Monday, July 28, 2014

The Century Mark: From Wrigley to Carroll County

"There's just no better place to be on a summer afternoon than in Wrigley Field watching the Cards and the Cubs.... " a paraphrase of John Rooney's call on July 26, 2014

Just knowing the kids were visiting Chicago and taking in a game at Wrigley made my heart glad. Listening to the Cards/Cubs game on this Saturday afternoon as the wheels hugged the two lane was a good thing...not as good as being there, but way over on the plus side of the spectrum of summer traditions.   

Cards/Cubs rivalry, road game, road trip, wind rippling the tasseled fields, tractors gathering the shiny new round bales; these are just a few of the good things gathered this weekend for reflection.  Friday evening I drove the rolling curves of Highway 65 through verdant swaths of countryside, past the Blue Mound, the farm stands and businesses of plain folk, and the architectural blast from the past that is the Tina-Avalon school, to the 100th Carroll County Farm Bureau Annual Meeting in Carrollton.  Every seat was occupied; every plate piled with brisket, cheesy potatoes, slaw and green beans. It was a full house of more than 200 Farm Bureau members joined to celebrate and commemorate the longevity and tradition of their organization.  

I am a sucker for old photographs and other paper ephemera of our ties to the past.  Carroll county historians laid out a table of annual reports preserved from the 1940s and 1950s, from the county, the state, and even the American Farm Bureau Federation.  I wished I had a copy of the black and white panorama shot in the banquet hall of a Chicago hotel of the entire delegation of the American Farm Bureau Federation gathered for a meal during the 20th anniversary of the organization's existence.  The farmers and farmers' wives face the camera...the men clean shaven in white shirts and black suits and many of the women wearing hats.  Its a big group...and a serious group.....except for one errant uppity Nebraska delegate plugging his state sign....and all of them are volunteers. (Some of them might even be Cubs fans.)

I haven't seen inside the policy books from those annual meetings, but I know what consumes the time and energy of dedicated Farm Bureau volunteers today.  Farmers are torn between the day to day concerns folks in that photo would recognize but also threats to their businesses their ancestors would consider ludicrous or silly.  Farmers in the '40s were still 18 percent of the labor force and 23 percent of the population.  No doubt the delegate body in 1939 found plenty to worry about without considering the possibility that agriculture itself would be on trial.

Off to Palmyra in Marion county, where I bet there was a great crowd in 1940 for the Fair parade, just like there was this weekend. 

 The scene under the picnic shelter is straight out of a Thomas Hart Benton painting: farmers and families perched on picnic benches, standing under the shade tree, summery red bronze and baked by the sun, at rest, and the children endlessly busy, flitting from water tank to toy tractor to nowhere in particular, making their own breeze.  And under that tree, the local politicians speechifying, exhorting the crowd for the rights of farmers to farm, and subtly as they can plugging for their own campaigns.

Blake Hurst updates the folks in Palmyra
Baseball may be called America's past time, but to my mind politics has at least a three game lead in the standings, maybe five in even years.  Its a game we all play and sometimes the stakes are very high.  Unlike baseball with its blessedly long 162 games, the folks playing politics this August are facing a sudden death playoff, winner take all.  Farmers are all in, pulling out all the stops, in their efforts to convince the crowd that their goals haven't changed in all the years since 1939.  Volunteers place signs, talk to civic groups, write letters to editors and opponents, send checks to the organizations representing them, but most importantly, tell the world about their farms, their families, their concerns and their wish to continue doing exactly what they do best: feed people by growing food on the lands they love.  

“I just overheard a woman giving her opinion on the abilities of the batsman. You can’t even vote, doll, what gave you the cockamamie idea anyone pays any heed to the musings on sport of your inferior brain?” quotes about Wrigley Field...

OK, call me over the top.  But after the 19th amendment passed in 1920, I can go to the polls just like a man.  As a matter of fact, I already have, casting my absentee ballot this afternoon at my local courthouse.  So, do it.  Go vote.  Support your cause.  Support your local farmers.  Take part in the great American past time... 

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