At about a year-and-a-half from my 90th birthday, I sometimes wonder why I am still alive. Most of my contemporaries are dead, some for a long time. I have had many opportunities to be among them. So, why not?
I had the usual childhood diseases from my time except the worst ones — diphtheria, scarlet fever and polio. I heard that my bout with whooping cough early on was scary, but encounters with multiple types of measles, mumps and chicken pox were typical.
Of course, we now know that childhood chicken pox can lead to old folks’ shingles. Pneumonia at age 5 could have been serious, but newly discovered antibiotics knocked it out quickly, the first of many marvels of medicine that kept me from being dead.
There is a genetic propensity for strokes via my paternal grandmother. My diet has been the “Stroke Belt” fare of fried foods with lard as the cooking and seasoning oil three times a day. Pork (uncured hog meat) had lard in it and was fried in more.
Steak, typically round steak from the rear quarter, was coated in flour and fried. Fish, which could be healthy, was coated in corn meal and fried. Fryers — young chickens — were coated in flour and, as the name indicates, fried, until they became too old and tough. Grown chickens were baked or boiled until tender and cooked with dumplings or rice. Biscuits were made with lard as shortening and cornbread cooked in skillets seasoned with lard.
Immersed in this diet, none of us should have reached adulthood. Perhaps I should have died from it, but I did not. Neither did my father and his siblings or my mother and her parents, who followed essentially the same diet.
In fact, most lived long lives: Mother to age 93 (and a half, as she insisted). The antidote was long days of hard labor, which burned up calories, even those from a potentially dangerous diet. The only fat people I knew growing up were those who avoided this way of life and labor.
Farm work was dangerous. Mules could be dangerous and tractors more so. Farmers used dangerous chemicals long before modern herbicides and pesticides were developed. I used some of them, including arsenic applied by hand or simple tools to kill tobacco worms in conditions where wind blew it onto our clothes and into our faces.
I picked tobacco once in heat so great that the man beside me suffered a heat stroke from which he never recovered. I was protected a bit by youth and he was much older.
Farm chemicals, herbicides to control unwanted plants and pesticides to control destructive worms, insects, etc., have transformed agriculture, multiplying productivity and reducing labor. They also have caused untold damage to the environment, be it the eradication of helpful insects and species of birds or residual poisons in the land and water.
Negative — sometimes deadly — effects on humans have been known for years and new warnings about various chemicals make the news rather often.
I wonder about how Mother would react to the warnings concerning her favorite garden tool, the herbicide Roundup. She used it for years against enemy weeds and grasses near, but not in her flower beds. For that, she still had to rely on a hoe unless she could get someone else to do it for her. She showed me what a labor saver it is.
It did not kill her. She lived a long life before drifting away into the lost world of Alzheimer's disease. And it has not killed me.
There have been close calls: automobile accidents, rattlesnakes too close for comfort, a heart attack, cardiac a-fib, etc.
So why am I not dead? Well, the Lord took care of me. His primary angels of mercy have been wonderful physicians, including my son and daughter-in-law, Drs. Gary and Carla Branch. I would not be on the green side of the grass without the knowledge and skills of Dr. John Rathbun, cardiologist. I will stop here because the list is long.
I am not dead yet because of God’s watch care from birth, often through very human angels who did not know who guided them. And some say that it is because there are still things to do that only I can do. Imagine that.
Roger G. Branch Sr. is professor emeritus of sociology at Georgia Southern University and is a retired pastor.