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A Memory That Will Be Lost On Others

By Dr. Dick Wieder

     A memory surfaced recently as I lay trying to sleep. It was a hot night and the air conditioner had malfunctioned. Unable to sleep in the heat along with the nagging joint pain of early degenerative disease, I arose to read and write. And for some unknown association or reason this particular memory crept into my consciousness.

     When I was a youngster living with my grandmother (Mommy, as we kids called her), I would often awaken at first light in the spring and summer to the sound of Mommy washing clothes on her back porch just below my bedroom window. That was before many people had automatic washing machines. In fact, only "rich folks" had such contraptions. She used two large galvanized steel tubs. One for washing and one for rinsing. The noise that would stir me from sleep was that of the clothes being scrubbed on a washboard, or scrub board. Now a washboard is something that every household had in those days of the mid-1940's. Now they are extremely scarce. Seen only at craft shows and antique dealers. It amazes me still how an object such as that so numerous in quantity can disappear so fast from our daily lives.

     Rising from sleep, I would descend the stairs and go out onto the porch. Mommy would interrupt her task to prepare for me toast and apple butter and a cold glass of milk. Then back to her work. I would always park myself on the top step of the back porch planting my elbows on knees, chin in hand, and would begin to survey the morning. Birds were singing. And the long shadows of our neighbor's gables and trees would stretch out across the back yard. The deep green grass was sprinkled with millions of sparkling droplets of dew. It was fresh. Cool. And colorful. The deep blue sky formed a beautiful contrast with the deep green of the earth. And there was that ever so slight chill that accompanies an early spring morning in West Virginia. Mommy always spread the crumbs of homemade bread out onto the yard to feed the birds. It was her religious duty to feed these creatures their breakfast. And I with my breakfast beside me watched the robins, sparrows, cardinals, pigeons, and jays. And always those pesky, noisy grackles. Satiating themselves on the crumbs. Even to me as a four year old, there was an awe for the beauty of nature.

     And now years later as I reach mid-life a haunting fear creeps into my thoughts. The world has changed. It is not as fresh, not as colorful, not as peaceful as it was then over forty years ago. It is not the naive eye of youth giving way to mid-life cynicism. The world has truly changed. The world is now much more dull, less colorful, less fresh. At times it even stinks. For I remember times as a child that a drive through the West Virginia country was filled with grand images of mountains stacked in behind the other as far as the eye could see. The air filled with the fresh scents of the countryside. And blue skies capping it all. Those scenes exist no more. Shielded from view by a nagging constant haze of trash. One is now fortunate to view any mountains at all! What happened?

     Of all the problems facing us today, pollution is by far the most serious. All other problems shrink away to minor inconveniences in the face of the problem of pollution. We have conquered polio. And AIDS will one day be cured. Cancer is even now giving way to cure. International differences and tension perhaps will always he with us to some degree because cultures differ so much. But nations will not exist some day if pollution of the environment isn' t halted. Pollution adversely affects everyone . Every animal. Every plant. Every aspect of the ecosystem. Pollution is to date the major contribution to the natural order of things by nature's grandest stroke - the human species. What a tragic twist of fate: our contribution to the scheme of things is the destruction of that scheme. Blithely and blindly, we go about our way believing in our favored status, believing in our dominance. We rule the earth but not with concern. We rule with garbage and waste. And armed conflict among ourselves. Who ever said that dominion meant destruction?

     This universe, this planet--whether you agree with me or not--I believe to be the product of a divine and compassionate creator. It is not our creation; it is God's. No one (I hope) would purposely for no reason at all poison his neighbor's grass, kill his pets, destroy the air he breathes, or cause his offspring fatal and permanent genetic damage. Yet, we do it every day, all day, year in and year out. The air is filled with noxious gases and fumes, the soil is saturated with toxic stable compounds even rivers have become fire hazards! And the life giving rain has become an acid that corrodes and destroys the source of our oxygen. The oceans are catching all of it. And it returns to kill us--in of all things--the food chain!

     The day is fast approaching when children can no longer sit on grandma's porches and enjoy fresh, clean spring mornings. The next mountain over is now gone from view. Hidden from our eye and slowly being eaten away by our technology. Destroyed by the "good life." The environmentalist twenty years ago was ridiculed, chided as a screwball, labeled to be a detractor of progress. Labeled as a "commie" bent on destroying the western lifestyle. Now we know that they were and are right - regardless of politics or faith, they are right!

     No one knows if it is too late. What has been dumped into the environment is most likely there to stay; but there may be yet some slim chance (growing slimmer every hour) to reverse it all. And save our planet and ourselves. It is now obvious that the day is fast approaching when science will say "well, folks, it is now too late!" An irreversible mess with absolutely no hope of solution for our pollution.

     In thinking about all this, there came to mind an old hymn we used to sing in church when I was a child: "....this is my Father's world, oh let me ne'r forget,...of rocks and trees and skies and seas, God is ruler yet!" God's in his heaven, of that I am sure, but all's not right with the world.

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