It's human nature, when hearing someone considerably older than yourself tell tales of how different distant yesterdays were from today, to roll your eyes and sigh heavily. It never occurs to us that the older have the advantage of having experienced both "then" and "now" whereas the young have only the "now" and the relatively recent past. It's difficult to comprehend just what a different world it was when the teller of stories—a parent or grandparent, usually—was younger than the listener.
For every human being, "now" is the norm. "Now" is the way it has always been and the way it will always be. Yesterday is just a footprint glimpsed directly behind us in the sands of time. Yet the more yesterdays we leave behind us, and the less distinct they become the farther away they are.
The problem with "now" is that we are too close to it to see it clearly. But the fact is that each of us grows up in a world different from that of our parents and grandparents—-just as our world today will be equally different from the world of our children.
And thus the subject of this blog.
I was thinking yesterday—as always, with me, for absolutely no reason—of my own distant yesterdays and a town which by it very name conjures up a long-gone rural Midwest America: Fairdale.
In the mid-to-late 1930s my grandfather and his wife owned and lived in a combination bar and gas station in Fairdale, Illinois, one of those tiny unincorporated hamlets quaintly but often accurately referred to as a "wide spot in the road." It was located on far-from-busy Hwy 72, which connected with the far busier Hwy 51 which cuts vertically through the center of Wisconsin and Illinois . It was probably less than 25 miles from my hometown of Rockford, but seemed like hundreds of miles—and decades in time—from anywhere.
I first checked Google to see if Fairdale still exists (surprisingly, it does), and then sought a map for it's exact location. I see it has a total of three very short streets, each no more than one-or-two-block-long, The longest, and only one I can remember, had once served as the town's "main street." It ran north and south between Hwy 72 and the railroad tracks. Clustered along the end nearest the railroad tracks were perhaps three or four even-then-long-abandoned 2-story once-commercial buildings, but as I recall, Grandpa's bar/gas station was the only business in the town.
The bar, too, was old even then, a typical small farm-town bar which smelled of cigarette and cigar smoke and spilled beer and whiskey. Once, when I was "helping" Grandpa sweep up in the morning before the bar opened, I found a $5 bill someone had dropped. A $5 bill in the mid-to-late 1930s was a very great amount of money, indeed, and when no one returned to claim it, Grandpa let me keep it.
Neither the bar nor the gas station made much money. This was a very rural area, and the effects of the Great Depression still bore heavily on all aspects of the lives of average people.
Just east of Grandpa's place, on the highway, was Fairdale’s one-room school, which I remember primarily because its playground had one of those metal self-propelled "merry-go-rounds" you can still occasionally find today, which kids would start by pushing it in one direction, running faster and faster until they could jump on and go round and round until the centrifugal force died and it slowed to a halt. Then you jumped off and started the process over again.
Across the street from the school was a large farm with a large—to the eyes of a 5 year old kid, huge—barn. I can still close my eyes and smell the hay. The family that owned it had a couple of kids around my age, and we would sneak into the barn, climb up into the hayloft, and then ascend a ladder to a small platform almost to the barn's rafters. It seemed like a very great height, but was probably eight feet at most. We would then jump down into the hay, shrieking with laughter and the sense of excitement such courage warranted.
It was, indeed, a different time and a different world, with different values and attitudes, and the more harsh realities of life at the time gradually grow less distinct as the fog of time closes in. Sharper edges dim and soften, and nostalgia paints memories in softer colors, making the past often more appealing than the "now."
But man is a creature which craves comfort, and if memories of a tiny town long ago can provide me with some comfort, I'll savor it like a fine, vintage wine.
Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1), which is also available as an audiobook (http://www.audible.com/pd/ref=sr_1_1?asin=B00DJAJYCS&qid=1372629062&sr=1-1).