Monday, July 26, 2010

Hard Knocks and Hilarity

Pity the poor people who have nothing to teach the younger generation. And pity the younger generation that thinks they have nothing to learn from their elders. It does seem that humanity is on a hamster’s treadmill, running as fast as we can and always circling back around to where we started as a society. We can’t count on learning only from our own experiences to get us through or we circle back around to the ways of the past. But who ever writes the histories of the “stay-at-home” moms and dads?

If we don’t mine the wisdom of the old folks and learn from their successes and their failures, we’re doomed. The problem is that most people haven’t been taught to admit, much less teach, about the experiments that failed. We ridicule failure and only honor success, so that’s what we’re taught about. How many science experiments are needlessly funded and repeated because we don’t force people to publish their false starts and failures? How often do we share the truth about old and dead people rather than only sharing their goodness?

Mamie is so special because she has learned to laugh about what went wrong as well as celebrating what went right, and she’s willing to share her stories. I don’t even know how many times she’s admonished me not to put my corn in the freezer until it’s all cooled. She worked so hard as a young bride preparing her corn crop and processing the fruits of her family’s labors, only to have the corn spoil in the freezer because she took a short cut after reading the proper methods in the extension service instructions. She can laugh now, but she probably shed a tear or two when this was food that she had counted on to feed her family.

And as my friend Sherry Palmer wrote about in Monroe Life, stringing pole beans is a teachable skill which it behooves one to learn from the locals, unless you like flossing your teeth while you eat. We’ve learned the hard way that the hilling of our rows of crops serves more than one valuable purpose. Jack talks about how the old-timers used to till every other day in a dry spell to make a mulch of the dirt for preserving moisture. Mamie and Jack admit that potatoes won’t grow except in the loose soil of the hilled dirt. And we now know that you have to hill your corn or it may keel over.

Mamie often says, “I could have (or should have) told you that.” Richard’s response is, “Oh, yeah, now she tells us!” Mine is, “What a great opportunity to laugh at all of our need for further education.” Richard believes that everything we need to know, we can read, even though he’s the first to bemoan the fact that failed experiments are rarely publicized. I believe that there’s only so much we can learn from people who haven’t done a thing, and much to learn from those who went to the school of hard knocks.