Saturday, August 04, 2007

Preserving: Home Part II

Recently, I made the very difficult decision to join an organization whose mission is to compel our local, elected officials to deal more effectively with the affliction of illegal aliens in our community. Having already chosen this course, I am now setting out to better understand my own choices and actions. In these blog entries, I am examining my priorities, and the underlying motivations for my chosen course.

As a Christian, my actions are in conflict with the actions of some of my Christian brothers and sisters on the other side of this controversial issue. Some feel compelled to assist those here illegally, and do so because they believe that is what Christ would have them do. My theological construct leads me in a different direction. However, I absolutely respect these folks for their deep convictions, even though we think differently.

In 1957, our young family moved from our home in the city to a brand new house in the suburbs. We purchased a three bedroom, one bath, brick rambler with a full, unfinished basement. Our new home sat at the top of the rise on the grade of our street, and we could look out from our front porch and see much of our neighborhood and beyond.

Our new place occupied a lot that backed to a huge forest. And for the next three years, my buddies and I made that woods our home. Our treehouse served as our base of operations as we launched out to explore the primeval wonders of those woods.

We found buckeyes, tadpoles, and vines for swinging. From the creek and surrounding hills, we harvested Indian arrowheads, and fossils of ancient creatures who once occupied those grounds. Again, my imagination fired as I contemplated life in a Shawnee village before we white men came.

Our community not only abutted a lush forest, it also abutted a black neighborhood. Back in those days, we referred to people of African descent as Negroes. And sometimes we called them colored people. In second grade, my best friend was a Negro. By moving us to this community, whether intentionally or not, Mom and Dad had greatly broadened my experience as an American.

My first "crush" came early. In that second grade class, our lovely young teacher, Mrs. Rice, told us of the Pilgrims, the first Thanksgiving, and of Squanto, the Indian who aided them in their first, difficult years. I fell in love with Mrs. Rice.

The map of America on the wall danced with color this time, and I began to orient myself with respect to other parts of the country. The wonderful Mrs. Rice began to introduce us to our rich American history. I learned of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Abraham Lincoln. She taught us about the pioneers who had crossed the Appalachian Mountains, and rafted down the mighty Ohio River, in search of a new home to raise their families. I also heard the story of Johnny Appleseed, who decades earlier, had come through those parts, scattering seed on the fertile, Ohio soil.

The beautiful Mrs. Rice also introduced us to our Ohio history. And in later years, I would learn even more of Tecumseh, the brave, Shawnee warrior, who had made his home not too far from mine, and about "Mad" Anthony Wayne and William Henry Harrison, also known as "Tippecanoe." Eight presidents claimed Ohio as their home. Harrison was one, as well as William Howard Taft, and the very popular Ulysses S. Grant, the Civil War General who finally won Mr. Lincoln his long sought victory.

We daily pledged allegiance to our flag and to our nation. And we often sang patriotic songs.

Harriet Beecher Stowe had lived in Cincinnati for a while. She wrote the novel that some say changed the course of American history. Her Uncle Tom's Cabin set the nation talking about the scourge of slavery, and the need for change. Her family, heavily involved in the Underground Railroad, became iconic in their abolitionist stance.

Like most Ohio born youngsters, I learned to look down on the South. Associated with the North, I came to believe that Southerners were either ignorant or evil, especially the ones who lived before the Civil War. The very idea of one person owning another seemed beyond humanity.

As I matured, and later as I moved to Virginia, my strong opinions softened. And even later, as I studied more of history, I came to realize that every evil done by one American could not only be offset with the good done by another, but that in the balance, despite the failures and mistakes, America was essentially good.

For every slaveowner in the South who grossly mistreated his slaves, one can find more slaveowners who treated their slaves with a measure of kindness. Of course it is still slavery, no matter how you slice it. But the abolitionist, or the operator on the Underground Railroad, should not be overlooked. In the end, the good found in America far outweighs the bad.

