A Weekly Column
By Joseph Walker


I wouldn’t want to trade places with great-great-Grandfather Henson for anything.

And not just because he’s . . . well, you know . . . dead.

It’s just that the stuff he had to do is not stuff I would want to do.

Take traveling, for example.  I’ve never been a good traveler.  You know the phrase, “Don’t make me stop this car”?  My father invented it in 1964 in the middle of the Nevada desert after the 5,298th time I asked him “Are we there yet?”  I can’t imagine making the 3,000-mile cross-country trip Henson made – four times! – without the benefit of shock absorbers, paved roads, Burger King, public rest rooms, books on tape, red licorice, Cracker Barrel or Motel 6.

If it had been up to me, the Walkers would have stayed in Illinois and dodged bullets until we could get hooked up with a good tour package on

One of Henson’s jobs on these pioneering journeys was to provide fresh meat for the members of the respective pioneer companies with which he traveled.  Evidently, he was quite a hunter, and a fairly accomplished marksman with his black powder rifle.  I would have done great at preparing a little buffalo brisket barbecue, and I can flip antelope burgers with the best of them.  But if you’re asking me to stalk, shoot, butcher and dress wild game from prairie dogs to elk to rabbit to the occasional travel-weary oxen . . . well, let’s just say we’d probably eat a lot of cactus and sagebrush root.

With a nice little parsley and rosemary vinaigrette, of course.

And then there’s the whole house-building thing.  As near as I can tell, Henson built with his own hands at least five full-size homes, not to mention a variety of cabins, huts and lean-tos.  A couple of his homes are still standing, a testament to his skill and hard work.  On the other hand, I’m still anguishing over having to replace 24 shingles that blew off our roof during a windstorm a few months back.  I’m sure Henson would have had the roof patched by now.  Of course, then he would have missed the fun we had last night when a mid-summer rainstorm sent rivulets of water down through the unshingled portions of our roof and into our living room.

So, OK.  I admit it.  I wouldn’t have been much of a pioneer.  Henson would have taken one look at me and sent me out to gather buffalo chips – or traded me to the Indians (or maybe the Braves) for a blanket, some beads and a left-handed papoose to be named later.

But I’m not sure how well Henson would have done in my world, either.  Sure, he would have loved our minivan, beat up and noisy as it is.  But how would he have handled road construction, rush hour traffic and ever-escalating gasoline prices?  He probably would have appreciated the extraordinary possibilities of modern technology, but was he prepared to deal with the multiple frustrations of computer spam, online viruses and internet pornography?  And while I’m sure he would have enjoyed the ease and convenience of modern housing (especially dishwashers, central air and indoor plumbing), how would he have dealt with modern issues relating to privacy, security and crime?

Oh, that’s right.  The crime thing wouldn’t be an issue as long as he still had that black powder rifle, would it?

Times change.  And so do the people who live in them.  Henson and his contemporaries were perfect for their times – tough, brave, independent and self-reliant.  I admire them and their pioneering courage, and I celebrate their significant accomplishments in building the world in which we live today.  They faced their challenges squarely, and we are all better off as a result.  I am profoundly grateful for them even though I wouldn’t want to trade places with any of them.

But I don’t think they’d want to trade places with us, either.

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— © Joseph Walker

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