Erin Bried's nonfiction book How To Build A Fire And Other Handy Things Your Grandfather Knew is not intended to be controversial, but controversial it can be.
This sequel to How To Sew A Button And Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew teaches 100 valuable life skills (how to tie a necktie, how to break in a baseball mitt, how to read animal tracks, etc.) through interviews with 10 grandfathers, all of whom were born before 1927.
These accounts CAN be heartwarming and uplifting, but it threatens the self-esteem of younger generations to read of the grit and ingenuity of these survivors of the Great Depression and World War II. I mean, I've heard that the first A-bomb that was to be detonated at Bikini Atoll was somehow misplaced, so the resourceful pilot hurriedly reconstructed it, using only burlap feed sacks, half a gas rationing coupon and a Captain Midnight decoder ring. ("Aw, shucks, if I hadn't been worried about my girl sitting under the apple tree with anybody else but me, I would've had time to build TWO bombs.")
We would've put to shame even further, if Bried hadn't omitted some articles whose authenticity couldn't be verified. That's why you don't see "How To Say 'Nay, Nay, Not Until Our Wedding Day' Like A Real Sailor."
It's quite obvious that Bried cherry-picked her interviewees and their comments, to emphasize the can-do "salt of the earth" members of the Greatest Generation. Perhaps there will be another volume celebrating the dark side of the generation. Then we will see articles such as "How To Plant Trees -- And Spot A Dirty Commie Behind Every One of Them," "How To Navigate By The Stars -- When You Go To The Store For A Pack of Cigarettes and Never Come Home," and "How To Use Words Such As Sir And Ma'am" ("Yes, ma'am, I'll make the colored person move to the back of the bus").
It is unnerving when you consider that many of the lost arts in the book are basic SURVIVAL SKILLS in case of a war or natural disaster. And while you might be good at regurgitating facts from the book's step-by-step procedures, it's hard to mimic the grace under pressure that our elders exhibited. ("Dylan got bitten by a snake! Quick! Someone boil some pole barns! We need lots and lots of pole barns!")
The book offers a second chance to those who still have parents and grandparents to consult, but it is a bittersweet experience for those who wish just one more time they could turn to grandpa for practical advice. ("Grandpa, how can I get my #@^&% siblings and cousins to keep their cotton-pickin' hands off your estate?")
Mostly, people fear a sequel. What if, in another 50 years, the series continues with advice from TODAY'S young adults? Instead of tips on how to get the bitterness out of cucumbers, we'll see "How To Get The Vowels Out Of A Text Message." Instead of how to break ground after locating water with a divining rod, we'll have "How I Broke A Nail Putting Money Into The Bottled Water Machine." Instead of saving for a rainy day, we'll have "I Hope It Doesn't Rain On Those Indonesians While They're Putting Holes In My New Jeans."
*Sigh* If I live to see that book, I know what to do with the fire I build.
©2011 Danny Tyree. Danny welcomes reader e-mail responses at firstname.lastname@example.org. Danny's' weekly column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate.