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Grandparents Are Special People

By: Carl Langley
Guest Columnist

web posted November 12, 2007
GUEST COLUMN – Sitting on the worn stool, I watched the old man’s tanned and leathery hands guide the heavy crimping tool around the end of a piece of tin pipe.

As the tool worked along the edge the tin collapsed in a succession of tiny folds, alike in length, width and depth. The three-foot sections of pipe were joined and held tight by the fluted ends to make venting for wood stoves, heaters and other fireboxes.

The man I watched spent many afternoons crimping pipe. It was hard work, but I never heard him complain. He complained little, even in his last years when illness kept him confined to a hospital bed that had been borrowed for his bedroom.

The old man, born when Chester Arthur was our president, was my maternal grandfather. I always called Roy Harrell grandpaw.

He and my other grandfather, Van Langley, live in my memory on this Grandparents’ Day for special reasons. Both were kind, but both were firm in their demands that children obey parents.

To me, they, and my grandmothers, Sally Harrell and Emma Ruth Langley, were special people and I held them in reverence, hanging on each word they said.

My grandparents have been dead for many years, but I have never forgotten the lessons they taught. Their lives had been molded by a strong code of ethics.

My grandfathers and grandmothers lived in an age when contracts were made with handshakes and neighbors helped each other raise barns and houses. A family could go into town on Saturdays, leave unlocked doors, and return home to find everything in place.

My grandparents could never be confused with city folks who drove fancy cars, strolled paved avenues in suits and ties and went to parties and dances and movies.

They wore overalls and gingham dresses, brogan shoes and broad-brimmed hats and went to town in wagons. They never went to movies, regarding them as wasteful living. Family reunions, church socials and picnics, fishing, hunting and a nip of blackberry wine in the fall were their entertainment.

My grandfathers’ only addiction was to their radios. They loved the big radios they got as gifts from their children. At night they listened to weather reports, laughed along with Fibber McGee and Molly or Lum and Abner and tuned to the news before going to bed.

During World War II Grandpaw Harrell stayed near his radio, trying to help defeat the Germans and Japanese and unleashing an occasional profanity at the enemy. He helped H.V. Kaltenborn, Walter Winchell and the CBS radio team headed by Edward R. Murrow track the war, shouting and cheering at each report about a victory and falling into hand-wringing despair when a battle was lost.

Grandpaw Harrell didn’t have the slightest idea how and why a radio worked, but it broadened the world of a man who could not read or write. His school had been the outdoors, fields, pastures, streams and tool sheds. His degrees came from everyday living and were enhanced by social and spiritual values.

Today, thoughts of my grandfathers and grandmothers bubble up when I hear of the latest schemes of the social planners who stay busy reshaping the world my grandparents knew.

For years the Benjamin Spocks, Timothy Learys and other know-it-alls have had their way. Now some of the social engineers, especially those who once upheld an anything goes lifestyle, are having second thoughts about messing with Mother Nature.

AIDS, failing schools, gang wars, broken homes and child abuse cases are forcing a readjustment in thinking. My grandparents could never envision the world in which we now live, and perhaps it is best they have gone on to the life beyond.

They are now out of the reach of the ones who see federal and state governments as ultimate nannies. They have had their long-range social plans ripped to pieces by human nature in its rawest, most primal form.

The very ones who chided us to let children free wheel their way through life are now complaining about the social collapse and are encouraging a new round of federal programs and federal spending for what they hope will be a cure for social ills. More planning and more money will not solve anything.

Can those who see money as a miracle drug tell us how treasury notes will alter the thinking and behavior of those impoverished of values and ignorant of the codes of decency, honor and compassion?

The Dr. Feelgoods have been betrayed by reality in a society whose most responsible members now must confront thievery, drug addiction, social diseases, family breakups and murder on a growing scale.

These are the real fruits of permissiveness, the bitter dross dripping from the proposition that an individual’s wishes and whims are supreme and exceed the moral demands of an orderly, well-structured society dedicated to the service of everyone.

Grandpaw Harrell and Grandpaw Langley could never understand what has happened to their world. And one thing is certain: they would never forgive the social engineers for fouling up the place, then blaming everyone but themselves for the troubles visited upon the land.

This is another in a series of articles appearing in Carl Langley's first book. This article was published September 13,1992


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