The moment he walked into the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store Restaurant in Bowling Green, Ky., he had my full attention.
His very appearance sent a thousand pictures flashing through my mind.
He was an old man, I’d say well into his eighties. He wore like- new, stiff Lee brand bibbed overalls. His work shoes were Redwing, the kind fashioned with reddish leather featuring a raised stitched seam around the top of the toe. The shirt he wore was slick-ironed, a solid vivid blue that matched the color of his eyes … eyes that spoke of wisdom, but were now growing tired. Atop his head was a wide-brimmed straw hat. The brim was slightly turned up in the back, but in the front, it was perfectly level, straight ahead. I had not seen one like it in years.
I perceived that he had once stood at least six feet-one or -two. But now, his stooped shoulders told the tale of how a life of hard, physical labor had taken its toll.
The short sleeves of his shirt revealed what were once powerful forearms. At the wrist, his arms bore every bit of the dimensions of a two by four. As his lower arm flared back toward his elbow, his thinning, flattening skin revealed the distinctive individual cords of muscle that rippled underneath. I could only imagine how strong he must have been in his younger days.
And then, there were his hands. I have seen few men with hands as big as his. His long fingers were more slender now than they once had been, but they were still beautifully chiseled. They could have been the fingers of a surgeon or a concert pianist. But his hands had been given to the life of a working man.
I imagined those strong fingers curling around the handle of a claw hammer, or welding a wood axe, or driving the handles of post hole diggers. But it seemed to me they were once most at home gripping the handles of a plow as it glided through the soil. I wondered how many miles he had walked behind a mule in his time. I also wondered how many tobacco crops he had laid by.
It made me sad to realize how many things are being lost at the passing of his generation. My sons have no knowledge of horse collars, hames, trace chains, or plow lines. Their generation and those to follow couldn’t tell a singletree from a double shovel. Nor will they have any idea what a Chattanooga one-horse is, or why a turning plow had to be switched over at the end of the row. They will know nothing of a come-a-long, a buck saw, a brace-n-bit, or even a lively lad. So many things are fading into the past.
As the old gentleman ate his meal, he rested his forearms on the edge of the table. His big hands dwarfed the plate underneath them … and every other object on the table. He ate slowly, as if he had earned the right to take his time. I should think he had.
His wife of many years sat beside him. As they ate and talked, she leaned toward him. I wondered how many storms they had weathered together.
How did I know she was his wife … and for many years? Well, I just knew. There is just something about their generation.
Across the table from him and his companion sat a younger man. After studying the faces of all three, I decided he was their son. Born later in their life, he was barely more than half their age. He sported a modern, unruly hair style and wore designer eyewear. He fidgeted throughout the entire meal smoking one cigarette after another. I marveled at the difference one generation could make.
After an enjoyable lunch, I rocked lazily in a rocking chair as I watched the threesome slowly walk to their car. It was a white 1994 Ford Taurus … 22 years old, true to form. I guessed it would probably be the old man’s last car. I smiled when he climbed behind the wheel.
As he slowly made his way out of the parking lot, I found myself mourning the passing of his generation, and a more meaningful way of life … a way of life in which people shared a closer connection to each other … and to the land… and to its Maker.
But I chose not to linger too long in the sadness which seemed to envelope me.
Suddenly, the words of the prophet Isaiah spoke to me of the days which will return … of days when “they shall beat their swords
into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks …come ye and let us walk in the light of the Lord.”
And I was reminded once again, that the best of our days aren’t behind us. They lie ahead.
Copyright 2016 by Jack McCall