This Reaching is Alive Yet

“July Fourth 1934″ ~ J.C. Leyendecker

While it’s possible my mother saw J.C. Leyendecker’s cover illustration for the July 7, 1934 issue of The Saturday Evening Post, it’s certain that she celebrated that July 4th with her own mother.

It would have been one of the last celebrations they shared. In November of that year, my grandmother died: leaving my sixteen-year-old mother to care for three sisters, cope with the vicissitudes of life during the Great Depression, and bear what she perceived to be the shame of poverty.

She rarely talked about those years unless questioned. When I asked if she remembered anything from that last July 4th with her mother, she laughed and said, “I know there would have been watermelon!”

Then, as one memory led to another, she began to offer details.

There were flags everywhere. Everyone put out their flag. Sometimes, there was a parade, but even if there wasn’t a parade, there was a program on the town square. By the time it got dark, a neighbor — maybe one of the Weir boys? — would have had a little too much drink, and would start to sing. Everyone laughed and said, “Now it’s really the 4th. The boys are tuning up.”

Then, more serious, she added this:

Mom always told us to be proud of being Americans. There were plenty of Croats, Italians, Irish, Germans, Swedish in our town who’d talk about the Old Country, but none of them wanted to go back.
Everyone believed that, no matter how hard things got, we had the freedom to make them better, and no one wanted to give up that freedom.

Carl Sandburg’s book-length poem, The People, Yes, wasn’t published until 1936, so my mother never had the chance to study it in school. Whether she ever read it is uncertain. Today I read it often, appreciating Sandburg’s realistic and compassionate view of the American people. Each time I turn to the poem, I find something new to appreciate, and never fail to think of my own family.

Like my grandmother, Sandburg understood that pride in country is a virtue. Like my grandmother and mother, he clearly believed that, no matter how hard things get, people are capable of using their freedom to make them better. He’s a fine poet for this day, and a voice of wise counsel for this country.

The people yes
The people will live on.
The learning and blundering people will live on.
They will be tricked and sold and again sold
And go back to the nourishing earth for rootholds,
The people so peculiar in renewal and comeback,
You can’t laugh off their capacity to take it.
The mammoth rests between his cyclonic dramas.
The people so often sleepy, weary, enigmatic,
is a vast huddle with many units saying:
“I earn my living.
I make enough to get by
and it takes all my time.
If I had more time
I could do more for myself
and maybe for others.
I could read and study
and talk things over
and find out about things.
It takes time.
I wish I had the time.”
The people is a tragic and comic two-face: hero and hoodlum:
phantom and gorilla twisting to moan with a gargoyle mouth:
“They buy me and sell me…it’s a game…sometime I’ll
break loose…”
Once having marched
Over the margins of animal necessity,
Over the grim line of sheer subsistence
Then man came
To the deeper rituals of his bones,
To the lights lighter than any bones,
To the time for thinking things over,
To the dance, the song, the story,
Or the hours given over to dreaming,
Once having so marched.
Between the finite limitations of the five senses
and the endless yearnings of man for the beyond
the people hold to the humdrum bidding of work and food
while reaching out when it comes their way
for lights beyond the prison of the five senses,
for keepsakes lasting beyond any hunger or death.
This reaching is alive.
The panderers and liars have violated and smutted it.
Yet this reaching is alive yet
for lights and keepsakes.
The people know the salt of the sea
and the strength of the winds
lashing the corners of the earth.
The people take the earth
as a tomb of rest and a cradle of hope.
Who else speaks for the Family of Man?
They are in tune and step
with constellations of universal law.
The people is a polychrome,
a spectrum and a prism
held in a moving monolith,
a console organ of changing themes,
a clavilux of color poems
wherein the sea offers fog
and the fog moves off in rain
and the labrador sunset shortens
to a nocturne of clear stars
serene over the shot spray
of northern lights.
The steel mill sky is alive.
The fire breaks white and zigzag
shot on a gun-metal gloaming.
Man is a long time coming.
Man will yet win.
Brother may yet line up with brother.
This old anvil laughs at many broken hammers.
There are men who can’t be bought.
The fireborn are at home in fire.
The stars make no noise,
You can’t hinder the wind from blowing.
Time is a great teacher.
Who can live without hope?
In the darkness with a great bundle of grief
the people march.
In the night, and overhead a shovel of stars for keeps, the people
march:
“Where to? what next?”


