Cumberland Times-News

July 28, 2012

Guess what? Good things happen, too

Maude McDaniel, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

— It’s only fair to even things up. Last time I talked about the Bad Things that can happen in life. This column, I have to say that Good Things happen too.

For one thing, the Depression wasn’t all bad! Hey, I was born in it! Score one for the Depression!

For another thing, being born in the Depression had its advantages. They’ve been talked about before, but they deserve to be talked about again,

For one thing, although of course there were winners and losers, the differences between them were a whole lot less than nowadays. And if you weren’t an outright loser (most of the folks we knew were squeaking through) you still knew losers — lots of them. You saw them on the street every day, and even closer home. Uncle Louie (mythical character) could have been called one, if the family hadn’t rallied around. Sometimes, of course, the family got tired of Uncle Louie and didn’t rally around. Unfortunately, people are human. Poor Uncle Louie.

But, whichever we were, we shared the world with everybody else — and knew them as friends or at least acquaintances. And if they needed help, we tried to give it to them. Well, that’s probably not a universal truth — but close enough to be a Good Thing.

And there are so many Good Things! Learning to read is a Good Thing, although it is going out of fashion. But oh what a wonderful thing it was in those days, and in these days, to be able to ride on a library book to another world, and take up residence there. I loved all of Louisa May Alcott’s books — read them over and over again. But “Little Women” was my all-time favorite. I probably read it 50 or 60 times.

For some reason, I can’t reread books any more. I guess I have this feeling that time is getting short — never had that feeling until the last few years — and I’d better not waste it. That’s a Good Thing. And now I also never feel I have to finish a book if I don’t get to liking it within the first hundred pages or so. Another Good Thing. Haven’t got time to waste any more.

I have read computer-crazed folks who assert happily that reading, as such, is losing its grip on people, and that everyone in the future will be only able to read — u no — Facebook language. It’s when I read things like that that I am indeed happy that my time is getting shorter. Not that it wasn’t always. And so is yours, I might add, to both my readers. Pick up those books, folks, and settle in for the night. Oh, that is a very Good Thing.

Of course, Bad Things did happen when I was young. I remember one night on the hill behind our house, someone burned a cross. I knew from my parents’ reaction, that that was bad, but I thought it was more about religion than race. I’m glad I didn’t grasp some of the more disturbing elements of that incident — that was a Good Thing. Maybe. On the other hand, I never noticed that our schools were segregated (West Virginia). A Bad Thing.

Another Good Thing from those days was the night sounds when I was going to sleep. Up the alley about two blocks from us was the United Dairy which bottled milk with all its might every night. From my bed the sound of it was mostly bottles clinking, all the time, a lovely little soprano descant to dreams that I remember to this day. Oh, definitely, a Good Thing.

Then there was the railroad, which was just one street over. Yes, I said “street.” The train ran down the very center of 17th Street. (We lived on 16th Street. ) It worked like a sort of median strip, with the automobile traffic on either side. Train sounds were closer than even here in Cumberland, but without all that crashing and thumping effect that you get here. More whistles, which can be narcotic and dreamful — even if they were whistling at someone crossing the street to go to grade school, which as I look back on it, is a little disturbing. Never mind. The sound of trains in the night on 17th Street. A Good Thing.

One of my more exciting memories of those happily unexciting days, was the house over on Eighteenth Street that was half demolished — by whom or what I have no idea — but which sat there for months — maybe years — as a severe temptation to me. One day at about the age of, maybe eight or nine, I ventured into it. (We definitely had more independence in those days than kids do nowadays.)

Well, the mystery, the romance of those half-standing walls, with large swaths of flowery old wallpaper on them, a stairway that rose out of nowhere and ascended into nothing, but was amazingly sturdy as long as it lasted, really kicked up my imagination. The sight of private rooms that had been thrust into public view with even a vagabond chair in a corner, perhaps, or a hint of a kitchen counter left — the whole idea of a private life made unwillingly (I decided) and excruciatingly public — As you can tell. I never forgot it.

On the whole — a Good Thing.

Maude McDaniel is a Cumberland freelance writer. Her column appears on alternate Sundays in the Times-News.