We Write Our Own Histories

I hear history calling. Are you listening? Do you hear it, too?

For a long time, I have been suppressing a feeling that I am being called to do more, to be more, to represent more. I’m not alone – just recently several friends of ours expressed they are feeling the same call.

I just put up a long post on America’s aspirational history, but in the process was reminded about something I wrote shortly after the passing of my beloved uncle nearly a decade ago. I thought it relevant to share once again:

While surveying our contemporary cultural, political, and economic landscape, I’ve been thinking about how our actions and the actions of our culture will be remembered. There is no argument that we face a challenge of global proportions, one that goes far beyond our physical borders, and it also transcends time. As we pass through these trying times, we are asked by some to give up freedom in exchange for a level of security in the sense of a political, economic, and legal stability.

Since the cornerstone of our country was laid, there have been generations of Americans who have had to make sacrifices to insure the future of this country. The first generation of our Revolution put their lives and property on the line for a chance for our future to be a free one. There were the generation who suffered through the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression to those of the Greatest Generation, who put aside the plow and picked up the sword to keep the world free from tyranny. There was the generation who stood up for civil rights so that the phrase “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…” had true meaning. They seemingly had some sort of internal strength to be able to step up to these daunting tasks.

Is our generation being called to duty? Do we have the “right stuff” to make the hard choices? How will we be remembered? What legacy will we leave?

When I think about what we should do for the future, my mind goes back to the past and I remember the life and times of my maternal grandparents, Baker Thomas and Eva Gladys King Goodwin, their 74 years of marriage together and the 6 strong men (among them, my favorite uncle Samuel Eason Goodwin – a truly good man who left this world for the next on December 20th) and women (including my mom, Marie Evelyn Goodwin Smith) that they reared on a farm in the Lebanon/Center community of northeast Mississippi.

As we close 2012 and I look back at my 53 years on this emerald orb, my maternal grandparents perhaps more than any others, have had the greatest influence on my life. Of course, my mom and dad reared me and I owe my life to them, but when I think about what I have become and achieved, I can trace a straight line to B.T. and Eva Goodwin and the years that I spent as a child and young adult at the old “home place” on that farm in Mississippi. Maybe it is DNA or the learning, the nature vs. nurture thing, but there can be little doubt that Goodwin blood flows through my veins.

My grandmother, affectionately known as Mammy, was the kindest person I have ever known. She passed in 1984, some 28 years ago but I can still feel the warmth of her hugs and the softness of her skin. I can still see her small, wrinkled hands and smell the Johnson’s Baby Powder that she wore. In a 1990 recording of our family history by a distant cousin of mine, James E. Goodwin, he described her as:

“…one of the kindest, warmest and loving mothers one could ever have. The writer’s [Goodwin] Aunt Eva was the sweetest person I have known. Generous to a fault, I remember many times she sent food to our house to cook. She never, to my knowledge, said an unkind word about any person. She had a great sense of humor and loved to laugh. I can still hear her laughter in my mind when I go back to the old home place. May God Bless them forever!!!”

The fact that she was remembered as a “warm and loving mother” should in no way imply that she was soft or weak. All six of her children were born either before or during the Great Depression. She had a heart of gold and a spine of spring steel; she was also one of the most God-fearing women that I have ever known. From her faith in God sprang forth her eternal optimism. She always told me that there is an answer for every problem if we just looked hard enough to find it. I like to think that she passed that optimism to me.

My grandfather, Baker Thomas Goodwin, was known to the family as “Big Daddy”. He was not an educated man by modern standards but that didn’t stop him from being wise, he was a voracious consumer of knowledge and a man who valued education greatly. He was a community leader and in demonstration of how much he valued education, he sat on local school boards for many, many years. Before the days of tax funded schools, he supplied materials, labor and money to build local schools.

My grandfather taught me valuable lessons – the value of honesty, the art of being plain spoken, the importance of character, the investment made in trust and the worth of a handshake. A lifelong farmer, he was honest to a fault and believed that hard work was its own reward. He did not harbor laziness or sloth and expected much from those around him, and he usually got it. He was a Tea Partier before there was a Tea Party; he paid his dues but always had a healthy skepticism about the “revenuers” and what they were doing with his money.

B.T. Goodwin was a determined (some would say stubborn was more accurate) and independent man, tilling his truck patch until he was in his 90’s on top of his four-cylinder, 59.5 cubic inch Cub FarmAll tractor. He finally gave it up about 3 years before he passed, he had lost an eye in an accident when in his 30’s and his poor depth perception and failing eyesight caused him to plow up as much produce as he harvested!

Being a proud man, the Cub got quietly parked in the barn, never to move again.

From him, I got his sense of determination, his value of honesty and his industry.

When I read passages from so called pundits who claim that the Founding Fathers just weren’t very smart and there is no way that they could have contemplated the problems of modernity, I think about my grandparents.

These are the people who built our country. They persevered through times so difficult that they would break the backs of the whining punditry of today. I never heard them express envy or resentment of people who were better off than they were. They measured their happiness in what they had, not what they didn’t have. They faced hardships and wars on such a scale as to be unimaginable to the video game culture of today. They were strong people.

The qualities of my grandparents are the best of mankind and the very attributes that can save our country today. It is curious to me that contemporary society devalues the very characteristics that can save it.

I think back and remember how I squirmed to get out of Mammy’s hugs when I was a child. I would give anything to have the peace of that embrace today. I think about talking to Big Daddy about life and politics every morning on his front porch before I drove to high school. I miss his determination and his conviction. I miss the qualities of these two people, a man and a woman who shared 74 years together and made a life for themselves and their children. Two people who never made headlines but left an indelible mark on the world though the lessons that they taught their children and grandchildren. These are the people our country is built upon.

My greatest wish is to be remembered as I remember them.

We owe it to them to answer the call.

How will history write our story?