My brother and I spent last week cleaning out our warehouses at the industrial park which we have sold. There was over 4,000 square feet of “stuff” to go through. We had put it off as long as we could saving the best (or worst) for last.
For three days Ernest and I braved chilly temperatures as we filled up one and then another large construction dumpster. We had some good help, gave away tons of no longer needed items, and threw away even more.
I wound up with six posthole diggers, probably 40 extension cords, and enough paint to stripe a four-lane highway all the way to Auburn. There were pieces of equipment that had been gathering dust in the same place for years, until they were too out of date for anyone to use.
There were some old Ponder for State Representative signs, three hundred and fifty to be exact, along with dozens and dozens of custom-built sign frames. I could have run for that office the rest of my life and would have never had to buy another sign. I saved one Representative Sign and one Mayor sign. The rest went in the dumpster.
Some surprises that we found made the work more interesting. My grandfather used to store his records in metal lard cans. There were eight of those with records going back to the 1940s. I have no idea what they were even doing there. There were boxes upon boxes of old Beall Peanut Company records in a hidden corner on top of the office ceiling, including our first contract with Lewis M. Carter Manufacturing to build a shelling plant in my hometown of Cottonwood, Alabama.
In a box that apparently served as a home for some rats for several years, I found my boyhood scrapbooks. The first trip Ernest and I took with our grandparents in the early sixties, a cross country trip with our parents in a motorhome, and lots of college fraternity pics (who was that skinny guy!).
I discovered letters from Mary Lou when she was in school in England and Virginia, when I was in the Legislature, and when I was hiking the Appalachian Trail. Letters from my children, and letters I had written as a child to my own parents and siblings. I even sent postcards to my faithful dog, Pee Wee, who was almost certainly smart enough to read them.
If for no other reason, you should occasionally write a letter just so your grandchildren can sense who you were long after you are gone. A text or email just does not capture that same feeling.
I grinned upon finding the old tomahawk stones we had gotten as boys visiting the Smokies, the old turtle shell that sat on my bookshelf, the old cigarette lighters given as gifts from Planters Products and the money from around the world we collected on a visit to the world’s fair in Montreal. It was all neatly squirreled away in a rusting coin purse.
In one box of old records, there was an 8 by 10-inch picture of my paternal grandfather, who died when I was two years old. I had always heard that he owned the largest worm farm in Alabama. There he was, showing three other men a fine crop of wigglers being put in cartons. Yarn-A-Bout Worm Farm, the best fed worms in America, the slogan said. According the sheets of old stationary by the photo, you could also buy his book, ‘Worms by the Millions” for $1.50.
There were some old newspapers from around the time of the 1968 elections. We forget that there were some bad times then, too. Riots in Chicago. An old Washington Post from a visit while I was in junior high school screamed headlines about federal troops being sent into Detroit. The Vietnam War was tearing the country apart. Racial tension was everywhere. It seemed like our democracy was fractured then, just as now.
In this past week when almost everything in the news was bad, I had an unexpected opportunity to briefly glimpse back at a time in my life that also seemed desperate for our country, though I was probably too young to care so much. There was so much good but forgotten in those scrapbooks.
However, there was so much bad in the world around me at the same time.
Most survived those days, and then thrived. The 1968 election was over 50 years ago. What goes around comes around, they say. That applies to good times and bad. Let us hope and pray that will be true for America, once again.
Dan Ponder can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org