Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mayberry and Mudville: An Essay on the Good Old Days

Mediterranean Spreads, Jerked Yam Pita, Maple Salmon Salad. These are some of the delicious items listed on the 13th Avenue Coffee House menu in the Cathedral area in Regina, Saskatchewan. With permission from the ever cordial owner, Michelle, and ever accommodating head chef, Olaf, we set up two microphones in the patio corner conterminous to the street. This noisy and busy little intersection proved a great place to busk.

It was rumoured that the people who resided in the Cathedral neighbourhood were quite the macedoine of gift basket consumers, and the patrons seated in the patio that evening helped to confirm this stereotypical impression. Seated to our left, two hirsute fellows, dressed in pin-striped suits were sharing a veggie salad. Seated right at the patio gate a couple of thirty something guys with Beatle haircuts were snapping their fingers to our 70's folk tunes. And seated right in front of us was an older gentleman wearing round rimless spectacles, a fedora hat, and narrow blue and yellow suspenders, sipping iced tea with lemons, glancing at his pocket watch every few minutes. Right alongside us was an attractive young couple with the lovely music enthusiast, Mik, who shook one of our tambourines, keeping the beat for our songs the entire performance.

It was right after we sang They Call the Wind Mariah when the gentleman sipping iced tea said to us, They don't write songs like that anymore. Songs like that stand the tests of time. Songs like that come from the good old days.

From the good old days. His comments took me back to my developmental years in the village of Vanguard, where my memories are oftentimes a meld between Mayberry, a place where everything always seemed to work out, and Mudville, a place where everything deemed important goes awry. Mayberry was the fictional town in The Andy Griffith Show, a popular situation comedy we watched on television, and Mudville was the fictional setting for Casey at the Bat, a poem we studied in school.

In my Mayberry memories, our village had a town pump, party-line phone telephones, wooden sidewalks, and the sweet scents of honey suckles and lilacs in the lanes. Groceries were delivered right to the door by a young boy pulling a red radio wagon. The iceman really did cometh, leaving a frozen block wrapped in newspaper on the front stoop. A uniformed service station attendant pumped your gas, wiped your windshield, and checked your oil. The doctor made house calls. Teachers were shown respect. We swam in the PFRA dam, and our diving board was a two by twelve anchored by a boulder. In summer evenings we played Work Up or Five Hundred baseball, Kick and Return or Aerial football. In winter we played hockey at the rink whenever we wanted.

In my Mudville memories our roads were dirt, and after any kind of rain, be it a downpour, a drizzle, or spit, the village became a quagmire, not drivable, barely walkable. In fact, after one rainy Hallowe'en some teenage pranksters posted Welcome to Mudville over the Welcome to Vanguard sign.

There were just two channels on our black and white televisions, and the reception rabbit ears had to be wrapped in aluminum to eliminate the static.

When we were old enough to kill, we drowned out gophers, pouring water into their holes until they surfaced for air where we clubbed them to death. As we grew older we advanced our spree, from drowning to trapping, from trapping to shooting.

Single parent families were very rare. I recall but one single parent in our town -- a teacher and her son who lived among us for a short time. Their singleness was the result of a death, not a divorce.

For the most part, the men went to work, the moms stayed home. One or two moms moiled at the grocery store and hotel cafe, but that was about it.

Outhouses with sawed moons and stars on the doors were the norm. Pee pots were plentiful and stored under the beds. To lave every Saturday in a metal washtub was the treat of the week. Drinking water at home meant using a dipper that was hung on a pail.

Readin', Ritin', and 'Rithmitic were the three R's of the school curriculum. The principal of my school was the same principal of my father's school. Even after my dad came back from the war he referred to my principal as Mister.

We were a community of churches: Roman Catholic, Anglican, United, and Gospel Tabernacle. Those more influential citizens of the village were Catholics. Those more academic were Anglican. Those in the majority were United. And those more fundamentally devoted were Tabernacle -- for them, even using lipstick was discouraged.

There was no Gothic expression except for Bela Lugosi on television.

The demarcation between the town kids and the country kids was clear and simple. When the school day ended, the country kids rode the bus home to do chores, while the town waltzed downtown and played pool until suppertime.

Cochshutt, Massey Harris, Massey Ferguson, and John Deere tractor caps were the mandatory head dress for farmers.

Svelte was out, rotund was in. Ectomorphs signalled sickness, endomorphs signalled health, and mesomorphs were as understandably desirable then as now.

What began as a pleasure junket to my teenage past has become an olla podrida, a slow and simmering stew of sweet Mayberrys in a Mudville pie. Was my Vanguard the bastion of Mayberry contentment, stuck in time, forever free from externa social poisons? Or was my Vanguard a systematically polarized Mudville, where things were dictated as either black or white, right or wrong?

All systems asunder, we are all, in a sense, Vanguardians, and all of our pasts are the juxtapositions of our Mayberry and Mudville recollections. It is cliche that hindsight has twenty-twenty vision, but in reality we are purblind because of our Mayberry and Mudville perspectives. From our Mayberry perspectives we are able to keep the faith; from our Mudville perspectives we are able to experience the ennui.

Mayberry and Mudville -- a curious combination of glorious oblivion and cognitive outrage.
The good old days, indeed.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Neil,

    Those were the good old days, when in my first job after leaving home as a cook I earned .75 per hour, and left Salsbury House of Canada in Swift Current after being Assistant Manager at a wage of1.75 per hour.

    Off to University I went, with my new bride; to become educated enought to try and achieve my life long goal. That goal; after viewing some of the messes in restaurants, was to try and help do my part to teach young people to do things correct or do not do them at all. I believed then as I do now, that any job worth doing is worth doing well and hard work pays off.

    Unfortunately, some problems with this industry still occur as they always will, but I do believe while I was a teacher I taught students to do things correctly and represent the trade with honor.

    If I could turn back the clock, I would have become a health inspector and maybe my efforts would have been more enforceable.

    Oh well, atleast some of my students and preachings have rubbed off on a few so that maybe like bacteria it will spread and people will look back and say; "Mr. Roger taught me that."

    So may Barry be right and keep the mud out of your eyes so your vision is clear.LOL

    Have a good one; and does hard work pay off?