Most of the website posts I write are inspired by events that occur on our farm or the places we visit. However, every once in a while, an idea for a new post just comes to mind. This is one of those posts. It also differs from my standard posts because it will be a post without pictures. Now I know my readers have asked me to include pictures, but I want to see if I can encourage you to picture in your mind the thoughts I want to express. Many people who know me and read my writings have said, “you write so similar to the way you talk that I can actually hear your voice as I read it.” I guess I just say and write what’s on my mind. When it comes to painful thoughts, I usually find I can express them more comfortably in my writings than I can in words. Maybe it’s because I can choose my words more carefully when I write and edit them before they are seen by anyone else. Now, with your polite indulgence, I’d like to put it to the test. Can I get you to visualize in your mind what I’m writing about? Can I express my thoughts clearly enough in words that you can visualize it too? Let’s see about that. I’ll be interested to know what you think, so please feel free to submit your comments on this post.
I’d like to take your mind on a visit to a very different time and place. It’s a place and lifestyle that I remember clearly from my past, but is very hard to find today. Oh, to be sure, remnants of it remain, but you have to look hard for it. Some people stumble across it in their travels without even realizing or appreciating what it was. As I’ve said in many prior posts, it is part of the ancestral heritage of every living person today. It is only a question of how many generations back you have to go to find it, but I assure you, it’s there. Now I’d like to help you understand it better in your own mind. It’s easier than you might think, if you try.
Imagine a place where people spend almost as much time outdoors as they do inside their homes. Most of them earn their living from outdoors work. Some work in the nearby fields and barns. They may be repairing a fence or building, tending some livestock, or driving a tractor. The unmistakable sounds of their activities catch your attention, reassuring you that you are not alone. These are people who work close to the land. It provides them with their income and the food they eat.
This is also a place where children prefer to play outdoors. When you step outside your house, the air is filled with the sounds of children laughing and squealing with pleasure as they romp energetically around the yard. Perhaps they’re playing a game of tag, cowboys and Indians, marbles, or jacks. Maybe they’re competing with each other to see who can climb highest into a large shade tree or they’ve commandeered the entire yard for a game of softball. When they’re not actively playing, you may find them sitting together on a porch, engaged in quiet conversation. If you listen carefully, you can hear them talking, but you may not understand everything they’re saying. You realize they’re sharing their secret thoughts directly with each other, their minds dancing in a world that’s all their own.
You hear almost no traffic on the main road, as only an occasional car or truck drives by. Even the sound of an airplane is so rare that it draws your attention when you hear it. The only other sounds you hear are the noises of nature—birds singing in a nearby tree, frogs croaking in a nearby pond, the occasional lowing of a cow, the neigh of a horse, or the cackling of a flock of chickens. Trees and rolling hills dominate the landscape and the few houses, barns, silos, fences, weather-beaten sheds, and open fields that you see only enhance the picture.
The people who live in this place live and act very differently from those living in the city. They don’t adorn the houses and properties with the trappings of wealth, although they may decorate them festively for the holidays. They almost never lock their doors. They eat as many meals outdoors as they cook on a grill. They open their windows to let in fresh air in the summer, and they heat their homes in the winter with a wood stove or fireplace. You can tell that because you will see a neatly stacked pile of firewood in the warmer months and smoke rising from a chimney in the winter. On warm, summer evenings, the parents will gather on the front porch or go for a slow stroll along the road, greeting all their neighbors on the front porch as they pass. As the darkness of night descends, the children resume their play on the lawn, chasing fireflies and placing them in a jar. They’re trying to see who can catch the most.
People greet you warmly when you stop to talk with them. They often wave at complete strangers when they pass by. Even if they may feel quietly reserved when first meeting strangers, they have no fear of them. Their smile is genuine and their manner of speaking is plain and easy to follow, even if they use some words that are not familiar to you. Their feelings show clearly on their faces. They reserve judgement of you until they get to know you. If they should say or do something that unintentionally offends or harms you, they are quick to apologize and eager to make amends. You can sense their shame and regret reflected in their facial expressions and the tone of their voice. They are honest and forthright when answering questions. Although they act and speak with great humility, they present themselves in an overall manner that conveys a comforting self-assurance. Their dedication to hard work and manual labor shows in the firmness of their handshake and the lines on their faces. Their casual presence and demeanor make it easy for you to feel comfortable in their presence. They go out of their way to make you feel comfortable in their home.
I wonder if you can visualize the people and places I’m describing. If you can, the image may seem quaint and idyllically or unrealistically nostalgic to you. You may judge it to be a sickly-sweet characterization of an outdated way of life that only served to mask the harsh realities and sordid behaviors that fester beneath the surface. It’s true that we all have an inner self that we hide from public view and that, if revealed, would tarnish the carefully cultivated image we project of ourselves.
However, the people and places I described are more real than you might ultimately wish to think. I should know because I was raised in that environment. Even though our family relationships were often strained, we never let those personal conflicts interfere with the way we treated others. In fact, we sometimes found it easier to show greater respect for others than we displayed to each other. Mark Twain may have explained it best when he once said that “good breeding consists in concealing how much we think of ourselves and how little we think of the other person.” This is a code of behavior that is often ignored by our modern, urban society, where everyone seems to say whatever they feel without regard to the feelings of others. To me, that might be a reason why the people and places I described may be difficult for some people to accept. Be careful how you judge what I’ve described. You may discover that it says more about your own lifestyle than the one I once lived.
It’s hard for people who accept a very different code of behavior to understand and believe what I have to say about my traditional, rural upbringing. I faced that disbelief when I first started college, so it never surprises me. You don’t have to be the best person you could be to be better than people will give you credit for. You also don’t have to be the best person you could be to become a better person. What you do need to do to improve yourself is to think carefully about your core values and live by those that will bring greater honor and integrity to your life. You will find they are also the values that demonstrate the greatest respect and courtesy for others. I think this is a lesson our modern society would benefit greatly from. That’s why I decided to write this post. Did I express my message clearly?
By the way, I should declare that any resemblance you may find in the theme of this post to the lyrics of a popular 1971 song by John Lennon is merely coincidental—as far as you know.