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
“Where to? what next?”

Comments are welcome, always

90 thoughts on “This Reaching is Alive Yet

  1. Hi Linda:

    This is the first time I’ve been exposed to the words of wisdom of this American poet.

    His words are to think over and over. Good or evil? Which will prevail at the end of the day? That is a question I have no answer to. Normally I’m an optimistic man, but I’m losing it gradually over the years.

    I’m losing my hope in man. I have a gut feeling that man will at the end of the day will eat man. “Homini homo lupus est”. I know that it’s difficult to live without hope. I cling desperately to this construct, but everywhere I look, I see is the destruction of man by man.

    “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
    “Where to? what next?””

    “where to? What next?” Oh my God, I wish I knew.

    Thank you for putting my mind to work overtime.


    1. Dear Omar, I hear you. But I see hope. I see hope in some good people’s faces. This year we decided not to go to parades and cheer on with all cheering flags. We will go and pluck some weeds for some small organic farmers to give them hope that it can be done. Keep your hope and fire alive.

      1. I see hope as well, BeeHappee. People who depend only on polls and news reports for a sense of the state of the American spirit will be misled.

        The grand productions that come with this holiday certainly can be enjoyable — I’m a great fan of fireworks, particularly. But the small, community celebrations still are my favorites. This year, I’ll be watching fireworks from a stretch of beach many miles down the coast. And when the fireworks are over? The stars still will shine, just like the ones in our flag.

    2. I was a little startled by your response, Omar — not because it’s “wrong,” or off the mark, but because it’s so different from mine. I’ve always read this poem as encouragement, and as a expression of hope (which is, after all, somewhat different than optimism).

      One thing I’ve come to appreciate about growing older is that I’ve developed both a longer view, and an increased ability to cope with whatever happens to come my way. That there’s mendacity, violence, stupidity and just plain cussedness in life goes without saying. But we don’t have to participate, and we don’t have to allow it to determine the course of our lives.

      Of course, the question of where we place our final trust is paramount. If I were to trust only in humanity, I might find myself discouraged, too — and it would be worse if I trusted only in myself.
      As it is, I’m happy to take each day and its challenges as they come, with truth and integrity as my pole stars.


      1. I wonder if Omar might be remembering, even subconsciously, Rubén Darío’s “fatalistic” poem “Lo Fatal,” with its similar ending:

        ¡y no saber adónde vamos,
        ni de dónde venimos!…

        Without knowing where we’re going
        Nor where we’ve come from!

        You can find the full poem, which is short, along with a straightforward English translation, at:–translation-of-Lo-Fatal-by-Ruben-Dario–by-AntGomez

          1. I can’t say that that Tom Paxton song was the last the thing on my mind, but it wasn’t the first, even though it fits the theme so well.

            That folk music era is half a century gone now, but I see that at age 77 Tom Paxton is still touring. We attended a house concert he gave in Austin a good 15 years ago.

  2. Beautiful poem, thank you for sharing!
    And your mom’s “who’d talk about the Old Country, but none of them wanted to go back.” made me smile. My friends and I, we talk about old country. All the time. Memories always seem brighter than the reality that we had there. So we talk, and most of us do not want to go back.

    1. BeeHappee, I suspect all of us have an “old country” which we remember with fondness. For some, it’s another place; for others, another time. I suppose for a few, it’s both.

      My father’s mother, who came from Sweden, liked to say she left behind the bad, and brought with her only the good. She tended to lecture the whole family on the need to do that regularly, day after day, but when we were young, we’d just nod and say, “Yes, ma’am.” We didn’t have a clue what she was talking about. Today, I’m a little more savvy.

      I don’t know how it was with the men, but so many women from so many “old countries” could lead to some amusing situations. English was the common language, but when one ethnic group didn’t want the others to know what they were talking about while they shelled peas or embroidered tea towels, they’d switch to their native tongue. Oh, the glances and scowls that would pass among them — until it was over, and they were speaking English again.

      1. Oh, I like that attitude of leaving behind the bad and bringing the good only – with the whole life. Yes, I had been guilty of hiding behind the foreign language. I had done it with my sister, so that no one else understands. :)

  3. I have never read Sandurg’s “The People, Yes.” His words hearten me and I hope his confidence in the American people was prescient, that we will say with equal confidence, okay, “where to, what’s next?”

    Your mom’s early life was harsh to say the least. Mom worked at the Broadway Department stores in downtown L.A. during the early years of the Depression, supporting her mother and brother and for a couple of years her grandparents. But she didn’t have it so bad–not like your mother. She had two men courting her–both of whom had jobs. Then she married my dad, the dentist, in 1935. I wonder if she wasn’t somewhat insulated from the harsher realities of the Depression.

    A woman who lives up the valley from me…she’s now 100…told me about going to town on a buckboard to find the shelves bare. But at home on their small farm they raised pigs, chickens, turkeys, beef…and grew an acre garden. Mom and her family didn’t grow a garden that I know of, and lived in a big city–but I never heard her say they went hungry. I never thought to ask her about the 4th of July, but she was patriotic and flew a flag and watched the PBS 4th of July specials every year. She compared our country now (or a few years ago) to what she considered a kinder, gentler time–a less vulgar time. I wondered how she could compare WWI, the Depression, WWII, to a kinder gentler time. But perhaps she referred to the resilience and spirit Sandburg saw, the willingness for brother to line up with brother.

    1. Clearly, part of what made life more difficult for my parents was their location in south-central Iowa, which was coal mining country.

