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Musings of an Anachronism

It is once again my duty to step forward in my adopted role as Firehouse.com's resident curmudgeon. Although I am no where near as old as the Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes' fame, I am old enough to collect Social Security (although I do not). For that reason I feel that I have lived long enough to have finally reached the age at which it is no longer mandatory for me to suffer fools gladly. I will listen, but I will not listen passively. So on with the show.

During the week just past, I was given a rare privilege within the confines of the winter solstice. Thanks to a temporary (but most welcome) shift in the jet stream, my friends and I in New Jersey were granted the opportunity to spend two days enjoying warm weather. Of course I spent my magical moments out on my front porch in my "thinking place."

As the gentle breezes moved the 65-degree weather past my porch, I was able to spend a few moments puffing on a cigar and pondering the problems of the world. Puffing and pondering are two of my favorite pastimes, along with eating. >p>Many were the thoughts which ran trippingly through my mind's eye. However, rather then leave them to happenstance, as supplemented by a bad memory I paused to pull out my trusty pocket memo pad.

As the smoke spiraled upward I began to jot down a number of diverse and divergent thoughts. Some were about highway safety. You will soon be able to see them on the ResponderSafety.com web site where I am the editor.

Other thoughts referred to the FIRE Act, which is once again under siege. I will save them for another column in our run up to the annual fire service pilgrimage to Washington, DC in April. I have only missed making the trip on a couple of occasions since it all began many moons ago. This, my friends, is an event which I have taken to calling the annual "kissing of the ring" ceremony, although others with whom I have spoken thought that something else was usually being kissed there. I am just saying.

There were also some stray thoughts about that cute Miller girl from Adelphia. She was the lovely young lady that I was fortunate enough to meet in Mr. Ugrovic's Western civilization class back at good old Southern Freehold High School in the fall of 1964. Of course, those of you who really know me might better think of her as the charming, and long-suffering Mrs. Carter.

However, there were also some other thoughts that came to me. These are the ones which I am going to share with you in the commentary. Let me first define the terms of my visit with you. This is critical for a researcher like me. Just what is an anachronism? A quick trip to the Internet came up with a number of different definitions. Let me share the one which holds the greatest meaning for my visit here with you today.

An anachronism is defined as a chronological misplacing of persons, events, objects, or customs in regard to each other. An anachronism could be considered a representation of something as existing or occurring at other than its proper time in the normal course of events in history.

Sometimes I think that I should have lived at an earlier time. However, in this visit with you I will be writing about my feelings of how I perceive myself as being out of synch with many of the accepted values and practices of our current times. It seems to me as though many things which I believe to have been central to my growth and development have somehow seemed to lose a bit of their luster over the years and fall out of favor with the world in general.

Let me share with you a bit about the world in which I grew to manhood. Let me set the stage by speaking of the two primary influences on my life: my Mom and my Dad. In the Carter household, hard work, service, and devotion to our nation were an accepted part of life. In fact, they seemed mandatory to my brother Bob and me.

My late grandfather had served as a infantryman with the Fifth Mounted Rifles of Canadian Army in France during World War I. It seems he could not wait for the United States to get into the war. He and a number of his rug-weaving buddies who had emigrated from England to work for the rug mill traveled north from their homes in Amsterdam, New York to join the Canadian Army in 1916. Following in his father's footsteps, my late father joined the Army right out of high school in 1940 and served as a combat infantryman during World War II. Dad was wounded during the Italian Campaign in 1944.

After the war, Dad joined the New Jersey Army National Guard and rose in rank, being commissioned a second lieutenant in 1949. His devotion to duty was a living lesson to my brother Bob and me. This was a time when a man's word was his bond. If you shook hands on something it was a done deal. Failure to fulfill your word was not an acceptable option. He lived his life according to this maxim of human interaction.

Continuing the family tradition, my brother and I both followed in our father's footsteps. I enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1966 and served nearly four years as a firefighter. I later went into the New Jersey Army National Guard, from which I retired in 1996. My brother Bob went into the U.S. Army in 1968 and served as an infantryman in Germany. I have often thought about how much our father learned about life while Bob and I were away in the military serving our country. He seemed so much more knowledgeable when we got back.

Our Mom alternated between being a stay-at-home mom and an employed person. Sometimes she worked as a waitress, and at other times she worked as a seamstress in local coat factories, carrying heavy bundles of clothing materials. The work was always hard, but my Mom just seemed to soldier on in a variety of ways. In spite of her busy work schedule, she was still able to take an active part in many different community organizations.

In various turns she served as President of our local Elk's Club Ladies Auxiliary, as well as our local American Legion Auxiliary. In 1967 she traveled to New Orleans in her role as President of the Monmouth County, New Jersey Ladies Auxiliary delegation. Mom later declined the opportunity to move up to serve as a state-level officer. All of this occurred during a period of time when she was laboring at a local coat factory. You can imagine how pleased I was in 1969 when I heard that she had gotten an office worker's position with a local grocery firm in Freehold. She was able to work there for ten years before choosing to join Dad in retirement.

What did I learn from these two fine people? First off, I learned that hard work will not kill you. Mom and Dad were able to do good works within our community while still managing to make it on time for work every day. Dad and Mom also both showed me that someone has to step up to the plate and take a leadership role in their organizations from time to time.

Dad also taught me the value of taking care of the troops when in a leadership role. He often reminded me of the need to take care of the troops before taking care of myself. I can still recall with pride the day that a Sergeant Major in the National Guard, who was a contemporary of my father, spoke of his feelings for Dad. He told me that there was never any doubt that when you were with "The Colonel" you were in the presence of a real soldier. He spoke of Dad as being firm, but fair. He also told me that Dad always stood up for his men, took the hit, and then counseled them on how to get their act in gear.

