Aphelion Issue 245, Volume 23
November 2019
 
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Hello and welcome to the November 2019 issue of Aphelion!

This editorial is going to be a trip down memory lane, so hang on--I wax a tad philosophical, too. Be nice, I turned 62 today, LOL!

When I was a child in the 1960s, there was still visible evidence of the Great Depression.

Abandoned stores still stood, left to rot and fall down, some with signs still in their windows advertising a loaf of fresh-baked bread for twelve cents, a dozen eggs for half that, ham and sausage and beef cut to order by the butcher in the store. The County Poor House sitting up on a hill. Abandoned houses, their yards growing to weeds. Churches with pews that had served their congregations since the mid-1800s, still painstakingly cleaned and polished by generation after generation of church members, stained glass windows that were older than my grandparents. Houses with drop-cords stapled to the ceilings for un-shaded electric light bulbs to replace the oil lamps that still served, occasionally—during severe weather. Coal piles and chopping blocks for fireplace or stove kindling wood. Rusted-out hulks of Packards and Fords from a bygone age.

There were abandoned railroad lines, their rails and ties long gone. Outhouses being more common than indoor plumbing. Chamber pots, and old coffee tins being used as chamber pots. Overstuffed Victorian furniture with hand-tatted lace doilies covering the rents and worn spots on their arms. Whitewashed houses with clapboard sides. Some few tar paper shacks still serving as family homes. Cast iron kitchen stoves. Gardens, and canned goods from them, and beans from them strung out on threads to dry for Winter meals, smoke houses for meats because there were no refrigerators. Farmers plowing with mules, and harvesting with scythes. Wringer washing machines unashamedly sitting on front porches in between varnished rocking chairs and porch swings, to be close to the outdoor water spigots.

I saw hand-made quilts—assembled from swatches of cloth salvaged from generations of clothing being re-purposed once the clothes became threadbare—saved as memorials to family, children, and times gone by. Hunting and fishing and farming to supplement what little store-bought food could be afforded. Hand-made version of things no longer affordable, yet still necessary. Rough-cut lumber shelves next to polished  "fancy" furniture. Coal-burning fireplaces--the only heat for the entire house, except for those cast-iron kitchen stoves I mentioned. Some houses had a wood and coal-burning furnace, set up as near the center of the house as possible, with stovepipes thrust out though tin roofs or sometimes out of a nearby window whose glass had been replaced by a thin sheet of tin. Ways of life and values passed down from generation to generation.

I remember Sunday family dinners on Edwardian or Victorian-era tables that would groan at the weight of food piled high for three, or four, or more families to gather together. Fried chicken I knew was running around the neighbor’s yard the day before, bass and brim we’d caught out in the lake the day before, or rabbit & dumplings, with squirrel and chipmunk pan-fried, pheasant, quail, dove, venison, pork chops and ham, roast beef with all the trimmings, green beans and potatoes cooked with a ham hock for seasoning, collards and spinach and turnip greens, polk salad, corn, and okra picked after church that morning. Field peas, pickled beets, pinto beans and cornbread, biscuits fresh out of the oven, white gravy and brown, and red-eye, too.

All because people had to learn to make do with what they had on hand. Left over from a time of no jobs and no money, and no help beyond what your neighbors and extended families could provide.
Trouble is, I see those times returning, but families aren’t as close knit these days, and neighbors seem more of a nuisance than a neighborhood. Pulling together is a foreign concept, now. Our lives have become self-centered. I hope it doesn’t take another era of depression and shared poverty to return us to the kernel of what made those bad times worth enduring. It’s not wealth or prosperity or faith or shared adversity that we should remember from those times most. No, we had no wealth, and prosperity was a thing of the future. Faith is a comfort, and shared adversity is a common meeting ground, but neither can refine our characters in the way that we presently need, not by themselves. I believe that family is a big part of what we need, and community must play a part. I have no solutions, no quick and easy answers. As a civilization, we need that interconnectedness, that co-operation, that unity in order to heal the isolation and mutual loneliness that’s so common today.

I share these memories not because I think the old days were better. They weren’t. Rather I share them because I am of an age to where when I am gone, they will be lost. I don’t want a return to yesterday. I want a better tomorrow. Learn from the past so that you don’t have to re-live it. The road ahead of us splits. One fork takes us back into darkness, the other can hold a brighter future—but we’ll have to work towards that together. If we don’t, the darkness comes back. I offer up memories of what I saw—a history of a life I lived. It is up to each of you to decide your own courses.  Darkness or light? It is up to you.

I'll shut up and let you get to reading the new stories, LOL!




ON THE COVER

Title:  Close-up of the drama of star formation.

Photo Credit: ESO/Sergey Stepanenko