I’m not sure if its age or environment that’s influencing my attitude more. My cynical, “wit razor” is as sharp and dangerous as any sling-blade ever was. The path of emotional destruction it creates is as unappealing as it is effective.
I knew old guys like me when I was a kid and it was always explained that they were like they were for any number legendary reasons. “He got like that fighting the Germans” was a common label. I remember thinking that my hometown must have been a lonely place with nothing but old ladies wearing funny looking shoes and rolled stockings around their ankles. It had to be lonely like that because I knew so many old men who were irascible farts with gray hair and angry demeanors; they must have all been in Germany for a good long while.
For some of them, I’m sure war exacted its toll of the spirit. For others, in reality it was perhaps a life that was forged in the Great Depression and calcified into place with factory jobs that offered little control and even less satisfaction. Perhaps it was these things along with unfulfilled boyhood dreams. Growing up in a city that borders a freshwater ocean to the west, huge forests to the south, rivers and lakes to the north and summers that are right out a Twain novel is exactly the perfect fertilizer to grow big dreams in a young boy. A plinking rifle, a long summer day, and an old dog is a powerful combination in young mind, unfettered by time and schedule. Mosquitoes, darkness and Fibber McGee on the radio along with obligatory chores are really the only constraints on his soul.
Having all that possibility, all that promise and beauty…having it all slowly squeezed out of your sights by choice – that would make anyone sad. Sad people are somehow cheated people and cheated people are bitter. Bitterness begets cynicism and cynicism leads to loneliness and despair. It’s a downward spiral that gains speed as it drops closer to earth.
I can still see those old guys still in my mind. I can even see them now in the mirror. What begat my cynicism? I was never in Germany. I have a great span of control in my job and if find it quite fulfilling. My world-view was one of great promise for even as turbulent as the 60’s were to a young mind, I had an influence at home that was fair and compassionate. My dreams are fulfilled and those same oceans, forests and rivers left their wonderful mark on my soul in ways and for reasons that I still not dare reveal to my mother (who was sure if you went near the lakes even for a moment, they’d never find the body).
I find it difficult to believe that the influence levied by one special-needs child could so twist a heart as to negate a lifetime of wonderful influence. Perhaps my “war” is really more a struggle of time and pressure - one that is tearing me down or building me up; emotionally debilitating me, or in character, making me whole.
Either way – I have a whole new respect for those old guys who colored my world at that particular point in time. It goes to show you that kids learn more by watching than by listening….