Men aren’t what they used to be

Today, I checked out a book from the USC (that’s South Carolina) library that contains biographical sketches of people in my (mostly collateral) family tree. I was thrilled to find this volume was available, as it deals with mostly Tennessee and North Carolina families, and I think it will be crucial to understanding the individual men of my Confederate and Revolutionary ancestry, but that’s not the point.

I opened it up to find the first sketch about one Elbert Clay Reeves of east Tennessee, father of the author, and my 1st cousin 4x removed.  He lived from 1841 to 1929, a nice long life that saw a torn country, a repaired revitalized country, a world torn apart, a promise for the future (he died a month before the crash), and the overall shift from pre-telegraph times to airplane transportation.  Perhaps this particular span of years had something to do with it, but when I read all of what he did in his life, I was taken by the sheer variety and amount of his accomplishments.  Mr. Reeves, in short, was: a Confederate soldier; a successful farmer; a law student; the owner of his own law practice (several times reincarnated but not for wont of success); elected the first mayor of Johnson City, Tennessee; elected as Clerk of the Supreme Court of Tennessee at Knoxville; member of several committees across the country to discuss reorganization of the Methodist and Southern Methodist churches; editor of the Greeneville newspaper the National Union (at a time when that meant a lot more than today); a delegate of Andrew Johnson at the state Democratic convention ordered to withdraw the President’s name from consideration to the House of Representatives (because Johnson wanted to be Senator and Johnson trusted Mr. Reeves); the first president of the Johnson City Foundry and Machine Company; the first president of the Johnson City Real Estate Company; a member of the Johnson City Public Schools board; a member of the board for the Eastern Hospital for the Insane; a member of the Emory and Henry College board; a recurring delegate to statewide Democratic conventions; the first district’s Democratic nominee for Congress in 1900; counsel in front of the Supreme Court of Tennessee at Knoxville in 1923 at age 82; a featured speaker at the 1923 dedication of the Andrew Johnson tailor-shop memorial.  Of course, he was also a father good enough to be revered by his children, at least by his son, the author, and he was a husband who struggled with the twenty years he lived after his beloved wife’s death.

I’ll summarize: he did a lot of things, many of them related to or resulting from his being a lawyer, but many as ventures that were of good to his community or that had nothing to do with his primary career path.  Another example I like to think of along these lines is Jefferson Davis, say what you will of him, who was a professional soldier turned farmer turned war hero turned politician turned businessman turned author.  And who can forget Benjamin Franklin, wondering if there was anything at all that he didn’t do.

Very few have lives like this anymore.  Nowadays, the idea of success is to get a degree or certification, get a job, move up the ladder, and retire with a nice 401(k). Sometimes a person might change careers once in life when the first one didn’t work out, or happy chance smiles upon him out of nowhere, but let’s be honest and recognize that modern goal-setting, for the most part, is conducted on a rather straight and understood line.  I know of some people myself who buck this theory, but they are the exceptions, whereas they would have been the rule just a few short generations ago.  Why is this the case?  The author, Le Roy Reeves, theorized thusly, and note that his book was written in 1951:

The death of E. C. Reeves came practically at the close of an era, an era in which our nation progressed as no nation ever progressed before.  It was an era in which men considered themselves equal to men’s affairs; an era in which those who were worthy wrested by brain and energy and work, from earth and sea and air, a competence for themselves, their families and their old age.  They had no acquaintance with the dole or the five-day week.  Their women lived modestly, married, obeyed their husbands and reared their children as contemplated by Nature and the religion that they professed, and loyally seconded their husbands in their undertakings.

Together husband and wife lived comfortably, happily, and for the most part religiously.  Not a divorce or a disrupted home marred any of these [Reeves’] ancestral lines.

Mark well this era.

So “obeying” one’s spouse isn’t quite a good way to put it in today’s society, but “loyalty” certainly is (going both ways), and his point is well understood regardless.  My wife always says that we were simply born in the wrong era, but I always believed that the Lord had His reasons to put someone here and now who understands the there and then.

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