I wouldn’t want to trade places with Great-Great-Grandfather Henson for anything.
And not just because he’s, 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 — at least twice that I know of — without the benefit of shock absorbers, paved roads, public restrooms, Motel 6 or Taco Bell's new life-changing quesaritos.
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 Priceline.com.
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 ox Well, let’s just say we’d probably eat a lot of cactus and sagebrush root.
With a nice little dandelion vinaigrette, of course.
And then there’s the whole house-building thing. As near as I can tell, Henson built several full-size homes with his own hands, not to mention a variety of cabins, huts and lean-tos. I’ve heard that a couple of his homes are still standing, a testament to his skill and hard work. On the other hand, I’m still trying to work up the courage to repair our water-soaked, wind-blown shed, which I’m sure Henson could have patched and revitalized with his eyes closed.
Of course, then he would have missed the anticipatory excitement we experience after every wind storm when we go outside to see if the shed is still there.
So OK, I’ll 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 for a blanket, some venison and a three-legged mustang to be named later.
But I’m not sure how well Henson would have done in my world, either. Sure, he would have loved traveling in our cars — dents, dings, cracked windshields and all. 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?
Uh, never mind about the crime. Something tells me that as long as he had that black powder rifle, he wouldn’t be too intimidated by anything.
Still, times change. And so do the people who live in them. Henson and his contemporaries were perfect for their time — 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 the world is a better place for it.
I am profoundly grateful for them — but I wouldn’t want to trade places with them.
And that’s OK, because I don’t think they’d want to trade places with us, either. Which means we’re probably perfect for our times, too.
Especially now that we have those quesaritos.
To read more by Joseph B. Walker, visit josephbwalker.com. Twitter: JoeWalkerSr