I grew up loving to hear my Granddaddy Park laugh. He had this joy of living that never failed to lift my spirits. A simple man, uneducated, he grew up in North Carolina in the late 1800’s and moved to South Carolina to ply his trade in all sorts of ways. He sold magazine subscriptions. He could fix you up with an insurance policy. He was a beekeeper. But the job that captured my imagination and, I believe, was a spark that set me to love wandering around the countryside whenever I can, was as a mapmaker. He rode the dirt roads of the northwestern section of the state in a horse-drawn buggy, fording creeks and tying up at hitching posts in little towns for a bite of lunch, as he drew out on paper his best reckoning for where the road along the south border of the Robinson’s place ran into the Pickens-to-Cowpens highway.
He would sneak me a draw from his ubiquitous pipe or thin cigar whenever my parents weren’t around. He would stop the old alarm clock that ticked so loudly from its perch on the mantle, so that I could fall asleep at night. He took me fishing and let me “rob” the beehives. He would go up to perfect strangers on the sidewalk, thrust out his hand, and say “Howdy. My name’s Park. What’s yours?” How could you not love a man like that.
His house was old, small, and tidy. It had its own sounds and smells. It had stood the test of time, just like Granddaddy Park. He died 15 years or so after Grandmother did, at the age of 88, playing bridge with 3 ladies from the senior citizens club, when his pacemaker gave out.
I wanted to be like him. To live nobly, simply, to wear well. To be the kind of person other folks looked up to and wondered how he had found that center, that “ah ha” understanding of life and values and meaning. He looked good old. He sounded good old. His aging body only showcased his growing wisdom and solidity.
I’ve always loved old people and old things. Buildings. Automobiles. Trains. Bibles. Pipes. Books. Beliefs. There’s just something about time that takes care of whatever is good and deserves to last. Even as temporal things like people and objects grow older, weaker, and decay, we/they take on a new, more earned beauty.
There’s a natural vibrancy to the young, the new. All new cars are shiny. The leather seats have a smell that is hard to beat. First residents of a new home enjoy the fact that nothing is worn. Not the carpets, nor the paint, and plumbing all works. Teenagers have unbounded energies that spring from sinews, organs, and systems designed by God to last much longer.
But all of that fades. Especially with things, sometimes not so well, but often in a way that brings out a color that wasn’t there before. A texture that begs to be touched. An intermingling with other colors and textures that can’t be thought up. It just happens and never in the same way twice. In this way, they continue to serve us, even though they’ve been left by us in some final position, some parting attitude. They give us a different kind of beauty, and they often stir up memories, usually good ones. They just beg to be photographed.
And so, like Granddaddy Park, I wander around the country, enjoying being alive, looking for whatever catches my eye. Which so often are old things. Beautiful, rich old things. Incomparable, irreplaceable old things.
May we all wear this well.
(if you’re drawn, like me, to old things, I’ve tried to capture a few of them with the camera and they’re on my website (www.jerryparkphotography.com) under the “Old is Beautiful” tab.)