Friday, August 29, 2008


Last night I heard the most inspiring speech I have ever heard, along with some 80 or 90 thousand other Americans. Barack Obama spoke of change, of bringing back the prosperity that this country has always had, of creating jobs for the unemployed and underemployed, of providing health care for every citizen in this country.

One day has passed, and that eloquent speech has already faded from the memories of many in this country, as the furor over John McCain's Vice-Presidential pick heats up the airwaves. I can only say, who cares? Can any sane person want a continuation of the Republican nonsense, the lust for war, the insane transition of money and power from the Middle Class to the Rich, the complete disregard for the poor, the sick and the mentally challenged? Who would want that? What Bible are they reading? How can they possibly connect conservatism to overspending, creating more and more government rule, and getting little besides corruption from their government?

Times are tough now for the working family. There is hardly enough money to pay the bills. The former Middle Class is descending into poverty. Our young people are drifting, gathering on street corners and in malls, with few jobs for them, little hope for them, their only resort the military in a sort of squeeze play forcing them into a life they did not choose. Many of our schools have a 50% dropout rate, yet we blunder onward with the No Child Left Behind unfunded nonsense, teachers hampered from creative lessons by the necessity of handing out a series of programmed tests.

In my lifetime, the world has changed so much it is unrecognizable. We are a country divided, a teeming potpouri of people of various ethnic backgrounds who simply cannot agree on anything. The soaring brilliance of Barack Obama's speech spoke of unity, of hope, of prosperity. Yet he has a bellicose old opponent preaching war and pouring ridicule on the very eloquence that makes Obama unique, his ability to communicate, to inspire, to teach. With a baseball cap covering his hair...or lack of it...John McCain hobnobs with the factory workers as though he is not an extremely rich man with no knowledge of what it is like to work for just a few dollars over minimum wage. Then he hops in his wife's private jet and moves on to the next group of workers.

In my childhood, we had the advantage of the fields. No matter how hungry we might become, there was always the corn or potatoes. There were the vegetables from my mother's garden, the wormy old fruit from the apple tree, the wild strawberries, blueberries and blackberries that grew in the woods and the meadows. Today, progress and population have pushed these aside. Small farms are a fading species now; even the greying old barns, planks bending and broken, are disappearing. The blackberries and wild strawberries have given way to manicured lawns and planted rose bushes. The gardens are either nonexistent or tiny, not big enough to grace the table for more than a few days. One fellow I know lives in a condominium and, when he set out a few pots of tomatoes on his veranda, he received a letter from the management telling him that gardening was not permitted in his establishment.

My family was a product of the soil. Just as families like the Kennedy's took to the sea, we were people of the earth. My brothers would come to the Farm to help my father but, in truth, they wanted to be close to the soil. They wanted the sunshine on their heads, the wind in their hair, the feel of the plowed furrows beneath their feet. My friends laughed at me when, during a trip to New York, I wanted to walk in Central Park, ignoring the other famed landmarks. It was simply the need to see greenery around me, to stand on the earth and look up at the sky, a primitive need to connect with the land beneath me.

Part of the problem in today's world is that people really do not know how to be poor. They do not realize that eggs or beans have huge amounts of protein and can replace meat. They do not turn their thermostats down a few notches and put on sweaters. As a country, we have grown accustomed to comfort...and as a gentleman I met remarked, "I like it that way!" He made this remark when I had expressed amazement at the fact that London hotels usually do not have Coke Machines! When the clerk had raised an eyebrow and looked askance at my questions, I realized that I sounded like a spoiled American. I could not understand a country that seemed to have an aversion to ice and sold warm cokes to thirsty customers.

When I apologized for sounding spoiled, this is when the gentleman said, "I like it that way!" I do, too. I like comfort. I like my coffee hot and my cokes cold. I like a little money in my purse and a roof over my head. But many of us are already on our way to poverty, some more than others. We have raised children who are used to cellphones and video games. How are we going to teach them to play, as I did, with corncobs and broken bits of colored glass? How do we go back to the Farm once we have enjoyed Paree, tasted its pleasures, delighted in its extravagances?

I don't know, but I wonder when I drive down streets with two to four homes vacant, homes with foreclosure signs on their doors, homes with glaringly empty windows sitting forlorn and forgotten, how will we bear it? How can we climb out of it? I wonder when I see men so despondent they are almost suicidal, worried about paying their bills and feeding their families. I wonder when I see children in bedraggled clothing, teenagers without a dollar to spend on a McDonald's meal, mothers looking frayed and anxious.

I wondered if my mother and father looked that way. Did my father, when he came in from the barn and tossed that old brown felt hat on the table beside the door, sit in his ragged chair and wonder how he was going to feed his children, as well as the grandchildren that visited every day of the week? Did my mother, in her haste to rustle up food for the horde of people, ever throw up her hands in despair and wonder just what she was going to serve that day?

I think it was the corn that saved us. Constant corn, golden kernels gleaming in the dish. Sometimes Mom would stir them into a milk sauce for creamed corn. Sometimes we had corn bread. Sometimes we had corn on the cob! Or maybe it was the constant supply of milk gravy. A little bacon grease, a little flour, a sprinkle of salt and milk from the cow and you had a hot, filling dish, even though in my lifetime the secret of smooth gravy, absent of lumps, has eluded me. Mom could make that gravy without a single lump, and the smell of it would entice you to the table. Served with biscuits that she could whip up with one hand, it made a filling meal. Corn on the cob, biscuits and gravy, and who needed anything else? Could Nectar from the Gods be so tasty?

In the past eight years, our nation has been bogged down, whipped into submission, frightened into compliance, led into a War that really had no reason for starting and seems to have no end. We have learned our lessons in Geography. Most of us could tell you where Afghanistan is located, and now we know about Georgia. We have learned words we never knew before...jihad, the Mahdi Army, the Ayatollah. We have learned names that are impossible to pronounce or remember. I do well with Mohammed Atta or Musharrif, but the name of the President of Iran eludes me. We have wandered into strange territory, while at the same time our country sinks to the pits of despair. Are we in a recession? Are we just a bunch of whiners?

No, we are watching the deterioration of a Super Power and we know it, but we just can't stop it. We don't have that corn to depend upon. We don't have those golden kernels to fall back on, to can for the winter months, to ward off hunger! We depend upon our wages now and the shelves of the grocery stores, hoping e coli is not present, little invisible weapons of mass destruction. Many people are frightened, jobless, homeless, hopeless! If you are not, get a copy of Obama's speech and read it. You are and I are our brother's keeper. Jesus said that equal to love of God is love of your neighbor. Love thy neighbor! Hard to do, and you won't do it listening to Rush Limbaugh or a John McCain Attack Ad! If we cannot become one country, unified, working together toward prosperity, we are lost! If we cannot dig this nation out of the dregs of war, we are lost! If we cannot lift our heads above the shadow of torture, greed, and a merciless lack of compassion for those more unfortunate, we are forever lost, forever bogged down in debt, forever waging wars!