So what happened? I wonder about that a lot; what happened to that world of my childhood. At that time, 1950s & 60s USA, I didn’t know anybody whose mom worked; they were all ‘stay at home’ moms. The most average of families had a decent middle class life. Dad could be a mechanic, high school janitor or factory worker but the family owned their modest home, had a car, a TV (black & white), and probably a boat or cabin. You get the idea, nothing fancy but everybody ate and enjoyed a sense of security.
So why do I know so many young people today who wonder if they can ‘afford’ to get married, or if they can ‘afford’ to start a family? Why does everyone seem to need two incomes? I think about this every day and every day I remember ‘Old Man Latahtski’.
I was 12 at the time. I had a paper route (Toledo Blade). I had an old Schwinn bicycle and a dog. And everyday we all went off to deliver the newspapers whatever the weather. Friday of course was the day to collect. I always dreaded stopping to collect from Old Man Latahtski.
Imagine a haunted house on a Hollywood set; old, dilapidated, run down. The old man’s house was surrounded by a tall brick wall that enclosed countless rusted treasures obscured by weeds taller than I was. Skeletal remains stood as testimony that fruit trees once thrived there. The windows had not been cleaned in decades, several had cracked glass. Torn sheets served as curtains. The car appeared to have languished undisturbed for years. It was enough to intimidate any 12 year old.
Nevertheless, I would gather my courage, approach the door and knock. And wait. And knock again. It usually took three loud knocks but eventually an ancient, bent, grizzled man with unkempt white hair and wearing rags would appear, open the door and pay me. But not before I received a lengthy diatribe about the troubles of the world, specifically how what he had fled in Lithuania was now happening here, etc., etc. For the 12 year old boy that I was this amounted to the height of torture. But of course I was raised to respect my elders (however crazy) and so I would dutifully attend as he droned on, all the while praying to be delivered from my tribulations.
Finally Old Man Latahtski would pay me….with silver coins. Why? …. because he could not bear to cheat a boy, ….he could not bring himself to cheat a boy. I would then thank him and go on my way. Once home, I would set aside the silver coins and use the nickel plated copper monopoly money to pay the newspaper. I still have those silver coins 47 years later.
I’m lucky actually for the many little lessons I received throughout my life that have alerted me to the demise of the late great USA. I have been able to prepare myself. But what I am most grateful for is the awareness and the understanding of what is transpiring.
Old Man Latahtski, wherever you are, thank you and God bless you.
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