In 1926, my great-great-grandfather Washington Long received a loving cup at Whitley County’s Old Settlers Days. “Wash” received the silver trophy because he was the Longest Continuous Resident of Whitley County that year. Wash’s father and his great uncle came from Pennsylvania behind an oxen team to the Indiana frontier in the late 1830s.
Tradition dictated that the award winner speak to the crowd. Wash stood before them in his Sunday-go-to-meeting suit, and said, “Things ain’t like they used to was.”
Indeed, as we move into the second year of the second decade of the new century, things are not what they used to be to paraphrase Great-Great-Grandpa Wash.
According to a 1907 Whitley County Indiana History, when his father arrived “Indians still roamed the country, and all kinds of wild game were plentiful and easily procured and it is needless to state that the elder Long experienced full measure all the vicissitudes and hardships which fell to the lot of those who paved the way of civilization to the fertile lands and dense forests of Indiana.”
His lifetime saw the advent of the electric light bulb, the photograph, the radio, and the automobile. What did he think of these inventions? How did they change his life? What I know of him comes from family legend and what is written in the history book. He took the train to Florida every winter, and died soon after he received the trophy.
An old cliché says that those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it. What can we learn from a man who spoke those seven words about change nearly a hundred years ago?
Washington Long lived in a world far different from the one we live in today. He lived on the same ground for nearly eighty years; he supported local political and religious causes, raised a family in the challenges of a difficult time, and even adventured a thousand miles away on a train. His world turned upside down when he lost his first wife and was left with three children. He also lived through the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, the Great War and the Spanish flu.
Now in the 21st century our country faces overwhelming problems, with foreclosures, unemployment, poverty, wars in two countries. Like our forbearers, we often face our own “vicissitudes and hardships.”
Every generation faces its own challenges. I agree with Great-Great-Grandfather Wash in his assessment that the world has changed. Many things are – or seem – out of our control. What remains is a choice about how we deal with what is put before us.
My wish for you in the New Year is the ability to greet each morning – despite your personal challenges – with the attitude that shaped our state, that can-do Hoosier gumption. It is your choice. Happy New Year.
Copyright Evansville Woman magazine, a Scripps publication 2010