At the end of a hot summer day this phrase could often be heard around our household as the boys returned from the day’s adventure. It was not so much that my father was displeased at the sight of us but that our disheveled appearance required some form of comment. Whether it was sports or chores or just good ol’ playing in the dirt we would ware ourselves out, much to our delight.After our chores were done we were allowed to freely pursue our own interests. And as boys we seldom stood still. There were three of us. I was the youngest. Dad took pleasure in our rough play but only until there was blood, tears or an annoyed mother.What a privilege to grow up with such freedom.My father did not grow up this way. He was an orphan, separated from his half-brother and troubled mother. He would work his way through high school on a
neighbor’s farm. He would live through the Depression and survive World War II. He didn’t complain. He never had the privilege. “I’ve had a good life”, he would say.
Both my parents were raised on farms in the Midwest. My mother would be her high school valedictorian but she never went to college. None of us could ever beat her in Scrabble. She would be the first to provide excuses for us. “Just got the good letters,” she would say. They were both hard workers. They wanted more for us than we wanted for ourselves. Neither of them would ever be mistaken for being wealthy or for being scholars. But they both possessed a wisdom born of hardship, a wisdom that I shall never possess.
As I pass into my later years I begin to understand that even though I always thought I was smarter than mom and dad, I shall never be as wise or loving as they were. Such expressions as, “look what the cat dragged in” can come out of my mouth with very little thought or concern.
On the farm, when a cat brought home some poor rodent it had cornered it was doing its job. We may even speculate that the cat was proud of what he had done. Even if it wasn’t verbalized, the cat’s contribution was valued.
More grain for the cows that supplied the milk that became income. Everybody knew it. It didn’t have to be said.
When boys returned home from an adventure, worn and frazzled it was a good thing. Everybody knew it.
There are so few things today that everybody knows. Being a child is supposed to be fun. Doesn’t everybody know this? Perhaps not.
Conventional wisdom is slowly eroded by concern for the future. “You must get into a good school”, we tell our children. Many of the truths that we embrace need to be questioned. The necessity of having a good childhood is not one of them.
When we long for a childhood that we never had something is seriously wrong. When we can’t do tax returns that no one really understands, something is seriously wrong. We can’t go back but we can inhabit the present. Breathe in deeply, the accomplishments of those who have gone before. Pause, reflect and appreciate all that has been given to us. Find the truths that are timeless and share them with your children. The future lies beyond our reach, but the present is in our past.
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