One of my Christmas presents one year was a book that describes how to write one’s personal history – his or her memoirs — a “legacy” for family members and friends. Grandson Zak said, “Grandpa, you tell some great stories about the past. You’ve got to get all those great old tales down on paper, so they aren’t lost.”
Recently, he asked me how much progress I’d made on the project. I replied that I had my pencils all sharpened and was all ready to start. But right now I was just waiting for something interesting to happen so I’d have something to write about.
Whenever I sit down to write I am faced with a question. What can I write that the grandchildren will believe? I may begin with: “Once upon a time there were no such things as an Internal Revenue Service or a state income tax. Social Security, Medicare, and health insurance were still unheard of. Unemployment pay, pensions, retirement plans were words and terms used by only a few.”
If the youngsters will swallow that paragraph, I may continue with: “Back then, any trucks on the road were small, few and far between. Most families owned a car – but only one. And a few of those were sitting up on blocks because the owners couldn’t afford the annual $11 state license fee. There was no such thing as automobile insurance and no one had, or had even heard of, such a thing as a ‘driver’s license,’ much less a ‘learner’s permit.’ The price of one gallon of gas today would have bought you ten gallons – in most cases, would have filled your tank.
“Some automobiles left the assembly line, were used for 20 or 30 rough, tough years, then went to the junk yard – without ever having had their keys pulled from the ignition switches. Families could drive to Dubuque to do their Christmas shopping at places like Roshek’s, Stampfer’s, Penney’s, Montgomery Ward, and Kresge’s and never even bother to lock their cars. In fact, many vehicles then didn’t even have door locks. And in most cases, all the while they were parked there on Main St. or Locust, the ignition key remained in the switch. Right where God and Henry Ford thought it belonged.”
Anyway, that’s the way I intend to start out my life story. But I’m not so sure they’ll buy it. I can almost hear them say, “I’m afraid Grandpa’s a lot stronger on imagination than he is on memory and facts these days.”
But, as one old-timer said many years ago, “What I saw, I saw.”
Old Ralph Johnston holds his grandson
On his skinny, bony knee.
He grins and says, “Josh, one day you’ll
Be an awful lot like me.
“You’ll find then, you too, will spend much
Time in an old rocking chair.
Your mirror will show less brown than
Silver in your thinning hair.
“Then you’ll recall younger days and
Jobs you’ve held and work you’ve done
When you thought you were the man most
Important beneath the sun.
“When you’re young and strong, it’s easy
To think of great deeds you’ll do.
But why hurry when you still have
Your whole life ahead of you?
“Then, Grandson, before you know it
Time will start taking its toll.
You may face some problems that will
Challenge both body and soul.
“Working men get terminated.
No one really seems to care.
Their crews go right on a-working
As if they’d never been there.
“You will start recalling old friends,
Some fickle, and others true.
You’ll shed a tear for some good ones
Who’ve gone on ahead of you.
“Most likely you’ll recall others
Who’ve brought you pain and regret,
But age ain’t no time for grudges –
Forgive – or, at least, forget.
“You may regret some of those hours
That you wasted, day-by-day,
Fretting about various problems
You could not solve, anyway.
“One day you’ll learn time is precious.
Years just go scooting right by.
You’ll recall some worthwhile projects
That you somehow failed to try.
“Find some time to thank the good Lord
For blessing you with long life,
With luck, there’ll be kids and grandkids
And a kind and loving wife.
“When the time comes that you reach the
Later innings of life’s game,
May you find a rocking chair that
Fits your scrawny, aging frame.
“When you’re just sitting there rocking
And whiling your time away,
Think a few fond thoughts of Grandpa —
Maybe send a prayer my way.
Emil Schmit is the 89 year old father of Pam Buttikofer, one of the owners of Imperfect Women. Emil continues to write although age and health issues have slowed him down a bit. He is a is a self-trained poet, free-lance writer, public speaker, and journalist. His weekly column, “Rhyme and Reason,” appeared for over twenty years in the Dubuque, Iowa daily newspaper, the Telegraph Herald. You can read more of Emil’s Bio here. The typewriter pictured on the bio page is one that he sat at for over 50 years creating many of his “rhymes and reasons.”