The important things in life change in time
My grandfather was a teamster – a real teamster. With horse, mule and wagon at the turn of the century, he hauled freight in Canada and upstate New York.
Stories were told of my father and his seven brothers assisting the livestock by helping push the wagon up steep hills.
My father maintained the family tradition; he, too, became a teamster.
But he powered his horses with gas not hay. He was born in 1909 and died 90 years later. He lived through two world wars, countless conflict, the Russian and the sexual revolution.
He was born into a home without electricity or plumbing, and had a cousin die from an abscessed tooth.
My old man’s life was improved and extended by a pacemaker, a quadruple bypass and laser surgery.
I can’t think of any generation that had witnessed such advances in human achievement than my dad’s.
A couple of years before he checked out, I asked him what he thought was the most important technological improvement he has seen in his lifetime.
Not needing to give it much thought, he immediately said, “pre-sliced cheese and reflectors.”
I was well aware of his fondness of those nasty packaged cheese slices. He was known to place Kraft Cheese on anything from apple pie to oatmeal.
The reflector comment surprised me. I assumed he meant those huge disks seen on towers and mountains that relay signals from satellites in outer space; not so.
My dad meant reflectors that people nail to their mailboxes or manufacturers sew into clothing and shoes which promote nighttime visibility.
Later that evening, we went to a local diner for bad food. He ordered a plain hamburger.
When it arrived he pulled a cheese slice out of his pocket and placed it in the bun.
On the way home, he pointed out the reflectors on road signs, telephone poles and peoples’ clothing.
“Look how bright that is,” he said, “You don’t need batteries, electricity or nothing. The reflectors we used to have on our trucks were worthless. Over the years, they seem to have improved.”
I suspected the improvement might have been more a product of my father’s recent cataract surgery, but I said nothing.
My father’s priorities surprised me. He witnessed the conquering of polio, malaria and scarlet fever.
He saw the world go from horse and wagon to space travel.
His quality of life was lengthened and improved by modern medicine, and he watched from his living room men walking on the moon.
Despite all that, he marveled the most over packaged produce and reflecting light.
When I pointed out my thoughts that cheese and reflectors pale when compared to all other progress in medicine and science that has occurred during his life he said, “Maybe without all the big stuff I’d be dead, but I wouldn’t want to be alive if I couldn’t find my way home from the diner.”
For the rest of my visit, I took notice of my dad’s dependence on reflectors.
He had a few at the end of his driveway, so he knew which home was his.
It seems that a few times he parked in front of the wrong house. After hitting the back of the garage several times he placed one at eye level on the far wall.
He even had one taped to both front doors of his car, so he could tell his vehicle from all the other 1978 Buicks in the parking lot.
It could be said that a few dollars worth of plastic and tin kept my dad functioning.
My old man’s love of sliced cheese and reflectors illustrates something I’ve long suspected.
When you approach the end of your life, it’s easier to put things in perspective. It’s the little things that matter.
All the flash and drama is worthless if you can’t take pleasure in the basic joys and comforts.
My old man at the end of his life was more concerned with what helped him travel from his old house to the ratty diner and back again then all the worldly miracles that were out of sight and out of mind.
Hopefully I’ll live as long as my dad. Because of curative and technological progress there is little doubt, whatever my life span is, my years will be more comfortable.
But comfort is a relative term. For my father comfort was getting his old Buick home from the diner. And once home the luxury of not having to cut his own cheese …
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of “Biff America” can be seen on RSN television, heard on KOA radio, and read in several mountain publications. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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