February 27, 2023

Old Things and Americana

I think it’s simply the notion of Americana that I miss, a time when things were a bit simpler and more civilized.

I have a distaste for most new things. I like things with history. I like old people. I always have. I like their life experiences and stories. A few of them led me down paths that shaped the trajectory of my life from … well, my early childhood.

I like old dogs. I like the memories of our best days together. Every so often I meet an old bird dog I’ve never hunted with, and I like them too. It’s the way they carry themselves — you know they’ve been there. I wish they could speak and tell me about their best day, their best hunt. I like old dogs, but I wish they lived forever. There was a time in my lifetime when if you wanted to go hunting you just whistled the dog up and walked out the back door. I miss that. I have little patience with infants and toddlers but love puppies … go figure. That probably qualifies me as a curmudgeon.

I like the old guns and calibers they are chambered for. Synthetic and stainless are surely more efficient, but I don’t care. I like walnut and ivory, and 18th- and 19th-century case color has no equal for character. I like the old pocketknives — Case, Cattaraugus, Camillus, and Kabar with stag handles. Undoubtedly there is better steel today, but I really don’t care.

My best hats have all come from the ‘40s and '50s. I know. Men quit wearing hats in JFK’s era. It’s just I didn’t for all the practical reasons men always wore hats.

I prefer antique furniture for the style and beauty but will say modern mattresses have some functionality — although they are not equal to a homemade feather bed I slept in on a quail hunt in McNairy County, Tennessee, in the 1960s.

I love old homes and buildings.

Probably my favorite home was a farm I had in the 1980s with an 1886 Chestnut Log Home. You could practically see daylight through the chinking in places and it took two wood stoves going full time to heat the place in the mild Tennessee winters, but I loved it all. I could sit on my porch by the fire and easily envision the way the valley looked 100 years before my arrival because there are a lot of places in Tennessee that have not changed much.

A couple of miles away was a little café. I used to meet a group of local farmers and ranchers there at 6 a.m. every day for breakfast. At that table resided hundreds of years of collective knowledge on all things practical. Those places are increasingly hard to find. Those people are increasingly hard to find too. There’s a Dollar General store there now.

I shaved this morning with a straight razor my maternal grandfather held in his hand 112 years ago. Now isn’t that something? Folks in some places pay a barber $35 for a straight razor shave. I do it every day with a rotation of my grandad’s straight razors from his barbering years in the old Read House Barbershop in Chattanooga, Tennessee. So, by my math, I’m saving $12,775 a year doing it myself.

Good thing given my love of bird dogs and antique firearms…

I think it’s simply the notion of Americana that I miss – a time when things were a bit simpler and more civilized. I suppose each generation bemoans the next coming behind them and the change that inevitably follows. Perhaps that’s why I hang on to some of these artifacts from prior generations and my own youth as a reminder.

One good thing, as far as I can tell: The dogs haven’t changed and that’s fine with me. Perhaps someday in the future a mid-60s person will be cradling a PlayStation and lovingly recalling simpler times. Today though, for me, I’m going to scratch my old dog behind her ears and take her for a walk. If she finds the perfect stick to play with, I’ll whittle off the rough edges for her with my old stag handle Kabar pocketknife.

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