I’ve had a number of modern day problems this year. I’ve even felt a bit sorry for myself in having to deal with them. My irrigation system sprung a major leak and had to be repaired. I had to invest a great deal of money in an implant for a lost tooth. My old shower stall became rickety and unsightly, so I asked for a new one for my birthday. I had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in my left knee and then underwent several weeks of physical therapy. Mike needed a couple of crowns for his teeth. Our HOA demanded that we power wash our driveway and paint the side of our house. Even my old Christmas tree bit the dust and had to be replaced at the eleventh hour. All of this has made me feel glum and beset upon. Who wouldn’t feel overwhelmed, right?
For some reason as I sat in the comfort of my home this morning surrounded by luxuries that many people in the world today cannot even imagine thoughts of my Grandmother Little came into my mind. I’ve always thought of her as my guardian angel and perhaps she took a bit of time from her heavenly repose to remind me of a few things, namely that never in the history of the world have ordinary people like me enjoyed as many conveniences as I presently do. As I recounted my so-called difficulties I found myself feeling more and more ashamed of my self-pity.
The fact is that I didn’t have to do any of the repairs and purchases that have so bummed me out. In an earlier time my own ancestors would have been baffled by my insistence that these were necessities. They never had irrigation systems to care for their land while they relaxed inside an air conditioned environment. They would have been outside carrying buckets of water to the plants in need of water or even worse they might have had to watch their crops shriveling under an unrelenting sun because the rains would not come and they did not have access to a ready water source. They depended totally on the vagaries of Mother Nature who was sometimes a very cruel mistress indeed. My grandmother often spoke of working the farm land from dawn until the last rays of sun lit her toils. Her mother faced even bigger challenges in a rural area without even what we might consider the most fundamental of conveniences. Their days were spent engaged in back breaking labor with rustic tools that made the work only slightly less tedious than clawing at the dirt with their hands.
I lost a single tooth and felt compelled to replace it with a nice titanium steel implant that will function as well as the original. My grandmother had no teeth at all by the time she was my age. The idea of regularly visiting dentists was foreign to her. In the early part of her life she cleaned her teeth with rags, salt, and sometimes charcoal. If a tooth fell out, so be it. It was only as the world became more and more modern that she began to seek the help of a professional. By then the state of her teeth was beyond much more than getting dentures which she thought were a miraculous invention. Her mother, like my maternal grandmother, simply had no teeth in her mouth as she grew old. As one after another became infected and had to be pulled it never occurred to her to consider replacing them with an artificial appliance of some sort. George Washington may have boasted wooden teeth but he was also one of the wealthiest men in all of the thirteen colonies. Ordinary souls simply accepted whatever state of oral health that nature gave them.
It was not until my grandmother was a middle aged woman that she enjoyed the luxury of indoor plumbing that included a bathtub/shower combination. She and my grandfather were the talk of Caddo Gap, Arkansas because they actually had running water inside the house. Some of their neighbors marveled at the modernity of their home. None of them would have seen my rickety but still functional shower stall as a problem. That fact that I have not one, not two, but three bathrooms would have astounded them. Their calls of nature centered around an outhouse and they cleaned themselves with well water and a washtub.
My grandmother enjoyed relatively good health for most of her almost ninety years. It was only when she developed cancer that she finally yielded to seeking medical help. She had no health insurance of any kind back then. It was early in the nineteen sixties and there was still no Medicare for seniors. Her hospital stays and treatments consumed every single penny that she and my grandfather had ever saved. Grandpa hid their financial ruin from her because he understood that she was dying and he did not want to worry her. Upon her death he had to sell their home and everything inside of it to pay his debts. He lived the rest of his life inside a single rented room and never once complained. I, on the other hand, paid only a few hundred dollars here and there for astounding medical care that would have cost tens of thousands of dollars without Medicare and supplemental insurance.
I could almost see my tiny little Grandma shaking her head in wonder at my concerns that really are quite trivial in the grand scheme of the world’s history. She was a fighter, a survivor. She did whatever she had to do and never complained. She would have wondered just exactly what my problems are. She would be happy that I have lived what to her is such a luxurious life. She was from a time when nobody even dreamed of washing machines, cable televisions, cell phones, dishwashers, yearly vacation trips, college educations for commoners, computers, GPS systems, and artificial Christmas trees. When things went awry, she went to work. Her wants and needs were minimal and it never occurred to her to expect more than she had. In fact, she was not all that unique to her generation. The entire lot of them might view our present as being wondrous rather than a time for complaining about every little thing as we seem so wont to do.
Somehow so many of us who live with unimaginable blessings seem to have lost our way. Here in our own wonderful country we hear cries of discontent in every corner of society. We feel beset upon. We play games of mental gymnastics and over-analyze comments and situations because we have nothing better to do. We don’t have to walk outside into the freezing cold just to use the bathroom. We don’t need to prepare a stock of wood to keep us warm in the winter days ahead. We don’t sit in the dark when the sun goes down. We think ourselves to be so unfortunate and we sit in judgement of our ancestors without ever understanding what their lives were really like. It’s so easy for us to be self-righteous because all of our modern conveniences allow us to be so. We can fret over whether or not we are being treated as fairly as the next person. We can complain about the cost of our college educations. My grandmother and those who lived and worked around her never really had the time to worry with such things. For them each day was spent simply making it to the next day and then the next.
I needed that little visit from my grandmother this morning. She’s been there for me for all of my life. She manages to find her way into my thoughts whenever I begin to feel overwhelmed. She reminds me that I am more fortunate than the entirety of souls who came before me and most of the people alive today. I need a little nudge from her from time to time to keep my perspective intact. I suspect that many of us who live in the land of plenty that is America need to stop our grinching and arguing and tearing down just long enough to appreciate what we have.