There Was A Time So Very Long Ago: A Moment With Bill Reflection
I write this for those who understood. I write this for those who believed in the dream. I write this for those to defended freedoms and for those who paid for them with their lives. “There Was A Time” is written for my father, my grandfather, uncles, aunts, grandmothers, and those who even came before them, the survivors of world wars, the survivors of horrendous economic depressions, the believers in a fair shake and a square deal.
I write this for them….and I write this for us. Hopefully we will one day understand the truths we were once taught.
There Was a Time
Up at dawn, rain or shine, sleet or snow, winter, summer, spring and fall, twenty-four, seven, three-sixty-five, it is all the same. Feed the flock, milk the herd, crank up the old tractor and ready the tools. Gotta get that hay cut before the rains and Lord knows when those bastards will be pouring down on us. They say two days but there’s three days of crops out there and no extra hands. Skipping meals and drinking their weight in water as the late summer sun beats down upon them; row after row cut and baled, cut and bale, cut and bale, back and forth and to and fro, the dust rising and the wind carrying it across that flat country, no wind breaks, nothing to stop it from drifting across borders and falling down like brown manna from hell.
Then turn your attention to the next crop, and the next, one harvest after another into late September, then pour it into the trucks, haul it to the silos, hoping the price hasn’t dropped below the break-even line. It all depends on price, the buy and sell, the supply and demand, in Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas, all setting the tables in Los Angeles, New York and Atlanta, housewives and singles picking and squeezing and looking for the best product at the best price and complaining all the way to the checkout stand.
Below that line and you go broke; bank comes and auctions happen and families plowed under with the stubble. Above that line and you live to farm another year, 365 more days of backbreaking toil and turmoil, the legacy passed down from immigrants who crossed The Pond and brought with them a love of the land and a natural distrust of the government. Hope for the best, expect the worst, and just hope to hell your kids have a better life because dammit, brother, this land will break a man….but it is honest work, work born from a deep respect for the land and a belief that hard work builds character and rewards a man, and woman, who is willing to make the effort.
There Was a Time
Months at sea, disgorged onto that tiny island, Lady Liberty singing her praises and welcoming all, the Irish, the Italians, the Swedes and the Finns. The Land of Opportunity welcomes all, as long as All can carry their weight and are willing to sacrifice damn near everything for the American Dream. Shirkers are not welcome in Shangrila, for fortunes are not made on the backs of the lazy.
The factories are waiting, boys, so step right this way and follow that man; he’ll take you to Detroit, Pittsburg, Chicago and Erie, and there you will find ten, twelve hours day, tough days, rough days, under the artificial lights of the great industrial complex, raw materials to finished product, gotta feed the demand, gotta satisfy the need, gotta keep this giant growing and growing. No education needed my friends, just a strong back and a willingness to make your country proud. You are now a part of something important, so build those Fords and crank out those refrigerators, tighten that bolt there and turn that hub there, it all matters and you all matter and at the end of fifty we’ll give you a shiny new watch and a pat on the back for a job well done.
Bone-tired at the end of the week, they shuffle off to the neighborhoods, Little Italy and German Town, where they barbecue with family and hoist a few at the local tavern. Weekends are for chores while the ballgame plays on the little radio out back, and evenings are for sitting on the stoop and watching life play out scenes of yesterday, today and the future.
And the future is for your little ones going to college and having more, resting more, enjoying more, working a damn sight less than dad and granddad, that would make all the hardships worth it, if Little Johnny and Sweet Little Jane didn’t have to work the factories and buy day-old bread at the discount store.
There Was a Time
Deep in the bowels of the Earth; off you go now; hop on that rail car and into the tunnel and pray to your god that you see the sunshine at the end of the day. Switch on those lamps, hoist that pick, chip away, chip away, dig out that ore because America is waiting and we need to keep America happy.
The Scots and the Irish lads, the Poles and the Slavs, they all look the same to the industrial machine. Shore up those timbers me boys; we lost a dozen yesterday and we don’t need no repeat. Breathe in that dust me boys, and hack out those lungs, black in color and void of hope, and if you can’t do the work there’s more where you came from.
There’s not much hope for the boys of darkness. A small paycheck at the end of the month, the constant aches and pains, the dreamless sleep at the end of each day, a little whiskey, or a lot of whiskey, to help you forget County Cork and the green, rolling hills of yesterday.
There Was a Time
I’ve been working on the railroad, all the live long day. Dangerous work it is, laying the track, dynamiting new routes, pounding those spikes; the weak need not apply as the country spreads its arms and moves west, following Manifest Destiny to the setting sun.
A mountain in the way? Blast it out of there or tunnel through it, makes no difference as long as those tracks are laid down. Those little Chinese fellers are tough; gotta give them their due. Feed them some stew, toss twenty cents per day their way, and they head on out each morning to lay another quarter mile, no complaining, no whining, not when you consider where they came from and what they had to endure just to get to this Paradise.
Pound in that golden spike and connect the two oceans, and there is no stopping us now, friends, because America is just too strong, too big, too ambitious to let natural obstacles stall progress, and if a few lives are lost then so be it; that’s just the price to be paid for a place in history.
Some Final Thoughts
We owe it all to those who came before us. Their blood, their sweat, their tears and yes, their deaths, paved the way for future generations. The lifestyle we now enjoy came with a heavy cost and we had best not forget it. The luxuries we now take for granted came with a price tag and it was a steep price indeed.
Would our ancestors be proud if they were alive today? Would they look out over the landscape of America and swell with the glow of satisfaction, or would they cringe? Is this the better life that our forefathers wished for their children? Is this the American Dream that they sacrificed for? Do we even care? Do we even appreciate what came before us, or do we look upon the bounty as what is owed to us by our birthright?
There was a time so very long ago.
2014 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)