The Newsweek cover was touted as one of the most controversial ever a few years back when it proclaimed, “WE ARE ALL SOCIALISTS NOW.” It’s not exactly a statement of fact. The minority that has seized power might be made up of socialists, but a majority of my countrymen still cling to their antiquated ideas of capitalism and a free market. They cling to it in their personal lives and transactions even if they don’t always assert these personal beliefs at the ballot box or when their government subsidy checks arrive in the mail (or by direct deposit). I will not take the moniker of socialist, but we are all changing. As one generation dies off, it’s important to study what is being lost.
That particular Newsweek cover came to mind the other night when I was reading a history of the War Between the States. The book contained an excerpt from a soldier’s journal where he spoke of life in Old Dominion (Virginia) prior to the war. The soldier remembered the slow lifestyle and antiquated ways of Virginians before the war. George Cary wrote:
“They loved the old because it was old, and disliked the new because it was new; for newness and rawness were well-neigh the same in their eyes.”
Well stated from a country gentleman, the likes of which no longer draws breath. The advances of the twentieth century would bring the south out of its agrarian past and into the technocracy we live under today. The old is no longer revered, but is instead replaced at a rate that is exponentially increasing.
Last week, I looked at a country property being sold to settle an estate. The acreage is replete with outbuildings of one kind and another. They’re not the cookie cutter pole barns of my generation. They are hand crafted country buildings built by hand and customized by the country gentleman that constructed them: a tool shed, a meat house, a barn. Most importantly, there is a picnic shelter where the family would gather on a hot summer day. Each building has a homemade fixture of some sort. Nothing was wasted. Every piece of scrap was utilized in some way. A radiator fan serves as a windmill atop of one building below a hand crafted weather vane. In the basement there are shelves everywhere for the canned goods that came from the garden each year. Clotheslines hang from the ceiling. There is an electric dryer hookup, but I doubt it was used much. The house is simple, but adequate. I often ponder the fact that as our families have gotten smaller, the houses have gotten bigger. A family of five once would happily occupy one thousand square feet. The parents would live there for their entire life, cooking, cleaning, canning, and growing old.
There was a time when country people spent our lives at home; not at soccer tournaments and 5k’s. We spent them together with family around the barbeque pit. Hot summer days were spent hoeing and sweating. Now, the countryside is dotted with brick ranch homes with two car garages. Most of their inhabitants don’t can, or use clotheslines. Glyphosate does most of our hoeing for us. People scurry back and forth to city jobs of one kind or another. Oh, there are outliers, but most of the country dwellers are just city folks that live a little farther out. The houses are all equipped with Wi-Fi and satellite dishes. The yards are neatly kept with giant lawnmowers. There are no meat houses, or chicken houses, or out houses. We’ve grown past all that. Our lifestyle is little different from our city brethren. But as I surveyed the property that first time the other day, I found myself envious of the life my predecessors lived. In my busy day, I pondered what it would be like to sit there, under the shade of the pecan tree and break a bushel of green beans in the heat of the afternoon. My days are consumed with worries, much as theirs were. They worried about feeding the family, and not freezing to death in the winter. Somehow, those seem like nobler worries than the ones that preoccupy me most days. Time marches on though. We’re all city folks now.