      One of the largest mines, the Red Rock Coal Company, employed 350 men at its peak, but it burned in 1934. In 1935, the Consolidated Indiana Mine No.2 closed, due to the Rock Island Railroad’s increasing dependence on diesel rather than coal. Little by little, things fell apart, for an assortment of reasons, and the economy of the entire area was affected.

      In a history of my parents’ and grandparents’ town, William Dixon writes, “Some [mines] were slopes cut into steeper hills to procure just enough coal to get the people by for the winter, then abandoned. Some of these close to White Breast Creek are still visible today, and the props and timbers still are there.” That’s especially interesting, since I have very early family letters that mention White Breast Creek. It’s also noteworthy precisely how “hand-to-mouth” some were living. I know there were at least some occasions when milk and cream from my great-grandparents’ farm was bartered for pieces of coal.

      I have to confess I’m with your mother in that comparison to a kinder, gentler time — even though my frame of reference is somewhat different. While I’m not willing to trade in my computer and laser surgery for organdy aprons and a steno pad, we could do with a little less whining, a lot more resilience, and a dash of good humor now and then — just because. Saying “please” and “thank you” wouldn’t hurt, either.

      Happy Independence Day, Martha!

      1. Thanks for sharing that bit of history about your mother. Indeed, my mother’s life was cosmopolitan by comparison. She felt bad she had to drop out of USC and go to work! Your mother would not have related.

        I had to chuckle at you not wanting to give up the computer and laser surgery for organdy aprons and a steno pad. I’m with you on that, but but I find myself intrigued with the culture of the 20s, 30s and 40s. Mom used to dance with my dad to big band music, Los Angeles was still the orange grove capitol and you could see the mountains most days. In 1939 they took a train to Michigan to get a car…they traveled in the east for awhile and drove home, my father recording how many miles they drove in a day and who drove, how much they spent for gas (.19 a gal) and where they ate and some things mom said.

        But then the war–and the 50s when everyone went a little nuts — ticky tacky little boxes all in a row…and the 60s. Are we any crazier now? Maybe…but maybe not.

        I’m going to reread the poem. Thanks for food for thought and a great discussion. And yes, Happy Independence Day. I bought a bouquet of red roses and white carnations. I tried to put them in a blue vase.

  4. “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.” And I remember how my grandmother, who’d come here from what is now Ukraine when she was already past 40, once said, late in her long life, and with the marked accent she never lost: “America is still the best country.”

    1. My grandparents surely would have agreed with your grandmother. For that matter, so would my parents. Now that I think of it, so do I.

      I’ve been working my way through de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America.” It’s always interesting to get an outsider’s perspective on things, and in some sense, that’s who our grandparents were: “outsiders” who experienced other social structures, other cultures, and other political and economic systems before coming here. As Mom would have put it, they knew whereof they spoke.

      Certainly we have our own share of problems. Still, I remember my dad looking at me across the dinner table one evening and saying, quite mildly, “Remember — just because you find corruption in a system doesn’t necessarily mean the system is bad. Fix what’s wrong.”

  5. Linda– As always, a wonderful post. It seems we are often on the same wavelength. Just the other day I came across lines from “The People, Yes” and they have been gnawing at me as I wait to find the time, much like Sandburg’s narrator in the poem wishing for more time, to read more of this poem of which I know so little.

    Sandburg spoke so eloquently for the common man and their own concerns and observations, then and now. I see that in the lines that I read the other day that speak of the prevailing greediness that marks this era as well as those years around the Depression:

    “Tell him too much money has killed men
    and left them dead years before burial:
    and quest of lucre beyond a few easy needs
    has twisted good enough men
    sometimes into dry thwarted worms.”

    Thanks for sharing, Linda. Hope you have a great 4th. And maybe a little watermelon?

    1. I’m not sure about the watermelon, but I can guarantee chocolate cake and a nice bottle of Llano Estacado Tempranillo. With those necessities taken care of, we can work out the rest as we go.

      Greediness takes a multitude of forms, don’t you think? Sometimes those who are greedy for money aren’t the worst of the lot. There’s greed for power, for attention, for affection and esteem, for the right to control every aspect of others’ lives. Taken even in the broadest of terms, greed deadens: but what amazing imagery, those “dry, thwarted worms.”

      I thought about you when I was trying to decide on a illustration. My first choice was Thomas Hart Benton, but then things got more specific and I found the magazine cover. What I found most striking was his choice of colors. I don’t have a clue whether red, white, and blue is more contemporary, but it would make an interesting study. Many vintage July 4th postcards I’ve seen use a different palette.

      Happy 4th to you, Gary, with time to relax despite the demands of the show opening!

      1. I think your choice of the Leyendecker (of who I am a fan) magazine cover was a great one. It has such a modern, almost pop, feel and doesn’t need the red, white or blue to get across its point. Perfect.

        Have a wonderful 4th, Linda, and enjoy that chocolate cake!

  6. As an outsider, I sense that the phrase “the people march” just may no longer define the present day situation of your country. The phrase carries the connotation of a resolute, arms linking, untied whole, stepping forward, albeit as the poet says, not knowing where to or what next. Of course, as your neighbour and ally in peace and in war, I do wish your country all the best in the future directions. We live in very, no, highly precarious times. At the cusp of your national birthday, I do wish your country all the best, the best wisdom to her leaders, the best insight to her thinkers and policy makers, and the best peace that can be enjoyed for all her people. Happy July 4th, Linda!

