Nan Rushing, an early member of the Silent Generation, and me, an early member of Gen Z, were in stark generational contrast as we sat in the Statesboro Regional Library. Rushing was born on April 15, 1929, into a world in which you had to have a government-issued coupon to purchase a pair of shoes and farming was done with mules and plows. And almost exactly 72 years later, I was born on April 20, 2001, into a world in which you can buy shoes at any time and farming is done with computer analysis and giant machines.
As I sat with someone who refers to World War II as “The War,” I was struck with the feeling of being completely overwhelmed. Before the time that I was a thought in my parents’ minds, Rushing had been the president of the Bulloch County Association of Educators (1976-1977), the Bulloch County Teacher of the Year (1987), the recipient of the Student Voice Award given by the Georgia Council of Teachers of English (1992 AND 1994), and not to mention, in 1985 she received the Instructional Improvement Grant for the Junior High Write-Off. You may know this as the Nan Rushing Write-Off, which is still ongoing today, and in which I was a participant in middle school. She has accomplished more than most can hope and lived a wonderful, long life. She is who I want to be when I grow up.
Since Rushing spoke with such love and fervor about teaching and her former students (whose work she still has and of which she proudly speaks), it is easy to focus on this sole aspect of her life, however, when a life spans 90 years, there are copious amounts of lessons and history that should be considered. Rushing proved this as I spoke to her and in her article, “Remembering and Reminiscing,” which recounts some of her great memories from life and how times have greatly changed.
She begins this article by writing, “Pause with me as I give you a panoramic view of some unbelievable events and changes that unfolded in my life.”
As I read this article, it was unbelievable. Rolling stores? Sweeping yards? Wearing clothes made of feed or flour sacks? Washing clothes in galvanized tubs? No electricity?
Unheard of. All of it. Sure, we’ve all read about these times in our history textbooks, but it’s just that to us: history. There is a large disconnect, we learn about times in the past, but frequently we do not truly believe it. Yes, people actually did those things, yes people actually lived in the 1920s. Rushing is lively and bright proof of that time period.
When we began to discuss her life growing up, she told me that when she started teaching, her students would say, “Mrs. Nan, what kind of drugs did you have, what kind of things did you get in trouble with?”
She looked at me then, and with a slight shrug and laugh said, “We didn't get in trouble, we had too many chores to do. When we got off the school bus, our chores started. We had to bring in firewood for all the fireplaces, we had about six fireplaces. We had a big wood box, you know, for the stove wood. And then, the older ones [children], we had to milk a cow.”
Later she says, “I think that’s the reason that I have been able to meet a lot of obligations and achievements that have come my way because we were brought up to respect our parents and to work.”
“Everything is instant now,” she continues, “Everybody wants instant potatoes, instant this...give it to me, they don't want to wait.”
Nothing was instant when Rushing was growing up. She worked for everything she had. Even when she and her six younger siblings (four sisters who, she proudly declared, were all still living and have done very well for themselves, and two brothers) wanted to play, they had to make up their own games, there were no video games or television shows to entertain them. She tells me that they “invented the game of kick the can.”
As her life continues, Rushing has not let her age affect her. She has been a member of Union Baptist Church for the past 67 years, has taken the church’s minutes for 54 years, and continues to be their sole pianist. She has written a cookbook, “Two Cooks in the Kitchen,” with her dear friend Buford, and sold almost a thousand copies. Currently, she is working on writing a book which will center on creative writing, and the preface of the book will feature five students’ works about her, which were submitted for Georgia’s Student Voice Award.
I then asked her if she had any life advice for me or anyone, and she said: “Always try to make the best better.”
Some of you may recognize this as the 4-H motto, and Rushing has “always thought that was a good motto, because you do the best you can, but you can always make it better. And I have found out that, that the things that have come my way, I've always tried to do the best that I could in whatever position I was in.”
As our interview came to a close, and as she said those words, a tide of awareness washed over me as I began to appreciate the amount of life that Rushing has and continues to experience. It is not often that you have the chance to speak to someone with such an abundance of history, so if you ever do, I encourage you to listen intently. The words of those before us —Rushing’s conversation and writing — are filled with authenticity and wisdom, their words have many stories to tell, and many lessons to teach.
Ponder the final sentence of Rushing’s article which is true no matter one’s age, no matter the generation into which one was born: “What can one achieve as the years move on? Well, Margaret Mitchell won a Pulitzer Prize for ‘Gone with the Wind’ when she was 37 years old. Shirley Temple Black was named Ambassador to Ghana at the age of 47. Ronald Reagan became the 40th president of the United States at the age of 70. Grandma Moses began painting at the age of 76. I taught language arts in middle grades, high school, and college for 37 years and retired at 77. So, you see old age is a time to press on, find joy in living, enjoy the beauty of nature, and thank God for the years you’ve had.”