I remember my dad’s family photo album. It was nearly six inches think with glossy sepia images of part Irish part Choctaw dust bowl Okie’s going about their lives on flat black pages. The men wore pistols tucked into their belts and cast a mistrustful eye to the lens. The women were smiling and open, although the lack of anything remotely luxurious in the backgrounds of the photos told you that these were dirt poor people. As a boy, dad and I would sit and flip the pages. He’d tell me their names and and how we were related, who had died of fever or the whooping cough or who had been to prison. He told me proudly but not too boastfully that there was barely a high school graduate among them, much less a college one till he came along. He had taken the path of service to his country and the GI bill to change the course of his family history. When his eldest son, that would be me, elected not to pursue higher learning after twelve years of public education he stoically wished me well and sent me out to face the world.
Like his father who quit school and went to work after completing the eighth grade, I am a big, fun loving, easy going guy and inherited his devil may care attitude regarding the future. When weighing the difference between having a good time and doing what was expected of me, more often than not the former has prevailed. There have been times in my life when I haven’t had much and my prospects for getting it were slim, but truth be told I’ve done fine. I have been very lucky. And my luck in no uncertain terms was to have been born into this era of security and easy living and not that of my grandfathers, in which betting on luck to get you through life was a fools wager. Though dad hid it well, I don’t think he ever forgave me for not building on the foundation that he had laid, and turning my back on the sacrifices made in his traveling ahead in time to smooth the road he intended me to follow. I instead traveled my own road and relied on chance, and…luckily… she has been kind to me.
To my father, the only luck that had ever cast its envious gaze on the branches of our family tree had been of the bad sort, and might be thought of as a covetous man appearing at random with a sharp axe. He didn’t mean any harm, he just needed something to burn and this looked like as good a place to get it as any. My father alone of all in his family had succeeded through toughness and drive in convincing the axeman to look elsewhere for his firewood, and could now stand back and watch our tree thrive. If our pampered lives of the previous half century come to an end, I hope that my two boys will inherit the toughness and drive of their grandfather, my father, rather than the easy temperament of myself and of my grandfathers. If times get hard, luck will likely not be enough to pull them through and they in their own time may have to convince the axeman to move on.