      1. O my, LOL!! Of course it meant to be ‘united’. You have a sharp editorial eye, Steve, and very insightful, I’ll say, in deciphering the subtext. :)

      2. You were too fast for me. I saw the typo earlier, but left it uncorrected once I saw your comment. On the other hand, you’re exactly right that Arti’s “untied” may be closer to the truth.

        I couldn’t help thinking of the bumper sticker that was around during the heyday of “Don’t Send An Adverb To Do An Adjective’s Job” and “Where is Harold Stassen When We Need Him?” It said, simply: “Dyslexics, Untie.”

    1. Many thanks for your good wishes, Arti, and a belated Happy Canada Day to you!

      One of the aspects of Sandburg’s very long poem that I admire is the way he begins at the beginning of history, using nearly that same phrase: “Where to now? What next?” It makes me laugh to see the refrain rising and falling throughout the poem: possibly because my own response to disasters large, small, and negligible usually is to say, “Well… now what?”

      It’s a fact that our national attention span is about a nanosecond, and that doesn’t promote cohesion. Even worse, we seem to have reached peak social media, with local “news” stations here reporting the trending topics on Twitter as news, and highlighting the worst of the viral videos. What this is going to mean for the upcoming presidential campaign, I can’t imagine. More precisely, I can imagine it, and prefer not to.

      Anyway: on we go. Remember Varnish John, and his advice to me? I think it holds true in this larger arena, too: “Do what you can, not what you can’t.”

      1. “local “news” stations here reporting the trending topics on Twitter as news” ~ not just local news stations, unfortunately. BBC International does the same.

  7. Loved this post regarding your mother’s celebrations with memories of her mother. It was a simple time of hard work but such bonding with each other and with the country. Thanks for the Sandburg plug. The poem is too long for me to carry the thought through very well but I’d love to get the book and read some shorter poems. Of course, who has not heard his “cat creeping in like the fog” poem. I love the imagery. These comments have been so thoughtful and full of meaning. Happy July 4th to you all.

    1. Thanks so much, Oneta. The nice thing about “The People, Yes” is that, even though it’s such a long poem, it can be taken in sections. Sandburg does have tendencies. I picked up his novel, “Remembrance Rock,” and put it away until (1) after my cataract surgery, and (2) maybe August. It’s a huge book, but interesting everywhere I’ve dipped into it.

      I smiled at your description of those “simple” times. Many people today would vehemently disagree, based on the fact that those people lived without telephones! without cars! without television! That’s all true, but they were engaged in shaping their own lives to a degree that many today would find impossible. Content to allow merchandisers and media to tell them what to think, what to buy, and what to believe, they confuse reality tv for reality. Ah, well.

      A happy Independence Day to you, too. I’m glad we have these memories to share.

  8. What a beautiful post dear Linda, you are amazing. But I will come back to read carefully and to understand the poem. Thank you, have a nice weekend, love, nia

    1. Thank you so much, Nia. Carl Sandburg and Robert Frost are two very “American” poets. I think you’d like both, but I know you’d especially like Sandburg’s poem called “Fog”. It has little cat feet! ~Linda

  9. Sandburg’s poem is a first for me, and one I will re-read often as a reminder of what we as Americans enjoy. Thank you for that.

    Your mother’s memories were touching and reach out from a time long gone. I remember an account of my grandmother when as a high school senior she was chosen to represent her school on a trip to Washington, D.C. She wrote of how moving the experience had been for her as a small town New England girl, to realize that she was a part of this great country, and appreciate the terrible hardships people had suffered to gain freedom from England.

    The cover by J.C. Leyendecker is amazing.
    Have a nice holiday Linda.

    1. The entire poem is worth reading, Kayti. It’s a long one, but as I mentioned above, can be taken in sections. This is one of my favorite excerpts, although there are some others that might have done as well.

      I thought you would enjoy the Leyendecker cover. I didn’t know his work, but I found a good bit to enjoy as I browsed. Isn’t it interesting that those stodgy old-timers would accept something other than red/white/blue for their patriotic art work? So much for stereotyping.

      It’s wonderful that your grandmother got to make that trip. There’s something indescribable about being in the places where so much history has been made. And Washington has so much more to offer than the monuments, the White House, and the Capitol. I’m glad she was able to go when there was more freedom to roam, to look, and to absorb.

      I am going to have a nice holiday. Any minute now, I’m going to head off to the coast, and enjoy some sand, some surf, and some fireworks over the water. Happy Independence Day to you and Dr. Advice.

  10. Linda, I especially love these lines — “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.”

    Somehow, we need to get some of that good ole American pride back! It seems to me that too many of us languish in shame — for their ancestors’ past sins, for example — when it would be far better to accept and celebrate our differences, while appreciating and supporting our right to be different.

    Sandburg certainly had a way with words, huh? And to think he labored eight years over that masterpiece! Positively shames me when I worry over taking so long to write my own novel, ha!

    Happy Holiday weekend!

    1. Collective guilt is tricky, and shaming rarely brings constructive change.

      Some of the events of the past week or two have left me aghast: particularly the removal of the Confederate flag from Ft. Sumter. For heaven’s sake — that was the beginning of the Civil War. Who was doing the bombarding? The French? The Russians? The Jamaicans? Even the National Park Service still is willing to acknowledge that it was the Confederates. So, why take down the flag? Over the statehouse? Fine. At Civil War historic sites? No, Ma’am.

