably less likely to happen if the fool who built it lived in a flood zone and didn’t have the common sense to use structurally sound materials.
Information of this sort became part of what is now just a fraction of the services our government provides to its citizens. Those taxes we all think are being taken from us may be a form of socialism but not all so-called “socialist” practices are undesirable.
From someone who hasn’t a clue what it was like to live in the world of the 1920’s, that “good but simple-minded” writer to the Letters column never considered I’m sure that those bucolic types he yearned for were likely to have beseeched their government during these extreme conditions for some assistance. The fact that such agencies with assistance programs exist today to use our tax dollars to help such victims get back on their feet is likely the result of much wishful thinking back in the good old days. Many of those in that by-gone era who are romanticized today would most likely have taken advantage of this opportunity had such beneficial programs been in place at the time.
So, next time you hear that tired old yarn about the good old days, take note to who is saying it and what time period they are referring to. If they are white and male they probably do miss a time that they primarily benefitted from. I’m sure most women, blacks and other minorities don’t have equally fond recollections.
And if the time is closer to colonial periods then we can probably say with some certainty that if they were to find themselves in that time when health care was still, to a large degree, medieval in practice and toilet paper was unheard of, the future would be what many of them would be yearning for, not “the good old days”.