Acting Right

by R Shoemate (initially published in roughly 1996)

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.

Ours is an age of nostalgia.  One of the definitions of the word in my Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, which incidentally, as I “look back”, was purchased with my last six dollars when I started college in 1952, is: “any wistful or excessively sentimental, sometimes morbid yearning for return to or of some past period of irrecoverable condition.

I confess I seem to be afflicted by the condition from time to time, not that I really yearn that much for the “good ol’ days.  In many ways they were hard times, but we didn’t know it then.  Our family lived on a farm on the plains of West Texas during the years of World War 2.  Not only were these “ancient times” before TV, for our family they were times before electricity and running water and the bathroom was a little separated building fifty yards downwind, at the end of a path.  It was in this outhouse we kept our outdated Sears Roebuck and Montgomery Ward catalogs.

Our house was somewhat lighted by the old coal oil lamps, which offered poor light even when the wicks were kept trimmed and the globe cleaned.  We carried water in the three-gallon buckets from the windmill a hundred yards to the north.  Several trips were necessary, especially on Saturdays when we always bathed in a number three wash tub, whether we needed it or not.  It was mine and my brother Edwin’s chore to make those trips back and forth to the windmill.  In addition we helped milk the cows by hand, slopped the hogs, fed the chickens, and cleaned the chicken house (how I hated that chore).

My brother and I rode the school bus to a two-room school house several miles away. School was taught by Mr. and Mrs. Horn; she taught grades one through four and Mr. Horn taught grades five through eight.  Each class room had about twenty-five students, each grade lined up in a row of desks. We were taught the basic subjects like math, spelling, reading, geography.  Somehow we survived without the extra-curricular activities deemed so necessary in today’s educational systems.  Consequently, not being distracted by the “extra-curricular”, we learned the basics.  By the way, neither Mr. or Mrs. Horn had the benefit of aides, unless you consider that students took turns bringing in fuel for the old coal-burning stoves, and sweeping up each day after classes.  There were never those days of no-school for our teachers to have “planning conferences” and such.  And, there were a lot of other modern technology and techniques which were unheard of in our country school.  Our parents paid no fees for participation in athletics.  The older kids played softball at recess time and the younger ones played on the see-saw and merry-go-round.

At the end of Word War 2 our family moved to California and my brother and I attended a big, modern school.  I began my freshman year in high school there and discovered that in spite of the dreadful deprivation in my educational experiences in that little two-room school house back in Texas, I was ahead of other students in the basic subjects.  I adapted quickly to the extra-curriculars.

This is no appeal to return to the “good ol’ days”, but it does seem at times we’ve neglected the main thing in preference for the incidental.  Someone has said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”  The problem is that a lot of folk have forgotten what is really the main thing.

Our school teacher’s tasks today would be much easier if more of the “main things” were taught at home.  Like respect for authority!  And simple politeness and manners!  What about honesty, integrity and responsibility?  If more parents cleaned up their speech, we would hear less filthy and foul speech from the kids.  If we showed more respect, and deserved more of the same because of our example, we would eliminate many of the problems assailing our society today.  Whatever discipline problems are encountered at school and elsewhere, it’s because so few parents have neither the gumption or the courage to discipline their own children.

A case in point is a memory I cherish of carrying water from that old windmill years ago as an adolescent.  It was a Friday night and neighbors were giving me a ride to a social event at school.  I was wearing my brand new pair of khaki pants and brogan shoes (no $100.00 Nike Airs).  My hair was slicked down with Fitchs’s Hair Oil, and I was ready to go when my Dad said, “Royce, are the water buckets full?  You’re not going until you get your chores done.”

I was mad.  I grabbed the buckets and started off in a huff to the windmill, spilling water all over the sides of my new khakis.  In my haste and anger half the water had sloshed out as I plopped the buckets down on the table just inside the kitchen door.  Had I noticed my Dad standing nearby I would have been more careful because I was about to be taught a lesson which would last for fifty years.  He walked over, picked up one bucket of water, held the screen door open with one foot, and threw the water out the back door.  He did the same with the second bucket and then handed me the empty buckets and said, “Now, go get the water, and this time ACT RIGHT!”

My Dad was a man who loved his family.  He was honest and hard working.  He taught his two boys, by word and example to “act right”.  Until more parents start doing the same our society’s problems will continue growing.

(Articles published by my father back in the ’90s to a local newspaper, yet timely today)

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