Mom and Dad also taught me a great deal about perseverance. Oh, they did not use words to describe the value of perseverance, the simply lived their lives, taking each challenge in its turn and then soldiering on for another day. Dad did not rise up quickly in rank. But he kept going to school, doing his duty, and taking care of his troops. He eventually retired as a full Colonel in 1979. He just kept on slogging it out with the system, even when it looked like the odds were working against him.

As I stated earlier, the Freehold of my youth was a time when one man's word counted for something. It always served as his bond in his dealing with others in the community. As I recall, when you shook hands on something that was it. It was a done deal. Failure to fulfill your word was not an acceptable option. I was privileged to witness this in late 1975 when my wife and I bought the Miller Family homestead in beautiful downtown Adelphia from her late father not long after her mother had passed away.

Pop went down to the bank to discuss the terms of the deal with his friends on the bank's Board of Directors. Many on the board knew him from their many years of working and living in the community. That was the Freehold of a far different time. At the time Pop was the Howell Township municipal clerk, so he knew just about everyone in the community and they surely knew him.

As the story goes, Pop told the board that he was selling his house to his daughter Jackie and her husband Harry Carter. As it turned out, the bank President went to school with my Dad, so even I was a known quantity in the deal. Would things have gone so smoothly if my family and I had been perceived as a bunch of screw ups? I think not. Anyway, on the strength of a handshake, the mortgage was transferred to my wife and me with no change in the interest rate. Try getting that sort of a deal at a bank today.

As you can see, people like me tend to feel really out of place when dealing with the realities of the 21st Century. Things have changed. It seems as though you cannot pass wind in a public place without having the aforementioned biological act reviewed by at least three lawyers (in case there is disagreement). It is almost to the point where you cannot buy a bunch of banana at your local grocery store without a signed and notarized contract. Integrity and trust seem to have gone the way of the Hudson automobile (the preferred Carter family car of the 1940's and 1950's).

Let me now share a story with you which I believe portrays the basis for my growing cynicism with the current state of affairs. I can recall being in the audience at a major, national fire service event about two years ago. I can recall quite clearly sitting at a table with my dear friends from the Cygnus/Firehouse family. Hmm, I might even have mentioned this event a few paragraphs ago.

The parade of palavering, partisan, political people went on and on. Each in their turn mouthed undying love and affection for all of us therein assembled. No one would hurt the fire and emergency service world on their watch. They would all willingly step up to the plate for us. One after the other they all told us how much they loved us. They all claimed that they would be willing to go to the mat for us. Let me assure you that this did not happen.

I sure am glad I kept my notes from that notable evening. They made good reading as these self same people threw the fire service under the mythical bus of political expediency. They turned on us faster than a magician could pull the tablecloth out from under the dishes, napkins, silverware, and flowers positioned on a table during their performance on the old Ed Sullivan show on CBS.

It was at about this time that an old saying came screaming back into my mind. It goes like this. "How can you tell when a politician is lying? Simple, their mouth is moving." But Harry, how can you be so cynical? Ladies and gentlemen, it really isn't that hard. How about another? Figures lie and liars figure.

A lot of folks fail to remember that I take a whole host of scribbled notes in my worn little pocket memo book. I have about seven years of these memo pads jammed into my lower left desk drawer. My best friend in the whole world, Jack Peltier from Marlboro, Massachusetts advised me to keep these books. That advice has proven invaluable over the past few years.

Perhaps we are where we are today because of manner in which some people managed to live their spurious lives. The age of greed in the 1980's did not help. Countless wars have worked their woe on us all. We are a nation which seems to have tired of its leadership role in the world. Let the other guy do it seems to have evolved into a societal mantra. That is not the way to future success my friends. However, let me assure all of you that all is not lost.

There are still good people out there in our nation like my buddy Jack Peltier whose specialties are the sharing of knowledge and the telling of things like they are. Let me suggest to you that these are traits less often seen in today's America. But Jack and I are laboring valiantly to keep them alive and well within our world.

Another great example of a life lived well comes from my home town. I am most fortunate to be able to labor in the vineyards of our local fire protection network with the likes of Nolan Higgins from Freehold, New Jersey. Nolan is a man devoted to his community who continues to give of himself in the local fire department. While others who have served as chief moved off of the operational stage onto the pages of local lore, my friend Nolan continues his work in order to make things better for his hometown.

So you can see that Freehold has produced a lot more than rock star Bruce Springsteen. However, I cannot let Mr. Springsteen's name pass without mentioning an act of charity which he gave to his hometown. Many years ago he purchased a new fire engine for the Freehold Fire Department. They honored his donation by naming that unit, "Born to Run." Just remember that when Bruce Springsteen sings of his hometown, it has a great deal of meaning for my friend Nolan and me, for it is our hometown too.

Please forgive the ranting of a man who is struggling to reconcile the world wherein he lives with that world which formed him to be the man he is. I just want to ask you a really simple question. How can so many people who seemingly grew up in the same America as I did spit so willingly upon the values of those of us who still labor in the trenches? How can our leaders continue to govern by prevarication, sprinkled with parsimony? How can they sell out our nation for twenty pieces of silver?

I surely hope that someone has a logical answer for all of this. I do not wish to be a harbinger of doom, but it is my guess that if nothing is done to counter our current slide into history's abyss, I see us as headed back to the colony status from whence we came. Only this time it will not be the British, but rather the Chinese, or one of the many nations around the world who are bankrolling our trip to Hell in such a luxurious hand basket.

Folks, I sure hope I am wrong about all this. I can only speak for myself, but I am going to hang in there and keep pitching. Do not fall victim to the demons running amuck in this the 21st Century. My team of throwbacks needs all of the help that it can get. Please consider our position. Thank you.

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