Rite of passage parenting: Back in the day
I remember watching a grainy black-and-white movie years ago on our tiny DuMont television. The cabinet, the size of a small refrigerator, held a screen that glowed like a Cyclops. Sitting on top was the rabbit-ears antenna, stretched out and trying its best to pull in a signal. All this modern technology astounded us.
I don’t remember much about the movie, but I know it featured a young man who was transported into the future. The changes he found there amazed and bewildered both him and his audience.
Looking back, I have to laugh. His future and our present turned out to be nothing alike.
If my grandfather were alive today, he’d be astonished that men no longer carry handkerchiefs. In his day, a handkerchief was one of the marks of manhood, along with a wallet and a watch. If you had those three items, you could take on the world.
I have many memories of my grandfather pulling a wadded-up handkerchief out of his overalls and turning it over and over as he searched for a clean spot. When he found one, he made the most awful noise as he filled it up.
I remember my grandmother separating the clothes on laundry day. She always ended up with a pile of identical semi-white handkerchiefs, each wadded up in a green-spotted ball. When I had a runny nose as a child, I don’t know how many times my grandfather pulled out his used hanky to wipe it. Handkerchiefs were a vital part of our lives.
To my sons, there’s nothing grosser than a handkerchief. I’ve tried to pass on the tradition by giving them a few through the years. But I think they ended up re-gifting them back to me. The hanky generation has produced the Kleenex generation. To this day, I never leave the house without three things: my watch, my wallet and my hanky. And just like my grandfather, I’m ready to take on the world.
I think my grandfather would also be amazed by how concerned people are today about germs. Back in his day, we were foolish enough to think plain old soap and water and a brisk rub did wonders.
Nowadays, it seems like people are constantly pulling out those little bottles of antibacterial gel. The people who carry them seem to have a propensity to force their fixation on others.
Have you ever been the victim of a group decontamination? You’re standing around talking when someone whips out that little bottle and holds it in the general area of your hands, hoping you’ll open them up so they can share a squirt of their antibacterial wonder gel.
Granddad would also scratch his head over the bottled water phenomenon. Growing up on the farm, we used to get our water out of a faucet in the sink. If our feet were muddy, we used the faucet that came out of the side of the house. When I was a young boy, my job was to fill up the water jugs. Let me correct that: water jug, singular. It was all I could do to fill up one jug and carry it back out to the field. The men would saunter over, wiping the sweat off their faces, and chug some ice-cold water.
Do you know the difference between chugging and drinking? Chugging allows the cold water to run down the side of your face and into your shirt. After that, the chugger passed the jug to the next man. Some of my fondest childhood memories involve standing in a hot field and chugging water with the men.
But what would shock my grandfather most is how often God is left out of today’s world. He’d be stunned that most stores are open on Sundays, and that it’s no longer a day of rest.
He’d grieve over this thing called abortion. He’d wonder how such a despicable act could be legal and where the church was when it became commonplace.
He’d be appalled by the number of people who live together outside the sanctity of marriage. He’d be equally appalled at the number of men who father children and then walk away with no sense of responsibility for those young lives. And he’d be mystified as to why someone would object to putting the Ten Commandments in public places or saying a prayer in our public schools.
Soon, I’ll become a grandfather, and I fear for the next generation. I pray that the remnant of those who knew a better day will step up our prayers and ask God to heal our land. My handkerchief, watch and wallet may prepare me to take on the world, but prayer is the only way to save it.
I know my grandfather would agree.