by Greq Musswlwhite for Congress
Dinner at Grandma’s
My wife and I recently took a trip back to Tennessee for my Grandmother’s 90th birthday. We had a great time reuniting with family we had not seen in several years. It brought back memories of days before smart phones and Facebook. The internet is a blessing, but it is also a curse in robbing us of the personal interactions that make us human.
My family is fortunate to have five living generations. Life has certainly changed from when my Grandmother was a little girl to life today with my Grandson. One of the biggest differences from then and now is how we interact with one another. Families used to sit down and enjoy dinner together and talk about the events of the day; now it is fast food with a cell phone in your face. Sadly, this detachment from human contact is making people lose their sense of civility and common courtesy.
I can remember having a house full of people over at my Grandmother’s house on Sunday for dinner. There were usually 20 to 30 kids — enough that we would play baseball or football with full teams. (Remember when kids would play outside and pick-up games were a thing — no adults needed?) These were wonderful times filled with learning experiences that taught us the value of social interaction with others. You can imagine that with several kids of varying ages and sexes there was always a little drama. But no matter what, we were family and always stood up for one another.
Growing up in East Tennessee in the very rural area of Coalfield, we had fun running the hills and woods, and enjoyed hunting and fishing. We learned gun safety and conservation of our wild resources, with Dad always telling us, “you have to eat what you kill.” However, my brothers and I didn’t get to play until chores were done. The work done on even a small farm builds a work ethic especially in young kids.
The knowledge of contributing to a good harvest and keeping the animals well fed instilled a sense of accomplishment and self-worth that built character. While we may have complained about weeding the garden or planting potatoes at the time, it was a great feeling when harvest came, and you were rewarded with the bounty. Crops we grew included corn, white and sweet potatoes, okra, tomatoes, green beans, squash and many other vegetables. The satisfaction that one gets from hard work that yields benefits for not only you, but others is an amazing feeling. People tend to value and appreciate things they have worked for more than if merely given them.
Today there is a lot of debate about minimum wage and the need for a living wage. I remember working on our farm and summers spent helping cousins on theirs doing chores like loading hay, tending the fields, and mending fences. A lot of the jobs that people say “Americans” don’t want to do are what many teens did to EARN pocket money.
When we moved to Grand Bay Alabama, I was still a teen and lot of kids spent the summer picking watermelons or working other crops, enabling them to buy their first car or just to have a good weekend. My first real job was working at a local hardware store stocking shelves, cleaning, and running a register. The work ethic instilled in me from an early age allowed me to give my employer good service for his money as well as being reliable and responsible in showing up on time and doing a good job. Experience is the best teacher; our children need to know responsibility as well as there being consequences for not living up to those responsibilities. In real life there are no “participation trophies”.
I realized as a young adult that raising a family would require more income than I could make with the meager skills of “running a register” or “sweeping the floors” would grant. After a few missteps, college, working as a correctional officer, and a few labor jobs, I learned a trade. As a pipe fitter and welder, I could make a good living and support my family. Traveling all over the United States working to ensure people have gas in their cars and lights on at their house, can be a very rewarding occupation. Seeing the sights that make America unique and beautiful is something few have the opportunity to do.
As a traveling construction worker, you make very good money, but miss out on a lot of things happening at home: school field trips with the kids, ball games, birthdays, holidays and just seeing them grow up. Choices were made, and one must live with the consequences of those choices. Learn from them and pass that knowledge down as best you can.
We watch as our young people (and to be fair, adults too) are engrossed in the latest viral video or playing a game on their phone. Sometimes it seems that with the advent of the internet we have much more knowledge at our fingertips, but have less ability to process that knowledge. A screen is a cold and lonely thing, and I feel for the children of today who haven’t lived as we did, getting dirty and playing with others. Many of the social skills we learned as a child are not being passed on to our children and grandchildren.
Personal interactions are being lost like a simple act of kindness or a look or a smile to encourage someone when they are having a hard time. We have less face to face conversations, like talking about our favorite sports teams and players, and have more “chats” typed out on a cold keyboard. But they’re not the same. You lose the feeling that comes with the words, inflections, connectivity, and empathy. We are slowly losing our humanity and becoming cold and distant to others.
The loss of direct human interaction is leading to lack of civility in all aspects of our lives. People are too easily offended and do not know how to accept criticism even if constructive. This has never been as apparent as it is in today’s politics. We see an escalation in the verbiage being used for opposing parties and the hostility is palpable. The main stream media is partially at fault with their pursuit of ratings. They “up” the game whenever possible to pit one group against another.
I truly miss Walter Cronkite and knowing the news of the day was not “fake” and mostly without “spin”.
We are bombarded with rhetoric on every channel of the TV as well as on social media and people start to become numb to the “news”. People eventually must step back and take a break from society, and its hustle and bustle.
In the quite moments late at night, the speed of life slows down enough that you can reflect on how you got to where you are, and the memories come flooding back. Life has a way of passing you by and before you realize it your kids are grown, and they have kids of their own — the song “Cats in the Cradle” comes to mind.
For me, those quiet moments are filled with treasured memories of pumpkin pies cooling in the kitchen as I wondered how many slices I might get. I remember the wonderful smells of Sunday dinner cooking, usually turkey and dressing, sweet potatoes and green beans from the garden and with it the feelings of love. Oh, to have just one more, dinner at Grandma’s…