Opinion Columns & Blogs

WALKER: Listening to the old folks talk

In the spring and the fall, and sometimes when it was overcast and cool, and particularly on Sunday afternoons, the old folks -- at least what I thought then were old, although they were mostly younger than I am today -- would sit on the front porch rocking and talking. There was no television, and driving an automobile to anywhere cost money, so talking and visiting was what they did.

I listened. I listened closely, seldom speaking, following Daddy’s admonition that “you can’t learn anything when you’re talking.” And I learned a great deal -- at least about the few subjects that captured most of their interest and their talk.

Later, much later, when my black hair had a good deal of gray, I thought back and tried to analyze. I did analyze, and came to the conclusion that a handful of subjects earned 90 percent of the talk.

These were farm folks. Oh, my aunt had taught school in Atlanta and my uncle was an engineer, but in the marrow of their bones, they were of the soil, having been only recently removed. Daddy started off teaching high school agriculture and had slipped over to the farm equipment business. He had, with mother’s help, fully inculcated me into the rural, ag mindset. So, as I sat on my mule-plowing, chicken-growing, hog-killing, syrup-making grandparents’ porch, I understood the talk and especially the “main” subjects.

I’d say first as a topic of choice was the relatives. It was never critically unfavorable, at least in my presence, but was of concern (“did you know that Aunt May was sick?”) or laudatory (“Joe Walker got a job with the power company.”) or braggadocios (“Betty’s daughter finished first in her graduating class.”). Daddy told me that at one time he had 76 first cousins living. There was lots of material for talk about relatives.

Next, probably, was the church. My grandparents and parents were regular in attendance and were proud of their church and kept up with the other members and their joys and tribulations. I never heard anyone say anything bad about the preacher or his sermon. Frequently, the preacher came on Sunday to eat with my grandparents.

There was also lots of talk about the weather. Now, for you youngsters, you should know that other than looking at the sky, and perhaps other signs like the temperature and humidity, no one, not even the so-called radio weathermen (I never remember a female radio weather person) could accurately tell you what the weather was going to be. And, of course, there was more talk about “rain” and when it was going to rain than anything else.

Frankly, I wasn’t afraid too much of the devil or much of anything else except Papa not getting any rain on his cotton or corn. That, the lack of rain, worried me considerably. I knew if he didn’t get it, there would be bad consequences.

There was a little “political talk,” but not much. Grandma’s brother, Carley May, worked for Fred Hand, at his huge store, Hand Trading Co., in Pelham. Mr. Hand was also the speaker of the Georgia House. Hand ran for governor in the 1950s and, of course, we were all for him because our kin worked for him. He didn’t get elected. Marvin Griffin did. In any event, this was about the most political talk I ever heard on the front porch.

Other things discussed in my presence were what the Holy Bible said and meant and how you spelled certain words or what was the grammatically correct way to say or write something. All of them wanted to talk and write correctly.

Now, that was most of the talk. Still, if someone caught lots of fish, that would have to be fleshed out, and if anyone saw a snake, especially “a big rattler,” that would take up some time and would be mighty exciting to me. All of us were wary of rattlesnakes, but weren’t too worried about the “coach-whip” Papa kept in his corn crib to keep down the corn-eating mice and rats.

I don’t believe young folks talk much about the same stuff my parents, aunt, uncle and grandparents talked about. Most children today don’t talk about much of anything; they just punch those hand-held devices.

I wish I could spend a breezy Sunday afternoon on that porch with these kin one more time. To me, the talk was really interesting and important. It helped make me what I am today.

Email Larry Walker at lwalker@whgmlaw.com.