“Bring back the good old days! All this here fightin’ and dadburned confusion going on is horrible; what with Russia annexin’ Crimea, a winless war goin’ over in Afghanistan and North Korea fiddin’ to blow up the whole world…”
I looked at the grizzly old timer on the front porch of the country feed store near Bastrop, Texas and taking the bait, I asked him what time period he was referring to.
“What time period you referring to, old timer?”
“You know. Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Great Society. The one where all those civil rights laws were enacted and Texas education got a boost,” he coughed heavily for about 30 seconds and then spit a long brown line of what he called “tabacker juice” into a dull bronze spittoon close to my left Columbia hiking boot.
“The 60’s then?” I inquired.
“Yea, back in the 60’s I left the keys in my Corvair Monza in the parking lot of the Piggly Wiggly and never worried someone would steal it. Never gave it a thought.” He paused for effect and then looking me in the eye, spit again.
I didn’t have the heart to comment it might have been because Ralph Nadar had deemed that car as “unsafe at any speed,” but listened as he ruminated on his version of the Great Society.
“You see young fellar, it was jest better times. Jest better in every way. America had respect. R-E-S-P-E-C-K-T. Not what we got now; no not at all.” He paused to expectorate. “Moms stayed at home and made fixin’s for their families. The local doctor would come to your home and you could pay them if you had it, and insurance was cheap.”
“Well, you have a good set of points, old man,” I said, but he wasn’t finished and waving his hand like he was casting seed, he continued in his slow drawn out way.
“I learned a trade before I got out of high school, as did my 3 brothers, and we opened a string of auto repair shops that ran as far south as Columbus and as far north as Killeen. No charity from the Great Society for us.” He laughed and coughed heavily and went on, “That’s when I bought my first Cadillac. I was thirty-nine and had saved every penny to git that there car.”
“So, you bought the luxury car after years of struggle?”
“Dadburn right. These young fellars now live with their parents until they’re 40 years old, but drive a luxury vehicle straight out of high school. They got it all backerds. They don’t have no idea they are livin’ the life of a parasite.” He laughs so hard I have to slap his boney back four of five times before he stops, but he doesn’t miss the spittoon as he resumes.
“Folks growed their own gardens and raised their own chickens. We never had trouble with chubby kids and slothful children; as they were too busy doing chores and walkin’ to school to get fat. It was better times I’m sayin’.” Again he stares at me for effect and then launches the long brown stream of juice into the spittoon.
I wasn’t convinced, as I grew up a teenager in the 60’s, graduating from high school in 1970. “Well, it wasn’t all good and you have to be honest here old man. What about the race riots in the streets and the assassination of JFK, Bobby Kennedy, Martin King, and George Wallace being shot?” He starts to object, but I hold up a finger and continue.
“What about Vietnam? What about the 58,000+ Americans who died there? What about the explosion of drugs in this country and people burning their Draft cards? What about Agent Orange? What about the rabid overshadowing fear of Communism…?”
When I said the word communism, the old man leaned forward and I saw his eyes clearly focus. What he said next scared the bejeebers out of me.
“Communism you say? Communism? Why that’s exactly why I want to go back. It’s here. My God, boy, Ray Charles can see that…” The look on his face is so sincere and filled with dread that I took a step back.
“Look at what our government has done to this once great nation and tell me otherwise. We are living in a Socialist country where more people are either employed by the government, or dependent on it.” He spits again and I note his country twang went straight out the window about 30 seconds before.
“Well, old man, I guess I have to agree with you. As bad as it was with the assassinations, riots, and Vietnam War, it does appear that in comparison to where we are going, the 60’s were definitely the good old days.
I headed back to my Jeep and the old man to his tobacco chewing and as I drove off, he waved.