Opinion Columns & Blogs

Here's what we can learn from the 'greatest generation'

I cut the grass today. Didn’t really need cutting, but it excites the wife, seeing me on the John Deere with a straw hat and overalls. She should have married a rich farmer, I suppose, because we’ve only had the little fellow a short while and even at that she’s standing on the porch jumping and clapping. I shudder to think what she might do if she if she ever saw one of those huge John Deere's with A.C., stereo, CD player and the like.

It’s not that our yard has grown — it’s just that it’s outgrown my ability to cut it with a push mower. I used to try to get the guy who married my daughter to mow it, but he’s usually staring at his phone and can’t hear me. It seems that when his eyes are working his ears aren’t. Of course there are days when he has to actually go to work.

We’ve got one of those smaller John Deere’s that really make you stretch to get on them because, well, that’s just the way some “genius” designed them, and so, because I am adept at turning negatives into positives, I consider this stretching move to be a part of my exercise routine. I figure if I get on and off the thing often enough it amounts to calorie burn and that translates to a cold beer, so I dismount as often as possible during the mowing process.

Today was different however, in that, upon the last dismount, I got this weird sensation that I should wash and wax the thing. Normally, it would be “put up” in the shed, dirt and all, not to be seen until the next mowing, which comes when the overseer/forewoman I’m married to whispers in my ear, “The grass looks a little too long”. This can be confusing, as I sometimes think when she says “grass” it means the weeds in my ears need trimming, but in the spring the yard comes to the forefront, so I break out the mower in the hope that I’ve guessed right and indeed it is the grass in the yard needs trimming and not myself.

But back to this need to wax thing. I think it’s in the genes. See, I’m one of those dreaded “baby boomers” who was given every possible “toy” at birth and contrived somehow, to either destroy it or “take it to the max” as we used to say. We tested every limit we could survive and not get caught doing. And, if caught, we always got a second chance at being an idiot because that “greatest generation” believed we would, one day, realize how good we had it and “come to order.”

Some did; some didn’t. But, we came from men and their women who loved work, and believed in keeping what they had in good order because they knew or felt that, at any given moment, it could all go away. They were people of the Great Depression era, which spanned from about the late '20s to the late '30s, and they were adamant about taking care of their stuff because it was the only stuff they’d ever had.

Wax was a preservative of sorts that gave their lives mettle because it preserved the metal in their lives, the automobile, the second most cherished possession (children excepted) of most any other person/thing of that generation. During the '50s and '60s you would see that generation out in the driveway washing and waxing their cars. Dad had a friend, Paul Chester, who insisted on doing this to his Chrysler every weekend. He’d also have your bed made if you got up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom, but that was just Mr. Chester.

So, what’s different about today? Today, everything is disposable, temporary. If it goes away, there will be another one just like it to take its place. In fact, many times you get the feeling that things we buy today are meant to break at a certain point. Many people, those who may have the ability to buy a car, but at great personal expense, will treat that car better than the wealthy, who can always go buy another. Drive by any car wash, and you’ll see those who prize their car above all else (children excepted), and it won’t be the wealthy, waxing their cars. It will be those who see the car as a main source of status within their community.

But, let us not forget, that there was something else in which that “greatest generation” placed value. It was called an education and the ability to support oneself. I see where vocational training is making a comeback in many of our public high schools. We used to call them, comprehensive high schools. “Everything old is waxing new again.”

Sonny Harmon is a professor emeritus at Georgia Military College.