By Jim Elliott
Bucket of Bolts 

There Never Was an Ideal Time


When I was young, I used to get around by hitchhiking, whether a few miles into town to work or across the entire country and up and down both coasts. It was not the most convenient way to travel, but it was certainly the cheapest, and I, like most anybody, was willing to sacrifice convenience for low cost; in fact, I had to. I remember spending a couple of hours in a snowstorm, cold and hungry, and hoping I’d get a ride before I got hit; hours in the desert heat near Yuma, Ariz., hot and thirsty; a full night and day trying to get a ride out of Austin, Nev .; and the usual hour or two in the rain, sometimes sheltered by an overpass, mostly not. It was often not a lot of fun, in fact, it was often a misery, and I would cuss myself for a fool for doing it.

But that was only when I was on the road, a few days after I got to my destination I would remember it as an exciting, even romantic adventure and would forget the hardships completely … until the next trip.

These days there are those who want to turn back the clock and return America to a time when it was truly great (it still is, by the way), a time where everything was good and the Constitution was new and unsullied by the effects of the rulings of the Supreme Court; a time of rugged individualism where you could take charge of your own destiny, Or maybe to the cozy, family oriented times of the 1950s (as seen on TV!).These dreamers have the advantage of either selective memory, as I did when I hitchhiked, or an incomplete understanding of the era they wish us to travel to. They want to take us to a time that never was, a time of “the good old days.”

Whatever time it was, it was full of a lot of unpleasantness that just plain gets ignored. The beginning of America was a time when only men of property were entitled to vote, most whites engaged in a life of endless toil, and blacks in one of simple slavery. And all this happened in the time when some of the most enlightened and educated minds to grace American history were running the show.

If it was the simpler times of the 1950s the downsides were lynchings, political witch hunts, poverty (still and always), an early death because you couldn’t afford a doctor, back alley abortions, and as varied an array of moral turpitudes as we have today, but believe you me, nobody ever even mentioned it.

The point is this; there never was an ideal time to go back to when everything was right with the world, and sad to say, there never will be, at least as long as we humans are running the show. However, we do make progress, a little at a time, and there are good things in every era that we can aspire to revive if they have lapsed. But as far as wholesale reincarnation of the utopian times is concerned, it won’t happen. So the best course available is to live in the present, suck it up and stick it out and stick together. You know, like we used to do, or at least that’s the way I like to remember it.

Jim Elliott served 16 years in the Montana Legislature as a state representative and state senator. He lives on his ranch in Trout Creek.


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