Some people persistently talk about the “Good Old Days,” when life was better. Not as much crime in the good old days. People worked together better in the good old days. You could leave your doors unlocked in the good old days. Community helped one another in the good old days.
I don’t know. I’m just 36 years old, but sometimes I believe that these folks prefer to look at the past through rose colored lenses. It’s easy to idealize a time when Mom and Dad, grandparents, and treasured friends were all alive and together in one place, especially when you’ve lost many that you care about. But I’m not convinced that the good old days were as perfect as some say.
Yesterday, I was cleaning up one of our fields and found a small, decorative banner. I knew it had blown off of one of the grave decorations in the small cemetery that adjoins our field, so I entered the fence to replace it. This cemetery reminds me all the time of my mortality. It was a small family-owned burial ground from the original homesteaders of this area. Many of the graves are from the early 1900s, and a few are even older than that. Over the years, people other than family members have been buried here, but it’s a stark reminder that no matter how hard you work each day, you can’t take it with you.
The graves that always give me pause are the babies’ graves. And in this small graveyard there are plenty. Child after child lost before the baby was even five years old. I can count on one hand the number of friends that I know who have lost babies, but these graves remind me that there was a time and day that it wasn’t uncommon for babies to die. Some of these children didn’t even survive long enough to have a name. These tombstones simply read, “Infant son of …”
I stop at the tiny tombstones that are lined up neatly in a row. Apparently one family lost one baby after another. I think about these mothers from so many years ago. I consider it carefully because I have negative blood. Were it not for medical science, I could have buried baby after baby due to Rh disease. Now, thankfully, I have four healthy children, and I’ve kind of taken it for granted that they’ll grow up healthy and strong.
Photo of Woodlands cemetery by Flickr/Simon
I think what people mean about the good old days being better is that they were simpler. Many of the decisions that we grapple over just weren’t an option back then.
Should Mama go to work after the baby is born? Not really an option due to the lack of women’s jobs, and besides, who would scrub out these clothes, feed the children, keep the fire in the cookstove burning and do all the hundreds of other jobs that a woman on a farm was needed to do?
Should Aunt Myrtle go to a nursing home or can we take care of her at home? That’s another option that wasn’t available for the average family of the early 1900s. The wealthy had private nurses and sanitariums for their ill loved ones, but most families just muddled through. At any rate, often sick people either got better or died within a few months. Most elderly didn’t have decades of slow decline, needing assistance, before they passed.
Should Mama call in hospice or take a few more chemo treatments to prolong her life? In the good old days, people had no other option than to take the few treatments available to them and trust the Good Lord to help them pass with grace into the next world.
Should Junior go to college or stay home to work the farm? In many cases, finances dictated this decision in the past. Many fine, brilliant young people never reached their full potential for a host of reasons. I know of an older fellow who planned on being a medical doctor when he was young, back in the forties. He was at the top of his class with a bright future. The untimely passing of his father meant that he was needed at home to take care of his mother and provide for her on the farm. He accepted his lot and had a good life, even with his unfulfilled dreams.
I am not naïve enough to think that the people of yesteryear didn’t agonize over their decisions and grieve when things were taken out of their hands. However, with medical science being what it is and the availability of so much information, not to mention disposable income, I think that many of us today have more options to consider when making decisions for our family and our future. We also seem to cling to the illusion of control over our lives. This makes us wade through masses of information in our quest to figure out the perfect solution for our problems. When things go wrong, we retrace our steps and engage in the futile “What if-ing” that will drive us crazy if we let it.
I’m pretty sure though, that the good old days were about like they are today. There were some good days and some really hard times. In between, there were a whole lot of average days where the families of yesteryear just plugged away at life, wiping the baby’s nose, cooking the supper, weeding the garden, and feeding the fire.
Despite the major differences in the way that we live our lives over the decades, we’re all the same. People, families, living, loving, losing, laughing, crying, singing, and praying — that’s the essence of the human experience, whenever and wherever you go.