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Where is the charm today?

Features Column

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

Albany Herald Guest Columnist Loran Smith

When you spend time on the road, you often have time to reflect, reminisce and recall the past. One of the things which brings emotional satisfaction is to drive into the countryside, accompanied by the signal of a country music station.

As you move about this time of the year, there are farms and fields being readied for spring planting, bringing pause and reminding you that the renewal of life each year is something for which to be grateful.

Remembering the days of the past is a good tonic for the emotions. Ever think about what your grandchildren will recall about the times of computers, cell phones and iPads? What will they relish about their “good old days”? What about the rushed times we live in today — what will they remember charming, sentimental and memorable about these technological times?

Just recently, I was going though an old file and found a letter from a lady named Clara Rousey who lived out her life in Bowman, a small community in Elbert County. She was moved to write a letter after reading something in the newspaper about octagon soap.

It was a very sentimental letter, penned by an aging woman who had lived a hard life and had grown up when you only survived if you were self sufficient.

“We lived in the country and never had any other kind (of soap), she wrote We washed clothes, dishes and shampooed our hair. I made a lot of lye soap a lot of times to wash clothes with. I sure do know what a washboard is and a battling stick too.”

Every time I have a conversation with someone who is well connected in business, I find myself asking about the economy. The replies seem to carry a common thread. Most businessmen see the economy as beginning to improve slightly but there is always a disclaimer. “Don’t think it will ever be like it was (before the last downturn.)”

When you hear such assessment, you worry about the futures of children and grandchildren. The cost of education is increasing every year and government seems to be taking away more and more dollars for education. Makes you become a worried man singing a worried song which is why you try to find that country music signal where you can take your mind off any negative thoughts.

After reading Mrs. Rousey’s handwritten note a second time, I thought of how previous generations made do and can’t help but question how future generations will manage challenges of import. Making do is perhaps harder today than in the past, when much of America farmed.

“We sent eight kids though 12 grades,” Mrs. Rousey wrote. “Not one morning did they go to school with a canned biscuit or a piece of toast. I made biscuits for 33 years for them. They are all married with families of their own, but I doubt that their kids have a hot buttered biscuit (Ha!) in the morning. I could write a book on the hard times I have seen.” She and her husband were sharecroppers, and when her husband couldn’t work in 1946, she planted 25 acres of cotton. She followed a mule pulling a guano distributor to get the cotton into the ground.

She had to be a special woman. She managed all the household requirements--cooking, sewing and raising eight children who all went to school on a full stomach and wore clean clothes washed by their mother with homemade soap.

There is a note of sadness to Mrs. Roush’s story. I never got around to driving to Bowman to meet her. Her letter, however, will become a keepsake, a reminder that the work ethic she honored in her life could still solve a lot of problems in today’s world.

Loran Smith is affiliated with the University of Georgia and can be reached via e-mail at loransmithathens@bellsouth.net.