as published in the Blytheville Courier news on Thursday, December 31, 2015
By TOM HENRY
PBS’s Antiques Roadshow describes itself as “part adventure, part history lesson, and part treasure hunt.” Another familiar quote sums up the premise of the show, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” The earliest example of that quote can be found in Hector Urquhart’s introduction to the 1862 book by J.F. Campbell titled “Popular Tales of the West Highlands.” In his introduction he said, “Practical men may despise the tales, earnest men condemn them as lies, some even consider them wicked…but one man’s rubbish may be another’s treasure.”
Each and every day we pass adventure, history and treasure in our lives; but all too often we do not recognize it as such. Many of us spent time with our families over the Christmas holiday and sat in a room with remarkably valuable gifts but did not take the time to appreciate them. You may be wondering what treasures I am speaking of. I am speaking of those family members, particularly our elders, grandparents and even parents that we take for granted. What adventures they have witnessed (consider WWII vets and those that survived the depression or civil rights struggles), what history lessons they can teach, what treasures they can be to us with their wisdom and love, what tales they can tell (sure some of them are real story stretchers), but all of them are treasures that one day we will miss and regret fully exploring.
I have experienced this in my own life and I pray I can prevent some of you from having to live with that same regret. Why is it that those that seek information for family genealogy tend to be older and full of regret for not having sought that information when their patriarchs or matriarchs were still around (or mentally sharp enough to answer questions)? Why is it that those persons that most need to learn the priceless lessons are always too young, self-centered and “spoilt” to sit at their feet and learn?
It is important to realize that this doesn’t just apply to some 100-year old wise sage; it also applies to middle-aged mothers and fathers (or step parents). No one knows what tomorrow brings or how long people will be around. I encourage you to sit down and talk to your family members and find out more about them. Where have they been, what have they seen, what has life put them through, what advice can they give?
As a historian, I have read numerous biographies of outstanding legends, particularly in the twilight of their life, living lives of quiet solitude. They only had one or two persons that came and drew from their “rich well,” therefore, only those one or two received the blessing that was available to all.
Do you really think that the old man that lives at the end of your road has always been old, alone, and decrepit? What makes you so sure that he didn’t once play music on Beale Street with B.B. King, in Memphis with Johnny Cash or in Vegas with Elvis? What makes you think that the old lady that always tries to get your attention when you visit the nursing home has always lived there?
Maybe she was a young child in Selma or Birmingham or Little Rock. What about your great-grandparents…were they just created to buy your Christmas gifts and give you candy? Or perhaps they were sharecroppers that worked daylight to dusk and changed the destiny of your entire family tree so that you could one day be as spoiled as you are now. Maybe. If so, you should thank them.
Is it possible that the mild mannered old guy you know at church is actually a decorated war hero? Could it be that he was a prisoner of war at the Hanoi Hilton? Maybe it’s not that glamorous. Maybe it’s just the fact that your grandmother has spent hours early every morning for years praying for you (even before you were born). You will never know until you invest in people and let them invest in you.
Thirty years from now you will not miss that video game, television program or distraction that you valued so much today. I look back to 30 years ago as I write this and I miss people (grandparents, family members, former neighbors, etc.) but I truly do not miss the Pac Man Arcade machines, Atari 2600, parachute pants, Prince’s Purple Rain cassette, Rocky IV VCR tape or the Cosby Show. Today’s games, fashion, movies, television, etcetera will not be important to you…at least not as important as your parents, grand-parents and neighbors.
What makes an antique a treasure…it’s back-story. Where has it been? Who has it interacted with? What function did it fulfill? How rare is it? The same can be said of people. Where have they been? Who have they brushed shoulders with? What have they done? How rare are they? Each person has extreme value and is a one-of-a-kind work of art.