Just before a meeting in Bladenboro recently, Commissioner Larry Simmons asked a very worrisome question, to no one in particular. I disremember his words exactly, but they went something like this:
"I call young people of today The Prosperous Generation. Who is going to fix the cars? Who is going to build the houses? Who is going to grow the food we eat, if everyone is learning a high tech job?"
I can't help but wonder.
A few days before that, a fine young man I consider a friend was having a problem with his musket. Now, the beauty of muzzleloading weapons is their very simplicity-most only have about five moving parts, all of which are held by screws or pins.
Neither he nor his buddies could figure out how to solve the problem, despite the obvious solution.
They were debating the merits of one gunsmith or another when I snatched the weapon, loosened a screw, slipped the spring back into place, and retightened the screw.
My young friend is not a clumsy or stupid young man. He is a college graduate, and does something very complicated and lucrative involving computers.
He and his fellows are all of the same age and education, but the simplest of repairs on the simplest of devices was beyond them.
"Oh, that was easy," and a polite thanks, followed by accolades that I was his hero.....
"I never learned how to do anything like that in school," one of the fellows said later.
Neither did I, but that's beside the point.
By no means am I adverse to the idea of making a good living, nor would I begrudge that right to anyone, young or old.
However, I fear the generation right behind mine-technically, I guess, a half-generation back-seems to rarely have gotten their hands dirty.
Few of those to whom I've spoken about this subject know how to do many of the things I've always taken for granted, like tightening a door hinge, sharpening a knife, or even jump starting a car.
Most of them, however, have learned a very marketable skill or trade. They can build computers, keep track of the financial end of a business, or any of a number of important tasks that would be worthless if the lights went out.
I know of very, very few, who know can plow a furrow, tune a car, or build a house.
These occupations, once honorable, seem to be falling by the wayside, and without them, I wonder what will happen when something breaks and we no longer have the older generation that knew how to build, fix or substitute a replacement.
One reason we might not have that generation, or at least their knowledge, is that so many folks my age and younger (and some a little older, to be fair) seem to view their aging parents as somewhere between a dishwasher and a vacation in importance.
Not all of them, by any means. But too many.
Each time Miss Rhonda or myself takes Mother to a doctor's office or other such place, I'm struck by the number of senior citizens dropped at the front door to fend for themselves, with a vague "Call me when you're ready!" in parting.
It angers me.
It took the powers-that-be many years to realize that those of us in the almost-middle to middle-years have a responsibility to our parents as well as our children. They responded accordingly, and now most folks don't have to end a career to care for an aging parent.
I'm curious how bloody long will it take those behind we middle-types to realize they, too, have such a responsibility, and it's one with far more rewards than a higher ratio of profit-sharing and more company stock.
Many an older person doesn't really need a grown child to make grocery store runs, or to fix a leaky faucet, or to take them shopping.
Few if any older folks would ever ask someone to do so if they had a choice in the matter.
But they shouldn't have to ask. They shouldn't have to need.
They made sure we didn't have to want for very much.
The folks of that generation can offer a lot to the Prosperous Generation. Things like common sense, morality, good judgement, and manners.
Not to mention plowing a straight furrow in a field, or the best way to sew on a button, or how to sharpen a pocket knife.
But they can't offer these things if they are left at the doorstep of the doctor's office.
And some day, The Prosperous Generation will have to tighten a screw.
romance that will last a six-year-old until school starts, with lots of giggles and smiles and blushes.
A young mother smiles an apology to the judge as her baby awakens, takes a deep breath, and begins his protest against the injustice that makes him take a nap on a hard courtroom bench, rather than his soft crib.
The defendant in a child support case peers worriedly through the door of the courtroom, a cigarette between nervous fingers.
The discussion, taking place as people move in and out and around the pair, goes something like this:
The young man tells his lawyer that someone is bringing the money, but hasn't gotten there yet, and "how the ---- can I pay the back child support if I can't work because they put me in jail?"
"You should have thought of that before your girlfriend moved in with you," the lawyer said.
"But what am I supposed to do-let her young'uns starve?"
"Does her husband pay child support?"
"Well, that's different...."
In the courtroom, the judge signs a form, hands it to one of the courtroom clerks. He adjusts his glasses, and looks out across the courtroom at the witnesses, defendants, plaintiffs, lawyers and subjects of the remaining two dozen cases on his list for today.
Broken families, broken promises, broken homes, broken dreams, broken people. None of which can be fixed without his help and that of the court. Some of which can't be fixed anyway.
"Madam Clerk," he sighs, "who's next?"