Comments are welcome, always
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Trading A Dream For Reality

Hallie’s Moon ~ Debbie Little-Wilson

Perhaps because I dream so rarely, or at least remember so few dreams of my own, frequent dreamers fascinate me. 

When friends report extravagant, tangled threads of narrative woven through their nights, I press for details. One awakens suddenly, her heart pounding, barely a step ahead of the ax-murderer with a grudge. Another, constricted with horror by the sight of luggage-toting reptilians at her door, thrashes awake, gasping for breath.

My mother once dreamed the Mayor had appointed her to be Keeper of the Kitties. Despite the honor of it all, the thought that she’d been charged with caring for hundreds of cats was, as she said, a real nightmare: fully as distressing as the week she spent all night, every night, searching the aisles of supermarkets for a product she couldn’t find, couldn’t identify, and wasn’t sure she truly needed. (more…)

The Ghosts of Camels Past: From Winsome to Weird

Doug Baum & Gobi check out El Paso’s “Tumbleweed Times”

I suspect Mary Shirkey would have enjoyed meeting Doug Baum, founder of the Texas Camel Corps. Clearly, she would have enjoyed meeting Doug’s sidekick, Gobi: especially if they met during the camel’s seasonal shedding, when Gobi’s fine, undercoat hair could be collected.

Mrs. Shirkey seems to have had entrepreneurial tendencies, combined with a decent amount of chutzpah. In a letter written to Secretary of War Jefferson Davis from San Antonio on August 12, 1856, Henry Wayne, the U.S. Army Major charged with overseeing Davis’s Great Camel Experiment, described the results of his encounter with Mrs. Shirkey as the camels traveled from Indianola to Camp Verde.
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Published in: on June 17, 2015 at 8:59 pm  Comments (70)  
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The Ghosts of Camels Past: From Tunisia to Texas

At the entrance to Old Camp Verde

North of Bandera Pass, the Texas hills soften, then flatten and spread into ranch land, orchards, and towns. Where the former Great Western Cattle Trail intersects Verde Creek Road, a turn to the east brings you to the parking lot of the Camp Verde General Store and Post Office: an establishment with a century and a half of history, an abundance of modern wares, and a significant commitment to retailing.

But if you turn west, away from the store, choosing instead to follow the narrow, two-lane road along the cypress-lined banks of Verde Creek itself, you’ll come to the ruins of the general store’s namesake: the original Camp Verde. Established in 1855 as headquarters for Jefferson Davis’s so-called “Great Camel Experiment,” the camp had a short but memorable run as the U.S. Army’s only North American caravansary.
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Published in: on June 6, 2015 at 8:16 pm  Comments (91)  
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The Ghosts of Camels Past – Part I

The Camp Verde Store ~ Then

Like donning a pair of well-worn boots, easing into rural Texas elicits sighs of pleasure. Scuffed in places, streaked with mud, even a bit run-down about the edges, the place is comfortable — often more functional than stylish, but not given to pinching the soul.

Over time, you discover that slipping into country life requires little more than a willingness to slow down. After leaving efficient but nerve-wracking interstate highways behind, I met the world’s most dependably satisfying burger in tiny Center Point, served up under a sign that read, “This is not Houston. This is not Dallas. We don’t do fast. We do good. Your choice.”  

It’s still the world’s best burger, and I still make the choice to stop every time I’m in the neighborhood. Then, hunger sated, I turn south and west, passing the fire-ravaged hay barn that lives only in memory; the determined Norfolk pine; the chickens and guineas ranging along the edge of River Road. Where frayed and fraying ropes hang like pendulous vines from swamp-worthy cypress, young boys swing out across the water, shrieking with delighted fear. (more…)

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