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The following article appeared Springhouse Magazine in Spring 2003.    All rights reserved.

Learning From the Older Generation

Warm feelings of security come when I remember my parents visiting with family and friends at Mount  Airy Farm during the summer evenings.

Daddy had bought his home place there for our summer use. He would rent out our house in town and have a little cash income, and he would grow a small corn crop to help feed the cattle the next winter. My parents had more time to socialize during their summer off from teaching, and they would want to catch up on their visiting with family and friends near the farm as well as entertain friends from afar.

Unlike our town neighborhood where we lived the other eight months of the year, there were no children to run outside and play with. There was no TV even in our Jonesboro house, but on the farm with no electricity, there was not even a radio. Visitors were exciting additions to our life. I early learned if I would keep very quiet, I could hear all sorts of adult insights not usually granted to my ears.

Men on one side of the room; women on the other.

I always felt torn, for invariably early in the evening the two men would be on one side of the room with one conversation going. Mother and the other wife would be at the other side or else around the kitchen table with a second conversation going. I wanted to hear both, but I would have to choose. Sometimes I divided the evening listening first to the women and then to the men. I identified more with the women’s topics and learned interesting gossip about people and women’s lore and beliefs and problems and solutions. But the men told more exciting and adventurous tales. They told stories--with rising action and a climax and a resolution--usually flattering to themselves or humorous. Vigorous exploits were related, and I hated to miss a one. And yet, the women would tell about childbirth and falling in love and all those things I needed to know. I did not want to miss that talk either. It was an evening of feasting on distilled adult experience and logic.

Mother had a round wicker table in the farm living room holding the kerosene lamp. As the evening wore on, the light outside faded. We would light the lamp and the acerbic smoky smell of kerosene blended in the shadowy light cast in the darkness by the lamp.

Adults forgot I was there.

As the talk continued and the adult fellowship deepened, I became less noticeable and faded into the background of the grownups’ consciousness. I do not remember ever being sent to bed. My head may have bent over on the table, but I was allowed to listen in to my heart’s content. I knew they told things they ordinarily would have edited if addressing children, but during these conversations, they did not seem to notice my presence.

The adults obviously were living life and facing problems with gusto. They seemed to believe that problems were what life was all about. Solving problems and facing up to tribulations was what made life exciting. Sharing the drama from their daily struggle was what adult friendship was about. No one would even wish to be without problems, for then there would be no stories to tell. Their confidence and engagement with their struggles were heartening and encouraging to a listening child.

No need for refreshments during evening visits.

The evening’s guests would finally realize it was late and there was another day’s work facing them the next day, and they would begin their preparations to leave. Mother frequently had house guests and people over for supper or Sunday dinner or to make ice cream on Sunday afternoon. However, during these evenings visits, I do not remember refreshments being served at our home or at the home of those we visited. The refreshment was the talk and the honest sharing of feelings and adventures. We would follow our guests out to their car in the evening darkness. The katydids would be singing, and the frogs over at the pond sounding a chorus. The sky would be ablaze with stars in that wonderful old-time darkness that exists now in fewer and fewer places.

Amid shouts of “You come back and see us now,” and “You come over,” the adults would wave goodbye as the car doors slammed. Mother, Dad, and I would shiver a mite in the cool night air and seem warm and content to be together as we walked back to the house. I would fall in bed with many new visions circling in my brain and would drop instantly off to sleep wiser and happier than when the evening began.