Tennessee Mountain Stories

Where does the Time go?

Well it’s a brand new year and everyone’s thinking about goals for 2015, and maybe reflecting a little on accomplishments of 2014.  I doubt I’m the only one who’s asking, “Where did the time go?”  I find I ask that almost every day for it seems that it’s supper time before I’ve more than realized the day has begun.  The months roll past till it’s summer before I’ve fully adjusted to winter.  Whew, I’m already afraid 2016 is going to sneak up on me.  I was listening to a talk radio show this week and the host was admonishing everyone to set some goals for the year; he reminded me that nothing gets accomplished without purposing to do it.  And he talked about setting social goals – and that’s what got me to thinking.

There are so many people I want to visit; they have stories to tell me and I have so much to learn from them.  About a year ago, I did manage to visit a cousin and neighbor who was ninety years old at the time.  In about an hour, I learned about years and years of her life and despite always having lived near her there were things I didn’t know.  I need to spend hour after hour with her, but now she’s gone home to heaven and my chance to chat with her is gone. 

Tell me, am I the only one who lets day after day pass without stopping to chat with a neighbor?  Do you find yourself passing someone’s home and thinking how badly you need to visit with them?  But there never seems to be enough time.

Where does the time get to?  Well, I wanted to think about some things that we don’t do these days.

Laundry.  Yeah, we have lots more clothes than our grandparents or great-grandparents had, and frankly we launder them much more often.  How long does that take?  Well, the machine has to run for fifteen or twenty minutes, but it doesn’t require anything from me after I’ve once dumped everything inside.  I still utilize a solar clothes-drier which takes about ten or fifteen minutes to ‘load’ but most folks just throw it all into a machine and push the ‘on’ button.  Then there’s ironing – do you still iron?  My electric iron is hot in seconds and maintains a constant temperature longer than I’m willing to stand there pushing it back and forth.  And to what can we compare this mundane set of tasks?  Well, what about building a fire under a giant iron kettle filled with water you just dipped out of the branch or pulled up from a deep well.  Stir the whites while they boil, cool them till you can stand to handle them then start scrubbing on a board.  When you’re satisfied they are clean you’ll have to wring out the soapy water then rinse and wring some more.  (I guess you wouldn’t have much need to visit a gym if you did this every week.)  Once they were clean, those pure cotton clothes had be ironed with a flat iron heated on the cooking stove so it naturally cooled very quickly.  And heaven forbid you left a bit of food on the stovetop at breakfast which sat and charred for it will surely stick to the bottom of the flat iron leaving a big black mark anywhere it touched – and it would always find its way to your husband’s white Sunday-go-to-meeting shirt and the whole process would have to start over for that garment.

And then there’s the cooking.  We have fast food.  We have convenience foods that you can just pop in the microwave and in three to five minutes have a full meal ready to eat.  Even if you’re cooking from scratch, just turn on the stove eye, run water from the tap, pull fresh foods from the refrigerator and a fine meal can be ready in about half an hour (not accounting for longer cooking or roasting times).  Compare that to keeping a box filled with stove wood, which of course requires much chopping for it must be very small wood, then stirring up a fire every time you want a hot meal or even a cup of coffee.  There are no high or low switches on a wood stove so you have to move your pan from one side to the other to regulate the temperature - and I won’t even get started on baking.

Whew, it all made me tired just describing it.  Can you imagine trying to manage all the other tasks required to keep house?  How much time did all that take?

And yet one hundred years ago, this description was the norm in rural homes, did everyone feel they had no time?  Did people know their neighbors or visit their extended family?  I don’t suppose we can find a scientific and quantitative answer to these questions.  Certainly my sense, from both written history and the oral annals to which I have access, is that communities were generally closer and that families spent more time together.  In my own family, my great aunts and uncles were closer to their siblings, nieces and nephews and cousins than I am to my own generation of family.  Recall the diary my great-great-grandmother kept and how she described a nearly-constant stream of visits from family and neighbors.  Even if those folks only stayed a quarter or half an hour, they took the time and surely made considerable effort to stop in to see an invalided old woman and those who were caring for her. 

So what’s changed?   Is our time not sufficiently freed by our modern conveniences to allow time to be spent with people?  Have we become so selfish that we’d rather see someone’s Facebook status than check on them personally?  Or do we simply no longer care about each other? 

I don’t know the answers and I’m certainly not preaching from a self-righteous soapbox for I’m at the head of this guilty line.  One of my dear friends had a major surgery on December 30th and I’ve not even called her; my next door neighbor has been having cancer treatments for months and I’ve not checked on her in weeks; I haven’t seen my grandmother since Christmas and that long list of visits I mentioned at the beginning – I’ve been pushing it forward in my to-do list for months.  I’m guilty, guilty, guilty.  But I’m also convicted about it.

So, I declare to all of you that my goal for 2015 is to VISIT!  And you can bet I’ll be sharing the stories those visits yield with you.

NOTE 1/10/2015:

Wow, I guess the whole world is realizing that we need more time and focus on PEOPLE!  Just 2 hours ago Steve Laube (President of The Steve Laube Agency which represents my writing) retweeted this CNN article about people's need to put down their smartphone and make face to face connections.  I didn't specifically address digital distractions but they are certainly one of our biggest modern barriers.