The Way Things Used to Be…

There is an old Amish grocery store here in Nolensville that is all decked out in Chrysanthemums and pumpkins at this time of year. Every time I pass by it, I get such a strong desire to stop in and buy 30 pumpkins and just as many mums. Fall is my favorite time of the year. The air; like James Whitcomb Riley says is, “so appetizen’!” I love wearing sweaters or hoodies, sitting around bonfires and sippin’ a little corn squeezin’… or not.

When I see the old Amish store, it reminds me of my roots back in rural South Central Indiana and causes me to remember how different the world is today than it was when I grew up 62 years ago.  If you read me often, you will know that I am a person who likes to reminisce, and; in my case, the desire for “the good old days” borders on escape at times. But it does make me wonder how we could have devolved from a country of caring for your neighbor to one where people don’t even know their neighbors.

When I was five, my mother would send me down to old Mrs. Zaharako’s to buy some eggs. It was about a eighth of a mile from our house, and I would walk down the country road to buy them. Mrs. Zaharako, would tell me to sit, while she went to gather them. She would do a ‘DOUBLE CHECK” to make sure she hadn’t given me one with a “chick” in it, by holding it up to the light. Her dog; a boxer, would sit staring at me the whole time.

The world was slower, and south-central Indiana had no higher ambition than to shed her leaves in bright orange, yellows and faded greens all over the ground.  Walt Baxter and his son Terry would ride their horses  down the road and even stop to talk to my parents. The farmers like Bill and Sandra Rogers were wrapping up their fall work. It was a time when everyone knew each other and cared about each other, a remnant of World War Two when we were connected spiritually, politically and morally to one another.

Remember, this was early to mid-1960’s, so there were no cell phones, four channels on television and if a kid was really lucky he had a magnifying glass that he could use to set a leaf on fire or torture ants. If the Marr’s cows got out, we all helped herd them back home…it was what you did.

Today, on my way home, I stopped at good old Publix to get some groceries and was looking at some canned pumpkin at the front of the store. A young mother with her little girl in the cart, (buggy for you Tennesseans), strolled up and was looking too. For reasons unknown I asked her right out loud, “do you like to bake?” I smiled and due to the snow on my rooftop, (white hair) she smiled back and said, “I do but it isn’t REAL baking”. Chuckling I said, “you buy your pie crusts?” and she laughed and asked, “how did you know?”

I shared how my mother used to mix her own using ice water to keep the fat or butter cold when she cut it into the flour. The young mother marveled. “Now”, she asked as she pulled out her phone to take notes, “Can you use real butter when you make a crust?”  I said yes and explained back in the day my mom used both butter or lard. She shuddered…”LARD?!” I said, “Sure, you haven’t eaten if you haven’t had some lard in a big mess of Collards or a crust.”

An older woman within earshot heard us and she piped up. “Ice water gets d-r-i-z-zl-e-d into the mixture…don’t just pour it all in!” Not being the expert my mother was, I deferred to this older woman and nodded in agreement.” The two got into a conversation about baking and comparing freezer rolls to homemade rolls. I knew my time to depart had come so I bid them a good day and strolled off to produce section. But those few moments interacting with other humans made me realize what made the old days so wonderful.

People knew they could trust other people, and the thought of an older woman giving baking advice to a younger woman seemed perfectly natural. Women are better at this than men. Men like to appear self sufficient and independent of others. “I got my act together and don’t need anyone to tell me anything” they think, even though NO ONE has their act together and EVERYONE needs all the advice they can get. Back then, we knew we needed each other, but; today, the thought of interdependence seems lost even despised.

I finished shopping and paid for my purchases and walked out to my truck to pack em in and get em home. While I was loading up my back seat, a family with two children was walking toward the store to buy groceries. I always try to make eye contact when people are walking toward me….windows of the soul you know. When the father’s eyes met mine I…of course, opened my mouth reflexively. “Good lookin’ family you got there!” smiling.

The man scowled at me and his little boy said, “Daddy that man said something to you…” The father said, “You never talk to a stranger…I don’t care what they say to you….it dangerous.” My heart hurt for that little boy. Yes, we live in a world where danger is great and threats to children are greater still; but we need to teach our children to discern good intention from bad, and parents modeling that is far healthier than teaching them to fear everyone they meet.

Driving home and passing the Amish grocery again, I couldn’t help but wonder where the door back to Eden was, and how we could possibly turn the knob and open the door back to it…but in this world, and at this time in history, it will take Jesus to show us the way… and I promised myself right then and there, to never stop talking, never stop showing genuine concern, to never fear interacting with my neighbors because every time we connect, we bring the “good old days” back into our present.

The door to community is always open…if we are.

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