A few days ago I made arrangements with a buyer to pick up some old 45 rmp records I had for sale on Craigslist. I had suspected by the sound of the man’s voice that he was elderly, and when he pulled up to my house and got out of his car the shock of white hair and stoop in his walk confirmed it. I greeted him in the driveway and handed him the records. As he was looking them over I remembered that when I was giving him directions to my house he seemed very familiar with the area. I have had a long time interest in the history of where I currently live, which is close to where I grew up. There are the ghosts of coal mines and brickyards and clay pits. Icehouses, shacks and little houses used to dot the landscape of the river, along with crumbling landmarks of the past that still linger. I decided to ask the old man a question about one of them. He didn’t know for sure what used to be in the area I was wondering about, but said he knew a lady that lived in a little house on the river close to where we were talking about. And that was all it took. For the next solid hour as we stood in my driveway the floodgates of his memory burst open and out poured his recollections of the area and the people who lived there.
His name was “Bud” and he was discharged from the Army in 1946 and drove a cab part time until the 1950’s. He didn’t mention what else he did for a living after that, instead preferring to delve into earlier times. While listening to Bud recount his childhood experiences I began to notice a reoccurring element of contentment and even happiness. Although his family lived with very little he never considered that they were living in poverty, or that they were even poor. They had food, shelter, and each other. What else was needed?
His uncle lived in a little house on a hill overlooking the river that had no running water or electricity and there was an outhouse in the yard. Every day the uncle climbed down the hill to fill a pail of water to cook and wash with. Bud, as a little boy, got every toy he ever owned from this uncle, who was friends with the local junkman. The junkman salvaged and fixed the broken things he could that were dumped in his junkyard, and all of the repaired toys went to the uncle to be passed on to Bud.
Just a few generations ago there were people who could not know about texting and cell phones, computers and cable TV and all of the other things we busy ourselves with today. Bud is a gentle reminder of a people who lit lamps while cooking supper, felt in their bones the weariness of hard, honest work while living lives that rang ancient, simple and true.