Thursday, September 6, 2012

Good old days? Hardly.

American Gothic House Center
 If you are wondering what the image of the arcane wrench on the left symbolizes and what it could possibly have to do with Grant Wood, there is a connection; although admittedly remote. However, the explanation will come a bit later.

I have never been one to buy into the aphorism “the good old days.” I am a product of these so-called days and I remember well as a kid descending the stairs into our creepy basement, opening the door of the even more creepy coal room and shoveling coal into the big, scary furnace. Then at least once a week shovel out the clinkers from the bottom of the furnace into a bucket, walk up the outside steps to the gravel street and fill the potholes. Needless to say I haven’t done that for a while.

Years later, when I owned an older home, it was almost an occupation getting it ready for winter. It was an annual ritual to cover the windows with plastic using lath boards to secure the sides and stack bales of straw around the foundation to keep the wind from blowing through the floor. This was in the middle of what I refer to as “my” recession, as I was a carpenter in the early 80s and couldn’t buy a job. Consequently wood was the fuel of choice and necessity in order to save on gas, and for at three consecutive winters every weekend in the fall and winter was spent in the timber to ensure the fire kept burning. Now to get ready for winter I shut my windows. Good old days? I think not.

I can say with conviction that those times were simpler. Times before computers, dish television with a choice of hundreds of channels (I had three growing up and into my adult years), cell phones making instant contact the norm, and, of course, before smart phones. (I can remember when I used to be smart, not the phone.) So instead of “good old days,” I believe “simpler old days” is much more accurate appraisal of years past. However, there is still simplicity in the world, if you know where to look. And if you haven’t guessed it yet this is where the wrench comes in.

Recently I had to rework my kitchen sink as a leak had developed around the strainer basket and found myself in need of a spanner wrench for the strainer nut (the thingy that holds the basket in place). I hadn’t bought one in many years and wondered what new-fangled type wrench I would have to buy. I went to the hardware store and found the exact same type of wrench I had bought around 30 years ago, imagine that. The handle was embossed with “STAINER NUT WRENCH” in case there was any doubt what it was. Simple. No change in 30 years, just your basic, utilitarian, no-nonsense tool. Other things remained the same—and simple—about the project, I still had to get on my back and cuss a few times as usual before the job was done, but I actually knew what I was doing and found it refreshing that no new skill set was required, no buttons needed pushed and no website needed accessed. Sweet.

One could believe that Grant Wood might have believed in the “good old days” as his paintings reflect wholesome, idyllic images from an earlier era, images that are devoid of modern conveniences that would do little other than clutter up the landscape. The good old days, perhaps?  I think not. Simpler days? Definitely.

Wood lived through times of enormous change, as we have. His life began simply, but hardly easy, on the farm where in the late 1890s life was difficult at best. He witnessed the dawn of a new century, lived through and was a part of World War I—the Great War as it was called back then. Witnessed the decadence of the 1920s, fell into near poverty, then finally found his place in life by framing what he knew, simple things, not necessarily better, but definitely simpler. I believe Grant Wood would appreciate the strainer nut wrench.

Brian Chambers
Media Coordinator
The American Gothic House Center

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