I sit typing this column on the 20th anniversary of the massive heart attack that took the life of my father, and “middlebrow” is one of the words that pops into my mind when remembering Dad.
Except for learning the skills of a medic during his year in the United States Army and taking a Dale Carnegie “How To Win Friends and Influence People” course while in the insurance business, Dad had no formal education beyond being the salutatorian of the Marshall County (Tennessee) High School class of 1943. But he was a voracious reader (history, highbrow classic literature, newspapers, Bennett Cerf jokebooks, B.W. Johnson’s Notes on the New Testament, Reader’s Digest) his entire life and displayed a healthy balance between “book learnin’” and common sense.
Dad expressed no resentment for classmates and kinfolk who moved cross-country for employment. He made many newcomers feel welcome when he was selling real estate. But his own happiness involved a simple life of exhibiting his kindness, generosity and problem-solving skills in his hometown.
Dad was much more extroverted than I am, but he commanded attention without being needy and domineering. Dad was a character, but he also HAD character – a distinction that is lost on many attention-seekers.
Dad relished deep thoughts and marched to the beat of a different drummer. but it was a very natural, easy-going pace. It was not a deliberate effort to be a chip-on-the-shoulder cantankerous coot or “weird for the sake of being weird” hipster.
Dad believed in an honest day’s work (sometimes physical, sometimes cerebral) for an honest day’s pay. He would be appalled by the hordes of people who clamor for “something for nothing” – as well as by well-connected manipulators who exploit the masses through crony capitalism.
Dad practiced the Old School traits of plugging along and “doing the right thing,” as contrasted with the current trend toward narcissistic, no-skin-in-the-game “virtue signaling.”
Dad tried his best to be a peacemaker and treat everyone the same. He did not spend every waking moment trying to verbally nuke the enemy or conjure ever-narrower subgroups of aggrieved parties.
Perhaps it’s a blessing that Dad has been spared the past two decades of polarization. On one side is an overabundance of over-educated, smarmy, silver-spoon elitists who dictate how the commoners should live. On the other side is a growing underclass of “here, hold my beer” nitwits who wallow in their ignorance and their crassness and give renewed life to the worst stereotypes.
This great nation owes much of its prosperity to people infused with wanderlust, who made fame and fortune the driving force of their lives. But the glue that holds America together is good, decent people who stay informed and try on a modest scale to make their families, churches, neighborhoods and communities a little better. Middlebrow citizens.
Edwin Lewis Tyree was one of a kind and irreplaceable.
And I hope future generations produce millions more people just like him!