Passing the Torch: A Moment with Bill Reflection
“The torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.”
January, 1961, President John F. Kennedy.
If memory serves me correctly, when those words were spoken I was changing a tire on the family car, a 1959 Ford Fairlane. I also remember it being colder than a witches tit outside, and my dad sitting in the living room watching his fourteen-year old from that warm vantage point.
It’s not that he didn’t know how to change a tire. Hell, he learned to drive on an old Model T Ford, the kind you had to crank by hand to start, so changing a tire was no problem for him. And no, he wasn’t too old to change the tire. At that time I think he was in his early forties and he was built Ford tough, so that particular chore would have been no problem for him.
No, I was changing the tire because my dad felt it was important that I learn how to do so. His old man had taught him and now he was passing the tradition to his son. So while Kennedy spoke of passing the torch of responsibility, duty and freedom to millions of Americans, my dad was passing to me his own torch, a torch that represented his beliefs, his knowledge and his history.
My Old Man
He was born on January 6, 1919. By the time he was eleven the country was taking a punch to the gut called the Great Depression, a punch that would knock the U.S. to its knees. He finished his freshman year in high school in 1933 and then dropped out of school to look for work so he could help his family survive during those impossibly hard years.
He rode the rails at the age of fourteen, traveling from Midwest town to Midwest town in search of odd jobs, anything that would put a few cents in his pocket, and those cents would be forwarded to his mother and father. By 1941, after eight years of scrambling to make a buck, he was more than ready to enlist in the Army and make a regular paycheck fighting Nazis.
And in 1948 he adopted a son and began the job of passing the torch to William Dale Holland.
For my father, the torch represented a knowledge of the old ways and an appreciation of unlimited possibilities. It represented a rock-solid belief that hard work was the only way to earn anything of importance, and a belief that a man is judged by his actions and not hollow words that had no value.
The Education Continued
I learned how to change a tire. I learned how to make do with what I had at hand, and to “jerry-rig” any problem with the resources available. I learned to hold doors open for women, to always treat others with respect and to throw a curveball like Whitey Ford.
My dad was not a particularly gifted human being. He had no formal instruction in woodworking. He was not a trained auto mechanic. He did not even remotely resemble a trained electrician or plumber. His lack of training, however, forced him to learn skills based on practical application of willpower. Here is a problem. How am I going to solve the problem? I don’t have the money to have this problem fixed by a professional, so what can I do on my own?
That was my father, and that is me.
The torch was passed!
Have you passed the torch to your children?
I Look Around Today
I wonder how many teens today know how to sew. I wonder how many know how to make a quilt. How many know how to do basic car maintenance or built a simple birdhouse? Hell, if the toilet became clogged, how many teenagers would know how to unclog it?
I still have a quilt that my grandmother made sixty-five years ago. It’s a beautiful quilt, handmade with love and attention to detail. She made it for me when I was one year old, and I absolutely love it. Do you have such a quilt? Would you even know how to make one?
I mention all this because I have concerns. We live in a convenience society. We’ve traveled this path of least resistance now for decades, and with each passing year we move further away from our roots and traditions and yes, that bothers me.
Think about it!
It’s everywhere we look today. Family farms are disappearing. Family traditions, passed down through generations, are becoming extinct. A rich history is in danger of being forgotten, and if that happens, an important part of who we are as a people will no longer be.
We’ve Lost Our Way
I know someone is saying right now….”But what’s the big deal? If we lose that part of us we will make up for it with new aspects of us as a culture. Life is always changing and our identity will change as well, but that doesn’t mean it is a bad thing.”
Let me ask you a question and I would love to hear your answer.
Do you believe the quality of life in this country, or in some other country if you are not from the United States, is better today than it was fifty years ago. Yes, there are a lot of variables and things to consider, but I just want your gut reaction….yes or no?
I would answer a resounding no, and I would venture to guess most would agree with me. Fifty years ago I don’t think I had even heard of a drive-by shooting. I went to the shopping mall as a teen and never once considered the possibility that a madman would walk in with an automatic weapon and shoot twenty people. Heck, we didn’t even lock our doors at night.
But I’m not just talking about crime. There seems to be an invisible barrier around most people I see on the street. Eye contact? What’s that? Pleasantries? What are those? Basic human kindness? It took the last bus out of town on a one-way ticket.
Am I right or am I right?
So what can we do to change it? And what in the hell does this have to do with changing a tire or making a quilt?
You are much too bright. You don’t need me to point out the obvious to you.
If a nation of people has lost its way, then maybe it’s time it returned to basics.
I think the core of what we once were is missing.
I think we have lost our identity, and of course it’s a combination of many factors, but we have to start somewhere.
Teach your children the old ways. Teach them the traditions that we risk losing. Toss out convenience and bring back quality. Reject complicated and embrace simplicity.
I’ll leave you now with one more question.
What torch are you passing on to the next generation? Is it a torch that will ultimately help them to be better human beings, or a torch that will ultimately burn them?
2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)