That title–Long Afternoon–may not have any appeal to someone experiencing medical difficulties, hospitalizations, longtime care of patients. But north Georgia artist John Kollock made it very appealing in his book “Long Afternoon,” (Copple House, 1978) as well as in his painting by that name. John had a rare and delightful talent for bringing the past to life both in words and in the rich mountain scenes he painted or depicted in his pen and ink drawings. In “Long Afternoon” are scenes that take one back to the days when the afternoons melted from bright sunlight on a barnyard to evening shadows in a peaceful valley, from a grist mill to a quaint small steepled church. Of course life in those slower paced days were not just fun and games. There was the gardening to tend to every day. There were long afternoons behind a stubborn mule and a plow; there was the horrid time for little boys when they had to be scrubbed from head to toe in a tin tub. But there were weddings, quilting bees, and Sunday dinners–and swinging from a high limb into a cool creek.
I remember my own long afternoons roaming the woods with brothers and sisters when our most serious thoughts concerned lunch and suppertime.
There were long afternoons of building dams in the creek, freezing our toes, then climbing a bank to warm on soft moss. There were long afternoons of hunting birds’ nests, following rabbit trails, climbing trees to see out yonder. There were long afternoons of reading, of singing arias from a stump, of building a village with stones and clay. There were long afternoons when the sun shone past supper and the fireflies came out while there was still time to play.
You may, as I do, wish for our children and grandchildren those “long afternoons,” times of totally free play, of building, and reading, singing and just being children. And, yes, we wish for them some hardships, like picking squash or cutting okra, something they can tell their own children about someday. As everyone says, times are different now. But there is still time for children to play, just in a different dimension. I see them tumbling with each other in the grass emitting giggles and squeals of laughter just before a fierce fight. I see them climbing trees, studying butterflies, planting a peach seed to see if it will grow, sitting down with cats climbing their arms and necks as if they were mountains, and just relaxing in a porch swing with not a care in the world.
It may not be a book your child is glued to in that porch swing. Probably it’s his cell phone with games and videos galore. He may not be free to climb in and out of creeks, lie on his back in the broom straw interpreting the clouds. But wherever children are, they will find a way to play.
We want so much to protect our children, all our children not just those kin to us, to give them the building blocks they will need for the rest of their lives, to instill in them a love of God and country. We try to pull them away from electronics and give them a craft to do, or send them into the sunshine to run off their energy. These, too, are things we can do: we can listen to them, cheer them on, and, mainly, love them real good. But we cannot give them the long afternoons of our youth. What we can give them, at least some of the time, is the long afternoons of their youth, here and now–a game of Uno here, a conversation about fossils there, a session on riddles, and answers to questions like “If God knew Adam and Eve were going to sin why did He make them?”
There are still moments that add up to Long Afternoons, not the ones such as illustrated by John Kollock. But I thought of John when I came upon Kaison lying tummy-down in the porch swing, one foot kicked up in his utter enjoyment of the moment. I wish you were here, John, to draw this picture of a Long Afternoon.