During the pandemic, I became addicted to watching old movies and television series. Most of the western movies tell tales of Americans pushing through the wilderness. Many made way for the coming railroads which would be made possible by cutting through mountains with the aid of hundreds of Asian immigrants who knew a lot about explosives. A band of men came from all parts of the globe – Asians, Germans, Scandinavians and Irish as well. This corps of strong, able bodies often gave their lives in the process of carving through forests and laying miles of track for the impending railroad industry. Of course all of that led to more interference in trespassing on land that wasn’t really theirs. The native Americans suffered greatly by the hand of those eager businessmen and settlers and to what end?
In most of the stories told, we hear about progress and building a country, but we don’t often think of the cost. Not only were lives and land lost, but a whole new civilization would be formed and corruptions would breed within those newly settle towns. It spoiled all that hard work because of greed. It might look that way to many American citizens today, but at the time, it seemed the right thing to do.
My great grandfather was a conductor on those early passenger trains which carried the eastern entrepreneurs across country. That doesn’t mean he was perpetrating the evil. He was just doing his job, as many Americans were now becoming reliant on this way of transportation. I remember him displaying the gold pocket watch from his days on the railroad. I recall him walking down to the train depot each day and convene with other veteran railroad workers and tell stories about those good old days. It had become part of his life all the way until his death. He no longer had the stamina to be a conductor, but he still had his memories and a voice.
We can fault our forefathers for being greedy – by stealing land that didn’t belong to them. We could dwell on those facts and grow angry because of it. We can demolish our past by tearing down monuments, works of art, National treasures because they mean nothing to the edification of America. We can despise the acts of buying and selling human lives into slavery. All of these memories can be erased in an instant, leaving us with what? No lessons to be learned from past mistakes. Closing our borders to legal immigrants, while thousands enter illegally. There would be no progress or fortitude to work hard towards that progress. Often when we close our minds to the past, we are never going to move to the future without the freedom of those old sins. Those wrongs will not be righted by ignoring them.
I have few memories of my great parents – only that they lived well into their nineties. My great grandmother suffered from rheumatism and her hands were gnarled with arthritis. She needed to cling to the wall as she moved from one room to another. He was at least a foot taller than she. They seemed to love each other, but emotion wasn’t a thing you wore on your sleeve in those days. I also remember the pocket watch and his trips to the train depot with great clarity. Those are the memories we should focus on.