Growing Up with a Very Old Father

Imagine growing up with a father more than old enough to be your grandfather. When I was born in 1950, a post-World War II Baby Boomer who was soon to get a taste of the Cold War and the Space Race, my father was 72. When he was born, way back in 1878, the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era was just ending; Rutherford B. Hayes was President; Thomas Edison patented the phonograph that year and the commercial light bulb two years later. TALK ABOUT GENERATION GAPS!

Excerpt from At the Far End of Nowhere: Tonight, I start by saying, “Tell me what it was like when you were a little boy, Daddy.” And he goes on to tell me about a time when there were no cars, no electric lights, a time when folks moved more slowly, with the rhythm of nature. A much quieter time, but not an idyllic one.

“You remember me telling you about my Cousin Urchie, Lissa?”

I nod and he continues.

“Many generations ago my cousin Urchie’s family settled on a small parcel of land in what the locals called Fallen Angel Swamp, a wetland in the Potomac River basin that ran the length of Charles County, more than 20 miles along a braided stream, and eventually emptied into the Loco Moco River. Now even though their property—a mosquito-laden strip of land rising only a few feet above the wetland—was not much good for farming, it belonged to Urchie’s family, free and clear, or so they thought.

“And so, generation after generation, Urchie’s progenitors were born breathing the fetid swamp gasses. Some died in childhood. Some lived long enough to reproduce. Some died giving birth. Eventually all of them fell mysteriously and terribly ill and died.

“Now while the local doctor—who was not much more than a pill peddler—dispensed his new-fangled patent medicines, the swamp kept on nurturing hordes of mosquitoes. And they went about breeding and biting and spreading an inventory of diseases as long as your arm. Fouled, stagnant water. No electricity. No indoor plumbing. All this worked in cahoots with people’s ignorance of the simplest tenets of sanitation and personal hygiene to unleash furious demons. Cholera. Dysentery.”

WHAT ARE YOUR REACTIONS TO THIS PASSAGE?

1 thought on “Growing Up with a Very Old Father”

  1. We frequently use the term “the good old days.” What do we mean by good? What do we value about those times? What years are we referring to? Was the past really better than the present? Are we talking about times before air, water, and noise pollution? Is this just nostalgia? What was really good about the “old” days?

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