While many people long for “the way things used to be,” as time goes by “what used to be” becomes a forever changing memory. It is a part of human nature for us to develop selective memories over time. We tend to remember “the good times” far more vividly than the bad. It’s one of the reasons why those of us who get the senior discount remember a world as portrayed by Norman Rockwell whether we ever lived such a life or not.
For me, however, there are some very clear memories which come very close to what Rockwell captured in his illustrations. And one such time in my life will be forever captured in my memory and shaped how I have seen the world as time went by.
I was a youngster, probably no more than 10 years old, when my mother took me to the library in our town. It was located in an old house which had been converted.
In those days our town was truly a small one. Kids were shoved outside in the morning and told not to come back in until dark. Even then mothers would have to stand on the “stoop” and yell or whistle to get us to come home.
Saturdays were busy ones. Dad was home from work and had his own chores to do. It was Mom’s day to go to the grocery. Now keep this in mind, there were no Krogers in those days. The grocer was a local man who ran a business out of an aging building with sagging wooden floors, only a few rows of shelves and a butcher shop in the back where your meat was cut, chopped and ground to order by men in white coats using big butchers knives, carving sides of beef on a severely cupped huge butcher block table. Packaging was a roll of white paper tied expertly with string pulled and broken loose from an overhead spool suspended from the ceiling.
On the particular day I mentioned above, my mother decided to take me to the library instead of to the grocers with her. She dropped me off and said she would be back.
The building smelled of musty old books. The shelves were low and filled edge to edge. And the lady who was clearly in charge was an older woman, a bit hefty, with pure white hair wearing a cloth dress, with a belt, and “old lady shoes.” I later came to know her as Mrs. Taylor, and her history with the founding of our little town is a story for another day.
On this dreary Saturday I lazily wandered around the library really just trying to kill time. I had been there before on a school field trip. It was just a few blocks from school and our teachers had walked us up there for an introduction. I didn’t remember Mrs. Taylor all that much from my earlier visit, but on the day I was dropped off alone, she kindly offered to help me find something to occupy my time, so long as we whispered.
Her first suggestion was some big picture books of biplanes and the history of flight. I quickly paged through and put them down. After a few more suggestions and observing my complete boredom, Mrs. Taylor came over to me and asked me to follow her.
We went up some creaky stairs and ended up in an upper room where some of the books were in glass cases. There she sat me down and asked me if I liked history. I’m not sure we had studied much history at that age, but I listened. She began to tell me a little bit about our town, how it was founded, how important the railroad had been to bringing people there at a time when it was way out in the country.
As she spoke my mind was filled with pictures. I could see big smoke-belching steam engines whistling to a stop at the old railroad station, long since abandoned and sitting in the weeds just across the street from the grocer. I could see the huge fields she described where the cemetery now was located, I could see the horse-drawn wagons at some of the huge brick houses along the main highway that now sat back so far I had barely thought of them before. And after a little while I had been transported back in time.
She offered to let me see some rare books that they kept upstairs if I promised to be careful with the pages. Of course I would. My goodness, if those books contained the stories she had just told me I couldn’t wait to have that experience again. And so began my love of books, of history and of study.
As we head into the final stretch of this year’s political campaign season, beginning on Monday, I am going to write a series of articles about the history of how we choose our leaders. I was inspired more recently to think about these things from a Facebook conversation with a friend.
What an odd change in my world, I thought, that something as modern and disconnected from personal interaction as Facebook, could spark me to go back in time and inspire in my mind the memories of that day with Mrs. Taylor, which set the course for my lifetime.
But it has, and beginning on Monday let me try to take you back, by painting pictures in your mind, of how things used to be. Not based upon the idyllic illustration of a beloved artist, but from the words and factual record of who we are as a nation.
Come back in time with me. There’s something I think you might like to see.
Marcus Carey is a Northern Kentucky lawyer with 32 years experience. He is also a farmer, talk radio host and public speaker who loves history and politics. He is a prolific and accomplished writer whose blog, BluegrassBulletin.com is “dedicated to honest and respectful comment on the political and cultural issues of our time.” He writes a daily commentary for KyForward.