      Revisionist history and cultural cleansing have happened before, and they’re never pleasant. And there’s this to consider. We know what happens to a human being who loses his or her memory because of Alzheimers, dementia, or injury. We know how unmoored we can feel even when our memories fail us in such insignificant ways as forgetting a birthday, a friend’s telephone number, or the location of our car keys.

      What could be the purpose of inducing national amnesia? We’d best think about it, before things get entirely out of control.

      It’s interesting that, in his own way, Sandburg was concerned with preserving our national memory. It’s one of the things that makes him so worth reading today.

      A happy July 4th to you! I’m going to go see if I can remember the way to the ocean.

  11. “Time is the great teacher….” and “This old anvil laughs at many broken hammers…” are two of the lines I really like. I need to revisit this poem again…slowly. Reading this poem reminded me of the book “So You Want To Write” by Brenda Ueland…she talks about Carl Sandburg and his big booming voice reciting poetry to her…I could almost hear Carl’s voice today. Here’s wishing you a good 4th of July! DM

    1. Thanks, DM! I think that passage that begins with the reference to the old anvil is my favorite. I keep recommending the entire poem to people, and I think you’d like it, too. It helps to put this into context, and has much more in it that I think you’d find relevant.

      There’s nothing like hearing a poet recite his or her own work. And I might add — there’s nothing quite so unnerving as reading your own poem for people. I’ve done it a couple of times, and it was — well, unnerving.

      I had hoped to get around to comment on your blog before I left for the 4th, but time has flown See you in a day or two — I hope your celebration is wonderful!

  12. I always enjoy the journeys you take me on Linda. The things I learn, the discoveries you scatter in your prose, the little gems waiting to be mined…A pleasure to be sure.

    But it’s the gems that are scattered in the conversations after the post that have me learning the most today… From the fact that Iowa is coal mining country to the piece of “A Father To His Son” that Gary referenced to discovering the poem “Osawatomie” about John Brown, which caught my eye because it was the birthplace of my grandfather…

    And Linda, I agree with you about the Confederate flag and historical locations… The rewriting of my “southern heritage” to try and whitewash the history behind the Civil War and turn it 180 degrees till it is about states rights when in reality it was just the opposite… It has made me sad to see that historical bit of cloth come into more prominence since the 1960’s. As a 4th great grandson of a Georgia slave owner, I am glad to have that bit of family history in the past where it belongs…And truth be told, I don’t ever want to see that South rise again.

    Enjoy the 4th and the salty air…Try to find a spot to view all of those multitude of small town fireworks…

    1. Those are kind words, Gary. I’m glad you find things here to enjoy and appreciate. I’m sure you’ve figured out there’s a connection between blogger-me and the five year old who used to run into the house saying, “Look! Look at what I found!”

      Kansas surely did have a terrible time during that war. I didn’t know that Osawatomie, Kansas, was named for the Osage and Potawotomi tribes. It’s interesting that Kansas chose to spell the word as they did. When Iowa named one of its counties “Pottawattamie,” they made some noticeable changes to the spelling of the tribal name: “Potawatomi.”

      Speaking of tidbits, I was thinking this weekend about the role of Southern Rock in that increased prominence of the Rebel flag. I did a little browsing when I got home, and found an extraordinarily interesting timeline on the Gibson site. It included this little gem, from 1975:

      “Progressive Georgia Governor and avowed music fan Jimmy Carter befriends Phil Walden, Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts and other high profile Southern rockers before attending the Capricorn Barbecue and Summer Games.

      Charlie Daniels’ “The South’s Gonna Do It” becomes Carter’s official campaign song, and the Allman Brothers Band stages a concert in Rhode Island to raise funds. “There is no question,” Carter will remark not long after, “that the Allmans’ benefit concert for me in Providence kept us in that race.”

      Forty years down the road, I never would have imagined that. But, it’s a pretty good indication of how fluid and complex these alliances can be.

  13. That certainly is one powerful poem, beautifully expressing the strength and weakness of mankind….there are and always will be good and bad, I did particularly like these lines,
    “Then man came
    To the deeper rituals of his bones,
    To the lights lighter than any bones”

    We are intelligent mammals, with choices, choice is what defines us I think, no matter where we are born, or into what circumstances.
    Respect to your mother, what a woman, to care for her sisters at so young an age! You must be SO proud of

    1. I was proud of her. I wished I had understood earlier the roots of her desire to be taken care of — first by my father, then by me — but I figured things out soon enough, and we managed to muddle through.

      There is good and bad in this world, and the truth is that each one of us is a mixture of both.The proportions differ from person to person, but there aren’t many pure devils or pure angels running around. You may remember the Ivory soap slogan I grew up with: “99 and 99/100% Pure.” Even Ivory wasn’t perfect!

      And I think you’re right about the importance of choice. We may not have any choice when it comes to our circumstances, but we can make choices about how we cope with them. (Bring on the baby hedgehogs!)

      1. oh yes….I totally agree, most of us are a mixture of good and bad, again that’s were choice comes in, we can chose to control/not act on our darker sides. Love the Ivory soap slogan…

  14. Lots of very thought provoking comments. Not much to add here. I feel Sandburg understood the nature we humans. We are multi-faceted. We are kind and generous while capable of hatred and cruelty. It is rooted deep in our psyche. We struggle to tip the balance in our favor.

