Do you remember the good old days of the Internet and email? The excitement of logging onto your computer and hearing that perky, always-up voice chirp, “You’ve got MAIL!” I swear my heart would skip a beat. Now, it’s roll out of bed, stumble into my study, brush my teeth with one hand and sort the night’s e-mail with the other. Yes, sort, not read. Three categories—trash without reading; read eventually, read before noon. Actually, there’s a fourth—all emails sent by CBA Treasurer Ed Alston are read instantly. Being the CBA’s money man, Ed writes emails that always contain really, really, bad news or really, really good news. In either case, there’s no waiting around to hear what Alstoan has to say.
Now, I’m not complaining about the amount of electronic mail I receive each day. I’ve chosen my lot in life; I’m involved pretty heavily in three separate pursuits, (a business, the CBA web site, and our bluegrass association) and the Internet and email are perfectly evolved tools for keeping up with each. I just feel harried sometimes. It’s like, I’ll be half finished going through my morning’s mail when suddenly three or four new notes come in and, the next thing I know, I’m heading off in some new direction…or three or four new directions. Sometimes I find myself wondering how all this communicating got done before the World Wide Web. Was I even doing this much communicating before the www, and if not, what was left undone and unwritten? Just what exactly changed?
It was with these questions sloshing around in my head that I had a conversation with my pal Rich Evans. We were at the Fall Campout, hanging around Lisa Burns’ campsite waiting for her legendary potato soup to be finished that the topic of community and family came up. Specifically, community and family ‘way back when’ compared to nowadays. I shared with Rich that in recent years the focus of my CBA commitment had shifted a little; of course it was still about the music….always the music first….but I found that I was now also pre-occupied preserving the community. I told my friend that I believed that, as a culture, we’ve lost a sense of community in most aspects of everyday life, and in, we, at least here in the U.S., have lost something of the nuclear family that defined our first one hundred and fifty years.
“I know just what you mean”, Rich said. “I grew up on a farm. Our family was close and our little community was close.” Sipping a just-cold-enough Guinness under the shade of a giant elm tree, my friend asked me if I’d ever milked a cow.
“Once”, I said, “on my uncle’s farm. And I wasn’t very happy about it.”
“Well, I milked cows every day of my childhood. And it wasn’t till I was in the 9th grade that I realized I’d been going to school everyday smelling like a cow barn. But to be honest, by then I didn’t much care. I appreciated the life we had on the farm. We raised just about everything we ate. Why, we’d take a load of just-cut wheat into town and trade it for a sack of flour. And of course we’d buy sugar.”
“And salt,” I said.
“Right, salt too. But pretty much everything else we grew. And when I say, we, I mean WE. My dad, my mom and all us kids. Everybody had their jobs. I remember coming home from school and harnessing up a team of horses and going out to plow before dinner-time. Our family had forty-five head of horses. About thirty were field horses and the other fifteen were saddle horses. I’ll tell you this, I got to know those horses real, real well. It was a hard life, but a simple and good one.” And with that Rich stopped and looked thoughtfully up to the great elm and, beyond that, into the patchy blue sky. It was mid afternoon and the wind had died down to a whisper.
“You know,” he said finally as if he’d just remembered something, “that wasn’t the only thing that happened the summer of my freshman year in high school. That was also the year my dad bought our first tractor. Work changed after that.”
“You mean, it was easier,” I asked?
“No, harder. You see, in my family we were all animal lovers….and animal respecters, too, you could say. When you’re working a team of horses out in the hot sun you become sensitive to ‘em. You know when they’re hot and you know when they’re tired, and if you care anything about your team, when they say they’re done for the day, then you’re done for the day. Not so with a tractor. Hell, a tractor will go all day and then all night and be raring to go before sun up the next day.”
“Kind of like e-mail,” I said.
“Never mind, let’s have some soup.”