History doesn’t pass the dishes again
The Kansas City Star
I remember once seeing interviews of surviving Civil War veterans filmed in the 1920’s, and what I most recall is that they didn’t talk much about Gettysburg or the great battles.
They talked about how bad the bugs hounded them, and how exciting it was to be off the farm. Or how awful the camp reeked on a hot summer day, and how hard “hard tack” really was. And how much they enjoyed it when somebody came up with some whiskey and somebody else came up with a fiddle.
What makes me think of this is a book recently published by my mother-in-law, Betty Bateman Hodges, who grew up in Oklahoma. She didn’t fight in the Civil War, but she did come of age in the early 1940s, at that unique time when the hard days of the Dust Bowl and Depression gave way to Pearl Harbor and WW II.
Her book, called the “The Imagination of Impossible Things,” is a fictionalized account of her experiences as a teen-ager during those years.
As a small child in the fifties, my first interest in those days mostly revolved around army games. Although the war had ended just ten years before I was born, it already seemed like ancient history. (No doubt kids being born today will probably view the events of 9/11 as ancient history too.)
As a grown-up I’ve read any number of books about the Great Depression and the Great War, and the Greatest Generation that lived through it. To be honest, I’m even a little tired of hearing about that great generation, now that the rest of us are known as “Boomers”, or “X’s”, or “Y’s”, or just plain “Losers.”
So I have to confess, I first started reading this novel as a courtesy to my mother-in-law.
But the next thing I knew I was staying up well past my “bedtime”, reading just one more chapter, then another. That doesn’t happen too often these days – usually my bedtime reading has just the opposite effect. (Not sure if that’s a reflection of my age, or the material I’ve been reading.)
The book is well-written and all that, but the real treat is that it ushers you into a world 75 years gone, written by somebody who was there. So often the histories we read are from folks who were not there: historians or journalists or professors. (Actually Betty Hodges, who lived most of her adult life in this area, does have a doctorate in Education from KU, but we won’t hold that against her.)
Like those old Civil War veterans, Betty Hodges’ book doesn’t focus on the big stuff. While all those world-shaking events are swirling around them, she and her friends are still teenagers not much different than the ones we have today. They worry about how the war might ruin their prom if they can’t get the materials needed for a dress, and some gas for the car. About how the world was going to impact their plans to go to college, or get married.
Of course some things have changed. Kid’s today generally don’t sneak off on a Friday night to ice skate at a pond, or “go parking” in a cemetery, or say “Keen!” when something excites them. Back then the best place to make music was apparently not in the basement, but at the church. Preparing a Thanksgiving dinner could take three days, and woe to the man who didn’t appreciate this fact!
But as much as times have changed, I get the feeling kids back then weren’t much greater than the kids growing up today. When the hard times hit, they did what they had to do and didn’t whine about it, and that’s what Americans have always done. At least I like to think so.
I want to thank Betty for writing this book. At her age (you can do the math), it isn’t easy pecking out a book on a computer that doesn’t behave quite as reliably as that old Smith Corona typewriter. It’s a “swell” read, if I can borrow a word from 1941, and I wish we had more of them.
Learning our history from the historians is one thing, but how much better to get it live, from eyes that saw, and ears that heard. Most of the time we hear it when we are too young to listen, and too blind to see. Unfortunately, by the time we are ready for it, it’s often too late.
The writer Celine once said, “History doesn’t pass the dishes again.” That never made much sense to me, but now it’s starting to.
So if you are lucky enough to have a relative in your family with a good story to tell, my advice is to brew up some coffee, turn off that smart phone and take a seat.
A copy of Betty’s novel is available at www.tbmbooks.com: “The Imagination of Impossible Things” by Betty Bateman Hodges.