Monday, July 20, 2009
Appreciating snow in July (among other things)
* Yonkers, NY July 8, 2009
You may have noticed that I've not been blogging as much lately as I have in the past. This is not due to anything other than I've simply been spending more time thinking about life, rather than writing about it. I also decided this year, that with free time being such a rare commodity, I would rather write when something feels relevant to me, rather than just blathering on and on about nothing. That all being said, summer has finally arrived in New York (well, except for that little snowstorm the other morning in Yonkers*) and I'm happy to report that the roof has been down on the Jeep for three straight days in a row now, and nary a drop of water has ruined my ride. It's days like these--bird chirping mornings, low-humidity days, roofless rides, barbecue evenings--that make me happy to be. That's it...just happy to be.
Recently, a friend of mine relayed to me a little ditty he remembered his father saying to his mother throughout his childhood: "Give them less and they'll appreciate more." I'm sure come Christmastime and birthdays those were not exactly the words my friend and his siblings wanted to hear, but as he got older he began to understand exactly what his dad meant, as did I when he repeated it to me. The amazing Peggy Noonan penned a great column in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks back on Sarah Palin, and in that article she wrote about what she labeled the "self-esteem generation". That brand really resonated with me, for I myself have noticed that the generations that came after the Baby Boomers seem to believe that they are entitled to not only 'things', but their way, as well. Ms. Noonan wrote in that article: "For 30 years the self-esteem movement told the young they're perfect in every way. It's yielding something new in history: an entire generation with no proper sense of inadequacy." Brilliantly put.
I was raised in a household where we had chores, and when we were old enough to get jobs, got them. If we were 'fresh', or misbehaved, that most certainly resulted in a spanking, a mouth full of soap, or our room, without dinner. We donned skippy sneakers from Woolworth's until they had holes in the soles, and wore stiff dungarees from Klein's, which were passed on as hand-me-downs when they were outgrown. We ate what was on our plates, and liked it. On our birthdays, and on holidays we got gifts of course, but they were by no means extravagant, and most times, not brand names. When I made my First Holy Communion, I received a small, simple gold cross necklace; we were never allowed to be show-offy.
Every summer my dad planted a salad garden in the backyard: tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, cucumbers. There was a long rope clothesline on a pulley back there too, where we would would hang our sheets and tshirts and jeans up by wooden clothespins to dry in the summer sun. My brothers and my dad mowed that backyard lawn with an old, rotary push mower each and every week under the hot sun. I'm sure my dad thought it was good exercise. All over the property carnations, and black-eyed Susan's, and daisies, and roses, and lilacs, and lilies of the valley, and mint, and wild garlic grew. On summer nights we would make buttered toast, then rub the fresh garlic across the warm slices of bread. We'd eat our garlic toasts, then run barefoot across the lawn, chasing the fireflies that floated up in the humid night air. Perhaps we'd play hide and seek for awhile with our friends, or beg our mom for three quarters if the Good Humor truck happen to jingle by (more times than not, that plea would fall on deaf ears). At 9pm or so, my mother would call us in for bed. I can't remember showering very much, or worrying about ticks, or mosquito bites, or UV rays. We didn't have computers back then, of course; we had one TV that got channels 2, 4, 5, 7, 9, 11, and 13, but we rarely turned it on because we were mostly outside playing, building forts, finding bugs, swimming, exploring the neighborhood, being kids. Our parents didn't fuss over us; if we skinned our knees, well, we skinned our knees and that was that. No babying.
It was all very simple when we were growing up; we had a home, and food on the table, and clothes on our backs, and we went to school, and church, and in that regard, our lives were probably not very different from the "self-esteem generation" that Ms. Noonan wrote about a few weeks back. Except, of course, that my parents unwittingly had the same "give them less, they'll appreciate more" philosophy as my friends father did. And, as a result, I grew up inherently humble and self sufficient--two of the greatest gifts my parents could have ever bestowed upon me, but that I didn't appreciate until just lately (I guess that old nugget 'with age comes wisdom' is dead-on after all.)
We need to teach our children--and perhaps remind ourselves--that humility is an admirable trait, not a shameful one; that as we go through life, we should not feel entitled to things, but rather grateful for things. Things like chirpy bird mornings, roofless rides, barbecue evenings, garlic toasts, and I guess yes, even the occasionally snowy July morning. Just as long as it's melted the next day, of course. Even I have my limits.