    Most people want the former traits to win out and offer peace to their lives. There are some who choose otherwise. They are always among us. Their disruptions and attention are magnified. My optimistic nature wants to believe they are few in number and diminishing. I want to be with people who say ‘where to…what next’.

    1. That’s interesting, Jim. You picked up on the very point I was making to snowbird up above. “Devil or Angel” might have been a good enough song, but it’s a false choice. We’re all capable of both. It starts early, too. The same two-year-old who can look so angelic while asleep wakes up eventually. If you deprive that child of a nap, a favorite toy, and a cookie all at the same time, you’ll have a different reality to cope with.

      I think there’s room for optimism, too. We had some interesting discussion over the weekend about the role of social media and other media in convincing us that hell-in-a-handbasket is right around the corner. I think there are plenty of people who want to talk about “where to? what next?” in a more realistic way than many politicians and bureaucrats can bear to think of.

      1. I agree. If you give people a life with a decent wage, place to live, rewarding work, safety and warmth, they will be able to think of the positive things they want for themselves and their family.

        Give them none of those, you are asking for unrest and anger.

        We can do so much better for many more people than the wealthiest few.Either way you choose for society, there is a cost. I would rather pay the cost and have happier people.

        1. We agree on many things, Jim, but there are some aspects of your comment that make me uncomfortable.

          For one thing, I understand work itself to be a positive. People who have the opportunty to engage in productive, meaningful work can fund most of the necessities of life for themselves.Hand-outs can be humiliating, and a life of dependence on the largess of others can be degrading and/or debilitating.

          Of course there will be times in life when each of us will need assistance, but the goal always should be independence, not dependence. It’s entirely possible you agree, and I’m just missing it. In any event, I’m glad for your comment. These are important things to think about, and even those who disagree on details can work together for common goals.

          On another topic entirely, I thought this was a particularly neat way to capture the conjunction this weekend: Planets and Stars (and Bars)

          1. I wasn’t very comfortable with my previous comment and felt it might need to be clarified. I was in a hurry and a lot got glommed together.

            I do agree about the need to feel independence. People don’t want to be on the dole all the time. They want to be rewarded fairly for their efforts.

            For the past 30 years, the hard workers that make up most societies have not gained ground on income. In fact, they have fallen some compared to cost of living. It is harder for most to provide for themselves and their children. There is a small segment of our populations that have grown in wealth tremendously. That is not right. It is a trend that is not sustainable.

            I really like that picture. We have had some nice weather over the holiday weekend. But, the skies have been very hazy from smoke blowoff from Canadian fires. It casts a filtering pall. Sunsets and rises have been extra red.

  15. A lovely post, Linda and I like that you chose Carl Sandberg’s poem to use for this July 4th post. Nothing is more precious than freedom and I’m not sure just how many Americans appreciate how fortunate we are to live in this great country. I think our parents and grandparents might have understood hardship and freedom more so than we do today.

    I consider myself f fortunate to live in America even though I’m not really patriotic.

    Thanks for a lovely read. I’m behind in commenting on my favorite bloggers posts because I need to read the posts and I want to offer a decent comment. Not one or two lines. So I have one of yours to get back to. But I will.

    1. I’m glad you liked the Sandburg, Yvonne. I like him for his midwestern slant, of course, and for his plain-spokenness. But I especially appreciate his ability to link freedom and responsibility. I remember a time in my own life when I thought “freedom” meant being able to do exactly as I pleased, without constraint. I wasn’t very old at the time, and I consider myself lucky that I outgrew that mindset.

      One of the things that grieves me about this country is how far we’ve fallen in some areas: particularly education and general life skills. I knew that many school systems had dropped cursive handwriting (no more reading hand-written historical documents, or notes from Grandma!) but I just heard the tale of a young girl unable to read a non-digital clock. She never had been taught.
      Honestly — sometimes I don’t know whether to laugh or cry, so I do both.

      I consider myself fortunate to live in America, too. But I’d feel better if the youngsters could tell time, read cursive, and count back change without having to depend on a machine to give them the amount. Being able to write a coherent paragraph and do basic math would be good, too.

      I hope your July 4th was great. I thought about you down at Matagorda. The place was thick with truly big, white butterflies. I’ve never seen anything like them. They were bigger than the ones I’m used to seeing.

      1. Thanks for the lovely reply. I can’t fathom a youngster not being able to read a clock. That is really bad and to not be able to write cursive- what has happened to our schools. Kids know computers but have no idea how to carry on a conversation. That make me want to cry. Some things should never change and learning to write is as basic as eating and sleeping.

        I would have loved to see all those white butterflies, I’ve not seen those ever but maybe one day I will.

  16. Profound lines, Linda. ‘Brother may yet line up with brother’. If only we could hope that will happen in our lifetime. The line ‘time is a great teacher’ is so relevant to our times. The problem is that ‘time’ is always retrospective. So often we say….with the benefit of hindsight I would have done this or that. Governments are the same, they never consider the consequences of their actions. We only have to look at the Middle East to see the total mess, a mess for which we must take some responsibility.

    1. There are many examples of that lack of foresight, Andy. I’m not sure how many Americans are watching developments in Greece, but we should be. The idea that “that’s over there, and we’re over here” doesn’t play very well these days. Geographical separation isn’t the protection it used to be.

      What is heartening, I suppose, is that examples of “brother lining up with brother” do exist. We haven’t gotten it right in so many ways as societies, but individual acts of generosity and efforts at understanding shine brightly. We could use more listening, and fewer demands for conformity to our individual conceptions of “the way it’s ‘sposed to be.”

