“The good old days, thank God they’re gone forever,” my Dad used to say. He always laughed after he said it, as if it were part of some grand joke. I’m not entirely sure what period of time (if any) he was referring to, but I can guess.
Often when a family is just starting out there may be enough love and laughter to go around, but often there is not a lot of extra food or money. I have no memory of going to bed hungry (unless I was being punished), and I have no recollection of having to “go without,” but I know we weren’t rolling in it when I was a boy.
My father and mother had seen tough times before having grown up in the depression, and the memory of those lean years never left them, so much so that Mom had difficulty eating beans as she got older, as it had been a daily dietary staple in her childhood during the thirties.
One day last week, while I was in my office minding my own business, the good old days came back to me with three different visitors. John Murphy was the first one who walked through the door. Like any good farmer, he was up early getting things done. John was perhaps my first employer.
When I was in my early teens, I stacked hay alongside him while his son drove the tractor. John was a big strong man back then, and he still looks like he could take care of himself in a disagreement. As part of the arrangement, he would pick me up in town and take me to his farm. Often I would spend an entire day out there splitting my time between the dusty, hot confines of the hayloft and the rack of a hay wagon rocking and reeling in a breezy meadow.
When it came time to eat I would wash up with a garden hose and a watering trough. I shared the white picnic table with John, his young boys and Steve Plonski, a farm kid and classmate who was there to help bale the hay. We sat there together under the shade of a big tree and ate a banquet of home-cooked food skillfully prepared by John’s wife, Mary. The memories of those days still sustain me.
On the AM radio during that time you would hear “Anticipation,” a song by Carly Simon. Although she wasn’t referring to young boys and baling hay, the lyrics to the song offered wisdom when she sang, “Stay right here because these are the good old days.”
About an hour or two after John left my office, my hay baling partner and friend of almost five decades, Plonski, stopped in to see me. We laughed for quite a while, as we talked about St. Patrick’s Day in Belle Plaine.
Later that afternoon, Rob Edberg, a real-life cowboy and one of my heroes, showed up. Rob had been a friend of my older brother. Rob was one of those guys that everybody liked and respected. A star athlete in high school, he still commands attention when he walks into a room. It seems that the Belle Plaine celebration had also given him reason to compare notes of the day with me.
Neil Diamond had a song where he sang, “These are the best years of our lives, the very best years of our lives.” It’s a similar message I give my daughter when I see her happy and busy with her two little fellows. “These are the good old days my dear,” I tell her. Thank God for all of our days.