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Now get off my lawn

Country Roads

That sweet new baby you adore ̶ he/she is selfish, self-centered and ill-tempered. Just watch that baby when it’s time to eat or have a diaper changed. Or when big sister takes his binkie.

We are all born that way but early in life, our parents work to change us. From the time we are toddlers we are taught to be nice. Our parents encourage us to share toys and to say “please” and “thank you.”

We go to Sunday school and are taught that Jesus wants us to love one another and to do unto others as we would have them do to us.

Kindergarten arrives and the effort is intensified. I remember one of my early elementary report cards had a line which amounted to “plays well with others.” I think I got a “satisfactory” on that.

By the time most of us become adults we have, to varying extents, overcome our natural traits and most of us can get along well with others. Those who don’t are often relegated to the status of “jerks.”

So we complete our education and get a job and now we are told “the customer is always right.” We quickly learn that’s a joke.

Our training continues through life. Exercise patience. Be nice to your neighbors. Be nice to your co-workers. Be nice to your boss. Be nice to your in-laws. Be nice. Be nice. Be nice.

Nice creates harmony and that’s a good thing.

Subtle changes, I have experienced, begin in middle age. Your back begins to ache. Your knees begin to hurt. Everything begins changing and you don’t like it. Kids aren’t respectful anymore. Young folks don’t know what hard work is. You can’t carry on a conversation in a crowd because your ears don’t work as well anymore. Prices go through the roof. A new car costs five times what you paid for your first house. And being nice becomes increasingly difficult.

I know. I’m there. I have spent the past seven decades trying (and often failing) to be nice to everyone but that selfish, self-centered and ill-tempered little baby Arvid is attempting to make a comeback.

When I worked in radio, some folks called on the phone to complain because the weather forecast we read on the air wasn’t accurate. “Your forecast said it was going to be sunny but now it’s raining, stupid.” But I was nice and said, “Thank you for calling.”

Whiney people enjoy calling newspapers to complain. I fielded many such calls. Outside of the office ̶ grocery shopping, business meetings, even at church ̶ I was criticized for things we printed. And 98 percent of the time I was nice (or at least I wasn’t nasty) in return.

I confess to getting in a few good licks with the truly nasties and further confess to savoring the memories of those moments.

So now I’m a septuagenarian and it is becoming more difficult to be nice all the time. I’m beginning to understand Dennis the Menace’s Mr. Wilson. Were it not for the fact we live in a retirement community, I could envision myself yelling at kids to get off my lawn.

The other day I was thinking about these things and I thought of my paternal grandfather, Grandpa Huisman (I called him Opa.)

Family lore has it that Opa had a strong temper as a younger man but I never saw it. The Opa I remember was a kind, soft-hearted and generous man. He was a devout Baptist in his later years and I never heard him cuss… in English. Oh, I heard him use some strong Low German words in the barn but, you know, cows can be stubborn.

I think I understand Opa’s secret for remaining kind in his senior years: he had a relief valve. At certain levels of frustration, Opa was heard to say, “Du kann leck mien morse.” That’s Low German for “You can kiss my (backside.)” It’s amazing how that little phrase can relieve stress.

I loved and respected my grandfather and, over my lifetime, have attempted to emulate him. It’s unfortunate that my “be nice” training is wearing thin but hopefullly Opa’s “relief valve” will help me avoid becoming cantankerous.

Don’t push me too hard, though. That “relief valve” works even better in English.

Now get off my lawn.

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