  17. Thinking of you celebrating 4th of July. The reaching is alive yet… and no more so than in the continuation of the Saturday Evening Post, it would seem. Have been looking at their website and discovering all sorts of gems.One of great interest to me is that Paul Gallico’s stories appeared in the Post from 1931 to 1959, including the Snow Goose.

    1. Gallivanta, I haven’t thought of “The Snow Goose” in years. I smiled to read that one critic called it the most sentimental story ever written.

      I found Gallico quoted on that issue in the Wiki entry. He said, “Sentiment remains so far out in front, as it always has and always will among ordinary humans that the calamity-howlers and porn merchants have to increase the decibels of their lamentations, the hideousness of their violence and the mountainous piles of their filth to keep in the race at all.” I think we know where he stands on the issue.

      Honest sentiment is one thing, of course, and sentimentality quite another. Like one of those cloying cakes with too many frosting flowers, sentimentality can be distasteful. But as I learned early, and as you probably learned, too, if we scrape off those frosting flowers, the cake’s usually pretty good.

  18. So many untold stories from the time of the Great Depression; so much responsibility thrust upon the young and vulnerable! Carl Sanberg is such a powerful poet … the echoe of his words quite haunting. Thank you for your choice today! Happy 4th! :)

    1. Becca, I think of those untold stories every time I run across packets of photos in an antique or resale shop. All of those faces, staring out at us from the 1800s — or even the 1900s — and every one of them with a name and a life. We need to help preserve them, to the extent that we can.

      Even in my own family, there is a cache of photos filled with unknown people. Presumably, they were friends, neighbors, or classmates. There had to be some relationship, or the photos wouldn’t have been taken and then kept. But even my mother and aunt would sort through them and say, “Who is that?” How soon we forget!

      1. I know exactly what you mean … particularly as I go through my mom’s belongings. I remind everyone to write names on the back of photos, even though it seems so obvious at the moment. :)

  19. The steel mill sky is alive.
    The fire breaks white and zigzag
    shot on a gun-metal gloaming.
    Man is a long time coming.

    I am struck by the image of the steel mill as a metaphor for strength and growing.

    A few decades later, the mill will become the symbol of environmental destruction. It is as if Carl Sandburg was the poet of our nation’s late teen years. A time when we began to feel our power and look for our place in the world.

    After the depression, after the war, when our power matured and we took our place at the head of the table, we began to ask ourselves, who it is we wanted to be.

    Maybe this day is a good day, every year, to celebrate who we were, who we are, and who we want to be.

    1. Exactly so. Our ripping apart of past, present, and future often brings unfortunate consequences — nationally as well as individually.

      And ponder this: what could happen if, every day of every year, we celebrated our individual and national journeys? What if we gave some thought to where we’ve been, and where we want to go?

      We probably should start small, of course. Five minutes a day ought to do it, especially if we really thought about it, and didn’t turn to Google for an answer.

  20. My dad used to say one good thing about growing up on a farm in the country is that everyone was poor, picked crops together, walked to school barefooted and put on shoes at the door so as to not wear them out. Without much exposure to the “outside world”/city none of them knew they were poor – just life was hard – harder for some more than others…and people reached out to help as they could. Even if they knew they were poor, everyone else was, too.

    Interesting that then “none of them wanted to go back” and now 1 out of 3 US citizens would consider leaving for somewhere else according to a recent poll.

    Life has been so easy here. It’s been running on autopilot. Citizenship no longer holds special benefits that only citizens get. Some people are so naive, they follow others without questioning the logic. And people seem to be looking to be depressed, to be victims, and to find the negative in anything and everything – like being overly critical and knee jerk emotional is a virtue. Add a “holier than thou” and “see how compassionate and good I am” show/attitude makes a good deal of the general public more than just annoying.

    We and the world are condemning ISIS for destroying historical cultural sites, yet it sure looks like that’s being cheered here in the US. Very odd – and dangerous. In such a rush to show how accepting one is that common sense is left behind. Those who ignore/erase history are doomed to repeat it.

    Sandburg, while not my poet, does seem to be showing that humans always march on, looking to improve their lives.

    1. I saw that poll, Phil. I know a handful of people who’ve chosen to leave the U.S.and live elsewhere, but as far as I know none has given up their citizenship. When I did a little digging, I found that poll of 2,000 adults was conducted by a money transfer company: “A study conducted by TransferWise, an international money transfer company, shows that over one third of Americans would consider moving away from the United States.”

      I think we can draw some fair conclusions about the interview pool, and why they would be willing to leave the U.S. I doubt the results are applicable to the population at large.

      Your dad’s description of life back in the day certainly rings true. I’ve mentioned before the ways in which people in my part of the country helped one another — not only through the Depression, but also through the ordinary traumas of life. The mutual aid societies that sprang up only formalized those informal ways of helping. Because they were local, there was built-in accountability that’s sometimes missing in top-down programs.

      And now: speaking of history? Today was the day that Dr. Pepper incorporated in Dallas, in 1923. YeeHaw!

  21. Thank you for introducing me to Sandburg! I especially like the line:
    “And go back to the nourishing earth for rootholds,” I am increasingly intrigued by our need to get rooted in the midst of the cyber world that holds our attention in so many ways, and this is not a critique of that. It just seems that every now and then we need to be “grounded.” I am intrigued, for instance, by the growth in interest in gardening. People want to get their fingers dirty. Of course, your folks and mine grew a little weary of the dirt! But the earth still holds us mightily.

