Jack McCall


From time to time, one of my granddaughters will ask me to tell her about the olden days. Quite frankly, when I think of the olden days, I conger up pictures of   frontiersmen with long rifles crossing the Appalachian Mountains, of log cabins and of covered wagons crossing the Great Plains. On the other hand, she is inquiring about life in the 1950s and 1960s.

When I studied American history in high school, an account of World War II was limited to two short paragraphs in the back of the history book. My granddaughters were born 10 years or more after Sept. 11, 2001. I guess you might say these are what will be considered the olden days for their grandchildren.

My granddaughters listen in wide-eyed wonder as I tell them of how things used to be.

As a boy, I had the great privilege of spending considerable blocks of time with my maternal grandparents in the Brim Hollow. It afforded me the opportunity to look further back than most of my contemporaries. My grandfather, Brim, was ultra conservative. A child of the 1800s, he preferred a simpler life.

When I tell my granddaughters about a house with no running water and of taking hikes to the outhouse well past dark, they stare in disbelief. And there was no air conditioning? To them, it is unimaginable.

I tell them of a lone fireplace in the living room. It also doubled as the main bedroom. and the wood stove in the kitchen. I tell them of how ice would form in the water glass left sitting on the hearth after the fire went out on the coldest nights. They cannot believe, as a boy, I slept under a mountain of quilts in a room with no heat source in the dead of winter.

When I share with them how my grandmother, Lena, who stood all of 5-feet, 1-inch tall, used to wring the necks of chickens and prepare them for frying, they wrinkle their noses and squint their eyes as if to say, “phew wee.” Unfortunately, the closest most children come to a chicken these days is a McNugget.

A while back I was with one of my granddaughters at a high school football game. As we were observing fans as they passed by, I noticed a young lady whose jeans could be described as what my late mother would have called threadbare. I promise you, there was more skin showing on her thighs and calves than denim. It reminded me of the fictitious title of a Western movie I heard of once upon a time, “When the Lone Ranger Ripped his Pants, They Found his Hide Out.” 

“Look at that poor girl,” I said to my granddaughter. “Her jeans are worn out.”

“Daddy Jack,” she replied. “That’s the style.” Of course, I knew that.

In the olden days, we patched holes in our pants. I remember the overalls my   grandfather Brim use to wear. Some pairs had patches on patches.

In the olden days, what we called a “co-cola” was a rare treat. The word co-cola covered everything from an R.C. to a Pepsi and included a 7-Up, Dr. Pepper, Upper 10, Coca-Cola, Double Cola, Delish, Nehi, Nu-Grape or Orange Crush. The list seemed endless. And the price was a nickel. That’s right – 5 cents.

When I was a boy, if I walked into a country store with a nickel in my pocket, I thought I had the world by the tail.

In the olden days, a 5-year-old boy could be sent on an errand that took him on a deserted country road with no fear of danger or harm. In those days, everyone knew you, and everyone was looking out for you. It was a simpler time.

I met a distinguished gentleman from Texas at a wedding last week. He talked of times passed.

“I wish we could go back,” he said. He spoke of a time when you could leave your keys in the car when you parked in town. And of a time when you left your house unlocked when you were away.

That’s how things were in the olden days. I’m glad I grew up back then.

Jack McCall is a motivational humorist, Southern storyteller and author. A native Middle Tennessean, he is recognized on the national stage as a certified speaking professional.

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