I had not yet connected the dots of course. But something had happened long ago in my home known as America, something that split and set us at war with one another for four years. By grieving over slavery, a sin neither I nor my home state of Ohio could claim as personal vices, I had begun to identify myself as an American on a much broader scale.

On Saturday mornings, my dad often took me with him to my grandmother's house. In her shabby little kitchen, with the floor that sloped downward toward the room's back corner, she regularly cooked us up breakfasts of biscuits and gravy, sometimes supplemented with bacon and eggs. If we came in the afternoon or evening, she filled our bellies with navy beans and cornbread, both staples in her household.

My grandfather and uncles dabbled in auto mechanics. Engines on blocks littered their backyard which sloped upward toward an alley that ran behind their house. Parked in front, on the narrow street, big, black, Buick Eights stretched along the curb, their shiny chrome glistening in the afternoon sun.

Grandpa had moved his growing family here, to this very house, in the early 1930's. Coming out of a "holler" in south central Kentucky, Grandpa came to find work in desperate, depression times. From that point forward, he worked in a paper mill not far from their home until the day he retired.

Grandpa and Grandma raised eight children in that tiny, rickety house. My dad, the oldest, had been born in a Kentucky log cabin in 1926. Most of his seven siblings didn't arrive until after the family had resettled to that dirty, factory town.

In the summers, we often gathered at Grandpa and Grandma's house on Sunday afternoons with my aunts, uncles, and cousins. While the cousins played outside, and the aunts collected themselves in the kitchen to swap stories and tell of their ongoing trials, the uncles pulled up chairs in the living room around the tiny, black and white television, and enjoyed Reds baseball while downing a few beers. Those were great times.

During this season of my life in our new home that backed to the woods, my father began to involve me in baseball. He had played baseball in highschool and beyond, and wanted me to continue the tradition. Like him, I loved that game. I signed up for a local Knothole League team as a first baseman, and began to really learn the fundamentals of baseball.

My buddies and I collected baseball cards. We organized them, we traded them, and we clothespinned them to the frames of our bicycles so they would flap in the spokes of our turning wheels. We pretended our bicycles were big, loud, fast motorcycles.

Dad occasionally took me to Crosley Field to watch the Reds play. Crosley Field seated only 30,000. Even in those days, it was, I think, the smallest stadium in the league. At my first professional game, gazing out onto that wonderful field, I saw my heroes, Vada Pinson, Frank Robinson, and Gordy Coleman. The rich, green, beautifully manicured outfield, contrasted with the sandy, lime-striped baselines. In the center, again offset by the rich, green, manicured infield, the pitcher's mound rose ever so slightly. The stadium lights, the large advertisements on the outfield fence, the scoreboard, the crowd, the smells, the hot dogs, the raucous cheering, captured my young imagination.

In my childhood and youth, most considered baseball to be America's pastime. Football, though popular, had not yet eclipsed baseball in America's sporting heart.

Baseball is referred to as a "gentleman's game." I suspect the reasons for this are its orderliness, its strict adherence to rules, and the fact that it is, with a few exceptions, a no contact sport.

I think baseball as I knew it in the past—a more gentlemanly game than it is today—was much like America as it used to be—gentlemanly, orderly, a nation of laws, and with a few exceptions, a nation where everyone respected the space of others.

Today we are a nation that looks more like the highly popular NFL game. Everyone it seems, is pushing, striving for that next piece of ground that belongs to someone else. We will stop at almost nothing to gain or protect that ground—blocking, tackling, name calling, trickery, brute force, and piling on. We, as a nation, are far less civil today, than in the years I grew up.

It saddens me, as I am sure it saddens you.

In those early second- through fourth-grade years, the boundaries of my home continued to expand. Slowly, and almost methodically, America became less of a crude map on the wall behind Dave Garroway and J. Fred Muggs, and more of a real place. A real and wonderful place.

And soon, my vision of America, my home, would take a dramatic leap forward.

More from Mary Fahl's Going Home:

I know in my bones
I've been here before
The ground feels the same
Though the land's been torn
I've a long way to go
The stars tell me so
On this road that will take me home

Part III


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