Saturday, September 24, 2011

Once Upon A Time

Working on Antique Hill at the Tunbridge Fair last week was enlightening in ways it hasn't been before. I haven't heard what the official numbers were yet, but it doesn't take a mathematician to know that it was a slow year. What with rainy, cold weather dampening a couple of the fair days, and the recent flooding and all, not that many folks were in a fair mood, I guess. I was only asked, by a chuckling tourist, if I "was the real Schoolmarm in 1905" a small handful of times. That's my scientific calculation on the number of fair goers right there.

On account of an attack a few years ago, we're required to work the schoolhouse in pairs now, especially at night. The buddy system seems like a good idea, both because the building is set apart from the rest of the museum and because, when it's not busy, you get pretty lonely. I was fortunate to be scheduled with four dear friends over the course of the fair, and I had the absolute best time with each of them in different ways.

In between visitors, we all had these amazing heart-to-heart talks, leaving me feeling like a blessed person to have the people in my life that I have. Something about that little, red schoolhouse invites openness and honesty, it's such a cheerful, serene, no frills place. Very special. It could double as a therapist's office if you ask me. Had I more time tonight, I'd tell you all the stories and love that came pouring out of my wonderful friends in this place last week, but for now, I'll just settle for telling you about my pow wow with Euclid.

Euclid Farnham is our town historian, a handsome, mustached, elegant farmer in his late 70's that embodies all the common sense and class a true Vermonter should. He moderates our town meetings, plays Santa Claus every December, gives slide shows at the local schools, heads up church events, library events, town-wide events, he was the president of the fair for 31 years, a retired dairy farmer, brilliant speaker, writer, just an all-around first class human being. Talking to him is a joy and I'm proud to count him among my good friends.

While Marsha, Louise, and my conversations ran more along the lines of sniffy, tear-filled purging on the subjects of love, life, divorce, children, friendships, relationships, and uh, clothes, (What? We all like them!) and Ben's was four hours of a welcome, lighthearted, clowning distraction, a never ending continual joke and fun time, Euclid's stint in the schoolhouse, Sunday afternoon, left me with a lot of thoughts on how people have changed throughout history. We spoke in depth on the topic of "The more things change, the more they stay the same" and if we believe that or not, in the course of human emotional evolution.

Long ago, when people married, maybe it was for love, maybe it wasn't. Either way, people didn't seem to feel the same entitlement to happiness and success. Now, we come into this modern life thinking "I deserve to be happy. I deserve this and this and this..." According to old journals, people didn't actually seem all that miserable with their difficult lives, their loveless marriages, their hardships and grief. It was just a matter of fact. You get up and get on with your day. There WAS joy, equal to our own. Euclid told me a story about a young woman who died in her mid-forties, and on her gravestone, her face was crudely etched, surrounded by the faces of THIRTEEN children she had born and lost. THIRTEEN. Dead. Either at birth or in early childhood. And yet she somehow kept going, her farm, her life, she JUST KEPT GOING. Were people stuffing their emotions way down deep and suffering in silence, or was it just a fact of life, so completely accepted as the way it was? Did these mothers feel too depressed to function? Apparently not. But WHY not? Can we have evolved that much over the course of a hundred years? Has our idea of happiness changed so drastically? Happiness used to be a hot meal, a warm bed, a cow in the barn, living children. Now it's this idea of getting what we want, not just what we need, but what we WANT as well. And we want the moon.

I'm not joking. We want the damn MOON. Think about it, materialistically and emotionally, we want it all...the perfect home and impressive cars and STUFF galore, health and wealth, satisfying jobs, stimulating travel, well rounded children, intelligent friends, Martha Stewart Christmas's, and a partner who loves us, respects us, reads our minds, is attractive, babies us (not too much, just enough) takes care of us (while admitting that we are perfectly capable of taking care of ourselves and everybody else) is 100 percent sexually compatible, loyal, says all the right things, is a certain height, weight, makes grand romantic gestures, likes the same movies and so forth. Just when did this happen? Not that I think it's bad or anything...I'm certainly not saying we should go back to a time when women were possessions, and happiness was not even a consideration when choosing a mate, but it's just interesting is all. And interesting to think that when hardship befalls us, we don't instantly pick up the pieces and keep on, but instead we stop our whole lives to grieve, to work through it, to get help, to talk, to feel, to purge.

At what point did feelings outweigh practicality? When did they take the top billing in our lives? Are we handicapped by the massive myriad of choices available to us, or are we lucky? Reviewing my own sadly failed marriage, dissolved from nothing else but feelings, I know without a question that one hundred years ago, I would be still be certainly happily married, And I'm not even kidding about the happy part. Because back then, 'happy enough' was all the happy you were gonna get. And you accepted it.

Is that terrible? Euclid and I discussed the horror of being one of those 1880's, poor, farm women, burdened by toil and baby after baby, but literature tells us that they, for the most part, were "happy" people, or at least as happy as we consider ourselves to be. Now, we've invented new unhappiness to take the place of the old. It's such a mysterious thing...on one hand, we should be counting our lucky stars that we have the freedoms and options we have, and yet we never stop wanting more. (Sorry Feminists, I'm on your side, but I'm just playing devil's advocate for the sake of this blog and my curiosity at the moment. And anyway, I'm not meaning to slant this towards women, ALL people were in a similar position, happiness wise. Men were just as trapped in many ways.)

Neither Euclid or I could make out which idea was better, maybe it seems obvious to others, but honestly, I can't say for sure. It's difficult and heartbreaking to make decisions, I, personally, never know if I'm making the right it better to have the decision made for you? Or is it unacceptable to be stuck in a just-make-the-best-of-it situation..."Life's hard, and then you die?" Is that how it should be? Now or then? It's all hypothetical anyway, we ARE living in the now. But I just spent several days imagining myself living back then, and let me tell you, it makes for some deep, dark questions on who I am, and how I really would have been, once upon a time...

It's a different world, that's for sure. For better or worse, they don't make 'em like they used to.

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