    1. I agree with you about the need for grounding, Allen. I’m convinced it has less to do with working literal earth than with the pleasure of expending effort and seeing tangible results. I’m equally convinced that many of our governmental and institutional problems are rooted in the fact that decision-makers are completely insulated from the effects of their decisions: often not even knowing what results their action have wrought.

      Besides, there’s something compelling about being able to witness growth, whether of a child, a garden, or an idea. And growing anything is a good way to learn a little humility. We can’t command a rose to bloom, or demand that a child of ten have the wisdom of an older adult, but we can hang around and watch it happen.

  22. As with Emily Dickinson, we also have an Amherst tie to Sandburg who taught at Amherst College for a period.

    As a self-acknowledged pessimist, I am inclined to be less hopeful about the future of this country. I know well that we have survived times of deep division besides the Civil War. And I suppose not much could rival folks gathering together to do battle with each other. But the current deep and vicious division between a reasonably large portion of our population seems irreconcilable. I sure do hate to hear the name calling and insults. At least during my lifetime I don’t expect anything to draw us closer. Should we ever be attacked I fear more finger pointing than camaraderie.

    OTOH, I do believe that the greater number of citizens try to make the best of whatever situation we are confronted with, but I am doubtful of that being enough to bring us together as one nation.

    And I love my country as well as the entire planet but hope that one day there will be no need for “We’re number one” cries.

    1. Well, I guess if anyone ever asks, “Are you now, or have you ever been, a pessimist?” you’ll have to say yes. :-)

      I’m not sure I buy into the idea that there are deep and vicious divides among great chunks of our population. Of course there’s conflict, but some of it clearly is manufactured, or portrayed as more significant than it is. And some very real conflicts might have a chance of easier resolution if the people involved were allowed to search for resolution without meddlers.

      Back in the day, psychologist Eric Berne wrote a book called “Games People Play.” One of the games he described is called “Let’s You and Him Fight.” There’s a lot of that game being played these days, as politicians, media, assorted hustlers and the ones I like to call the “profiteers of doom” do what they can to keep people stirred up and fighting one another.

      We have some of these masters of manipulation in Houston. It’s a sure bet that whenever there are seeds of conflict (or a television camera in the neighborhood), they’ll be right there, ready to whip up the mob. It does become tiresome.

      There’s something else we need to remember: we are one nation now. Being “one nation” doesn’t mean uniformity of belief or behavior. Absolute uniformity (or its appearance) is a mark of totalitarianism, and I’m pretty sure most people are united in being against that.

  23. Thank you for sharing this inspirational and encouraging poetry in a time when too often we feel discouraged about events and actions.

    I am visiting because of Almost Iowa’s recommendation. He is one of the finest writers I know, and I look forward to learning from you, too.

    1. Welcome, Sammy. It’s kind of you to stop by, and it’s especially nice to know that Almost Iowa sent you this direction. I enjoy his writing very much: and not only because I have my own Iowa connection.

      I tend to roam all over the place, subject-wise. Now and then I’ll reminisce about childhood, or poke around in history a little more generally. If I ever can settle down and get my posts recategorized, things will be easier to find if you have a special interest — or you can just ask I’m thinking it might be time for a few “summer re-runs” for older posts I especially enjoy, myself. Keep an eye out for the drunken squirrel!


      1. I’m an eclectic reader and writer myself. I have no doubt I will equally enjoy new or recycled posts. I’ve been participating in this wonderful blogging community for a year and a half, and it’s been like ‘finding my peeps.’

  24. I like your mother’s words, “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.” Yes to that! What a hard life she had. The Great Depression had a strong hand in shaping that generation.

    1. She did have a hard life, Bella, especially in her younger years. But after she and Dad married and moved to Rock Island, she thoroughly enjoyed her “Rosie the Riveter” days. She had a good partner at work, and took great pride in how quickly they could assemble their part of a fuselage.

      I happened across a comment on Twitter the other day, to the effect that no one who wears a Rosie t-shirt could identify a rivet gun, let alone use it. To the contrary, I said — when those t-shirts started coming out, Mom wanted one. Lo, Santa heard her plea, and it showed up at Christmas.

  25. I am fortunate to know a number of people of the generation above mine, who came through the Thirties and World War Two. Their dignity and fortitude as they deal with old age and its inevitable decline is truly inspiring. What they all have in common is a belief a) that you just have to keep on keeping on, and b) that their lives are held in the hand of the Eternal, however one may choose to conceptualise that…

    Thanks you for this post, Linda, and for the Sandburg poem. It is good to be reminded of its power.

    1. Plenty of people think those “Keep Calm and Carry On” posters are just a cute little fad, but they do express profound truth about a generation that endured so much.

      Of course, we know something about “just keeping on” ourselves.Your gas leak was of a different order than WWII, but your response was much the same. I know that same spirit still exists, waiting to be tapped. It would be nice if we could tap into it to solve some problems, rather than waiting to tap into it after festering problems have led to a disaster.

      And you’re right about your second point. One thing I’ve noticed about people of faith (however defined) is that they tend to be clear on the fact that they aren’t God. It’s always tickled me to think of this: In Genesis, God creates order out of chaos. People who confuse themselves with God tend to destroy order and create chaos. It’s a fun thought to play with, anyhow.

  26. Thank you for sharing this powerful poem by Carl Sandburg. The poster picture dated 1934 was the year of my birth. It brought me back to my American beginnings and to the values and ordinary people that have made America great. Happy independence Day!

