My Grandmother said “The Good Old Days Were No Damn Good”

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by Dwayne R. Deslatte

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My grandmother Rose Deslatte had this great line – I use it a lot. “The good old days…they weren’t no damn good.” She kept her old washboard hanging over her prized possession – her electric washing machine. That one phrase has kept more sentimentality out of my brain that about anything else I have heard. But, since I recently made 43 years of age, I thought instead of going on about the economy, politics, or education this week I would just mention a few things from “the good old days” I have really enjoyed, learned or were just plain good memories.

I still like that moment where it gets brisk in Texas, say around late October. We had this screen door in the front of the house and sometimes it was not locked. Working on my homework I could hear the door gently bang against the frame and smell that clean, slightly crisp air.

In 1977 my parents took my sister and I to the Smoky Mountains. My mother had a great-aunt that lived in the hills there in Missouri. The house was 100 years old then and it sat on a true subsistence farm. It was a look at the world that existed for MOST of human history before we cranked up this big megaindustrial monstrosity called modern life. Glad I got to see it. Even made use of the outhouse. There was a strange little detail to that story that made it a bit spooky. At some point, my great great aunt had a close relative whose husband died. He was a blacksmith. My mom told me the day he died, the relation left the house as is. We drove right by the empty house, abandoned and overgrown in the hills for years, dishes still visible in the window. It has always made me wonder what exactly the details of that story might have been. Probably a good southern gothic style novel in that bit of business.

Magic as a first grader was coming home to find out that I needed to get ready quick because my dad was taking me to the Astros baseball game. I would strain through the car window to get the first peek of the Dome as we curved around I 610. Walking in and hearing the crack of the bat – still love that sound when the roof is closed here in Phoenix. I remember my dad banging on the dugout roof to try to get me Pete Rose’s autograph. All to no avail. I saw some incredible ballplayers play the game in my youth: Johnny Bench, Nolan Ryan, Cesar Cedeno, Steve Carlton, and of course Charlie Hustle. I will never forget having the good fortune on my one and only trip to Dodger Stadium as a 9 year old. Had great seats at Chavez Ravine compliments of my dad’s good friend and saw Tom Seaver of the Reds square off against Don Sutton for the Dodgers. Sunny day. Two Hall of Fame pitchers. Good stuff.

The first moment of the Aggie Band striking up the Noble Men of Kyle still gives me goosebumps. Marching to Duncan Dining Hall with Senior Boots on in the Cadet Corps on a fall evening was no different. One day I remember looking around the Quad and really taking the whole scene in and I knew it was special. Hats off to myself for having figured that out at 22.

I had this great little dog named Andrew, although I did not appreciate him as much growing up as I should have. My dad was incredibly attached to that little guy and at 43, I now know exactly why. Few things give me more pleasure at my age than my dogs.

Having a sibling you trust and always enjoy hearing from is one of the great things in life. Having a mother who could cook like no one else came in a close second.

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I learned more from the Boy Scouts than in any class. We had great leaders in my Troop. My Scoutmaster was a true man, Eugene Woytek: World War II Veteran and retired Master Chief Petty Officer. He wore a veneer of toughness, which was about a nanometer thick. His is one of the few funerals I made it a point to attend. Along with Mr. Woytek; my father, Mr. Beltz, Mr. Laird and Mr. Erwin were all incredible role models. I would not be the same guy without having been in Troop 282.

Being on camp staff each summer through high school was a great laboratory to grow up in. Not only did I spend the whole summer relatively independent, I learned a lot about how to work, how to act, and had some incredible 2 a.m. conversations about the meaning of life. Not to mention free camp grub and a lot of time on aquatics staff in the swimming pool.

I worked mowing yards for “Mac” McDonald from age 13 all the way until I was out of college and teaching school. Along with my friend Reagan McDonald and my current business partner John Beltz, and my off and on business partner George Jarkesy, I learned how to WORK. We mowed 30 yards a week and were the richest guys in Middle School. “Mac” was the first guy to explain trickle down economics to me, was one hell of a guy and treated us like men. In around 1985 we went out to Llano County and we went dove hunting. I had never hunted anything but the land was awesome, I shot a dove and we watched “Red Dawn” that night eating our game. The testosterone flowed.

Around seven summers later as I was about to graduate from college and still smarting from a few relationship wounds. Reagan and I sat in the knee deep crystal clear waters of the Llano with a 12 pack cooling in the river and solving the worlds problems. It was a hot sunny day and about as good as it gets.

My good friend Henry Patlan and I took off to Guadalupe Mountains National Park in the spring of 1991. On the way there we suffered an immediate flat tire, saw the LBJ Ranch, and took a scary road from Van Horn to the park listening to “The End” by The ImageDoors. Henry thought we might die on that road. Later that week, we took off to Carlsbad Caverns and on the way back saw a huge thunderstorm approaching the mountains where we were camped. Upon arrival, a hippy guy approached us who was camped nearby…He says, “Hey man, we did what we could but…” A dust devil had come through and ripped our tent to shreds, and splintered my camp cot. It was a LONG 24 hours of being in the car till we got back to College Station.

And lastly, thinking again of Grandma, nothing beat her shrimp e’toufee with some Boudin from Nicks Grocery store in Port Authur.

A few other notes:

– I am still in a mild state of shock that Texas A&M has a new Heisman Trophy winner. What a season and I am sad to say that it will be the first time in 27 years I have not been able to attend at least one A&M game. What a season. Gig ‘Em Johnny Football!

– This week I intend to go see “Lincoln“. Daniel Day Lewis is by far the finest actor of our generation and I know it will be a real treat. Review to follow.

– I read this article by a U.S Marine Corps Reserve Officer and current Naval Academy professor. It has had me thinking quite a bit and you should read it too. Balanced and serious look at the military and our society. It hits on some themes from last week’s missive.

Lastly a little true life humor. Back when I was working on the Ortho Ward at Texas Children’s I had a patient I had really taken a shine to. He was around eleven years old. Whenever anyone has surgery we always want to know if they are passing gas and little dudes his age always think talking about “cutting the cheese” is the most hilarious thing in the world (Humor is everything in medicine). So I ask my young patient, “Have you started farting yet?”. His reply, “I havent…but my MOM sure has been!” True story. Have a great week.

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(Dwayne R. Deslatte is a guest contributor from stuckinthemiddlewithu.com, used with permission)

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