    Perhaps we see some of those great American values slipping at this time. There is still so much division between white and black and so many guns in the hands of so many citizens. Too much wealth is held in too few hands while dire poverty spreads ever wider. Sandburg reminds us again to think on these things and to work together to bring back America’s greatness. I hope this poem will be read far and wide.

    1. What a happy coincidence, that I chose to mark our country’s birth with an illustration that also marks your birth year, Mary.

      One of our greatest problems is that too many in government and in the bureaucracy profit by fomenting dissent and hardening divisions. Too few leaders consider themselves to be a leader for the whole country; they prefer to pander to their particular party or interest group. Still, beneath the headlines, despite the news reports, there still is an America worth loving, respecting, and preserving: and I’ll do what I can to help out the effort.

      I did notice something interesting this year. Many, many signs at restaurants, campgrounds, gas stations, and so on, had chosen to promote Independence Day rather than July 4th: even though it took more letters. I think that’s a good sign.

      Thanks so much for your good wishes!

  27. Such a touching and heartbreaking story about your mother and her mother again. I bet it was difficult for a sixteen year old girl to be responsible for her siblings. As for Carl Sandburg, he is new to me, so thank you for the introduction. I agree what has been written about the hardening division in today’s USA (and many other places in the world).

    1. I know it was difficult for Mom, Otto. On the other hand, it wasn’t always peaches and cream for my aunts, either. I hear Mom had a bit of a bossy streak.

      They were loyal to one another, though, and it was the baby of the family who insisted Mom come to live with her when Mom began showing the effects of age. They were together for five years, then Mom moved down here to be with me, and it all worked out fine.

      Sometimes I wonder if our national and problems aren’t being exacerbated by the breakdown of our family ties. A good, strong family is where we learn to accept differences, resolve conflicts, and so on. No family’s perfect when it comes to those things, but it surely does help.

  28. The thing that makes me saddest, I think, about the current state of the union is that somehow “We, the people” has gotten mislaid or lost. That’s how we started, “We, the people,” and that’s what this nation is supposed to be about, but somehow it isn’t any more. We’ve fragmented and hair-split ourselves into a hyphenated and politically correct bunch of “you’s”, perpetually bent over backwards attempting to embrace our bewildering diversity while taking umbrage at the drop of an ideology, and we seem to have forgotten that whatever else we may be, we are not “you’s.” We are “We, the people,” and we are one nation.

    We have a thousand ideas about what we are, and ought to be, and ought to be allowed to be, and have a right to be, and so long as we allow unto others what we allow unto ourselves, it’s OK. The whole point of the exercise is to see if a culturally-diverse, ethnically inhomogeneous, self-selected cross section of the human species can put aside a bewildering array of differences and become “one nation” under the impression that we have all the most important things in common, and that what we have in common is so important that we can overlook our many differences. It’s such an important idea that we wrote it on our money so we wouldn’t forget it: “E pluribus unum”. Out of many, one.

    1. I couldn’t have said it better myself.We seem in terrible danger of simply flying apart. Last weekend, someone asked, “What’s the best metaphor for our country right now?” and one of the people at the table said, “An out-of-control merry-go-round.” I know you remember those. If the big kids got it going fast enough, the little ones very well could just go flying into the dirt, and we’re sending too many people to the dirt these days.

      Part of the problem seems to be that there are some abroad in the land who are taking a “divide and conquer” approach. I just read today that, now that the Confederate battle flag issue seems to be dying down, yet another group of protestors wants to eliminate Louisiana’s fleur-de-lis. I’m not sure of the reasoning, since I wasn’t in the mood to keep reading, but perhaps someone should tell the protestors they take their symbols pretty seriously in Louisiana, too.

      What I find grimly humorous is that, when you get right down to it, we’re far less tolerant today than we were even ten years ago. Tearing down statues and excising facts from history books may feel good, but it’s not good, and I only hope the tide gets turned before we’re all washed away.

  29. I’m in Maine with a virtually nonexistent internet connection, so hope this goes through. I’ve been touched very much by some small communities here which have had to reinvent themselves repeatedly, as a main source of employment closes down. The inspiring examples of getting in there and trying something new are everywhere. The people, yes indeed.

    1. One of my readers lives in Ecuador, and she’s been known to use a metal colander to boost her internet signal. I’ve never seen a funnier photo than the one of her USB modem surrounded by that colander. Trying something new, indeed!

      I’ve been thinking of Maine recently — lucky you, to be there. And your mention of the communities reinventing themselves reminds me of my home town. Once Maytag was acquired by Whirlpool, they closed the factory. They might as well have closed the town. But, they eventually figured out that the physical space in the plant, where the assembly lines had been, would work for manufacturing blades for windmills. It wasn’t “the” answer, but it was a first answer. And the people are going on.

  30. Linda, this must have been posted while I was off-net on vacation. What a thoughtful post and I’m so grateful you have those stories and memories of your mom — to hold and to share. I wasn’t familiar with the Sandburg poem, so I really appreciate your sharing it and adding it here. It’s a perfect fit.

    1. Thanks, Jeanie. Mom had quite a life — no doubt about that. And Sandburg always has been one of my favorites, perhaps because of my 1950s, Midwestern roots. The whole poem is worth reading, even though it’s a long one. Not every section appeals to me equally, but his ability to capture the American spirit of overcoming adversity is unrivaled.

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