Monday, November 30, 2015

Calling Mr. Rockwell

One of Norman Rockwell's most iconic paintings portrays a young man in a plaid work shirt and a worn leather jacket standing alone among his fellow citizens. He has a couple of folded sheets of paper sticking out of his jacket pocket, but they have been forgotten in the heat of the discussion and he speaks off the cuff with passion and heartfelt intensity. All eyes are upon him; his audience of men in ties and women in hats listens respectfully. Whether they agree with him or not, they are polite and acknowledge by their attention his right to speak his mind. The painting is titled "Freedom of Speech"; it is part of the series "Four Freedoms" inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt's State of the Union address in 1941.
This painting is what I envision every year when we attend the Missouri Farm Bureau Annual meeting.  Farm families and rural residents from all over our state will gather to catch up with old friends, to be entertained, to listen and learn from eminent speakers and those whom we have elected.  We will eat together, complain about the weather and what it did to our farms, brag on children and grandchildren and ooh and aah over the accomplishments of other folks' children and grandchildren.
But we will also work.  The members of Missouri Farm Bureau who gather each year in December will conduct the serious business of  making the policies this organization will work to fulfill during 2016.  The thick sheaf of colored paper each voting delegate will receive contains color coded pages with the previous year's policy, beginning with the Farm Bureau philosophy and proceeding alphabetically through Agricultural Credit to Young Farmers.  These pages will show redactions, additions and all changes made by the members of the State Resolutions committee, who have collated, combined, and voted on suggestions and concerns from the questionnaires submitted by members all over the state.  The prospective resolutions originated with the folks in the counties and now are returning to be voted and ratified one by one by those same grassroots members.
It's a big room and resembles nothing so much as a political convention with the signs indicating the seating of Districts 1 through 8 arranged across the floor.  As each policy is read, the chair asks for any changes and waits to recognize any member on the floor that desires to offer an amendment or ask a question.  There is discussion, always respectful, but sometimes heated.  There is always a vote, up or down, yea or nay, but if the voters are particularly hearty in expressing their opinion, a division of the house may be called for and they will vote with their feet...
While the differences may descend into trivialities and unwieldy parsing, the motivation is unimpeachable: to work for what the speaker believes is the very best for the future of his neighbors and compatriots.  To that end, the assemblage acts "Rockwellesque", an adjective spawned by the Oxford English Dictionary,describing anything that is "idealistic, quaint, or sentimental" It is an enviable exercise in thoughtfulness, courtesy, and dedication.  Folks stand up who have been voting delegates for decades, whose views are well known, who are the bedrock of the current policy book.  There are new voices, working through the system, taking their medicine when the delegate body sets them down with a resounding 'nay'.  The concerns of these voters reach far beyond the minutiae of arcane government farm policy and deep into the very bedrock of American culture and tradition: the availability of healthcare, safe roads, and modern technology in rural areas, our property rights...our religious freedom.  We approach these policies with great gravity; without the representation afforded by our association, our minority position will lack a standard bearer amid the clamor of our urban nation.
It is worth celebrating these associations, these increasingly rare examples of voter rubber meeting policy road.  When I see one of my neighbors at the mike, speaking his mind in front of seven hundred or so of his peers, I feel a small thrill of optimism and hope.  To the extent this takes place across our nation, we are part of a Norman Rockwellesque America: the one man, one voice, exercising his right to speak his conscience among his countrymen.

With a Farm Bureau cap in hand.....

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Harvest Home

COME, ye thankful people, come,
raise the song of harvest home;

all is safely gathered in,
ere the winter storms begin.

All the world is God's own field, 
fruit as praise to God we yield;

wheat and tares together sown 
are to joy or sorrow grown; 
first the blade and then the ear, 
then the full corn shall appear; 
Lord of harvest, grant that we 
wholesome grain and pure may be.

We thank thee then, O Father, for all things bright and good,
The seedtime and the harvest, our life our health our food,
No gifts have we to offer for all thy love imparts,
But that which thou desirest, our humble thankful hearts.

Lord, dismiss us with Thy blessing;
Fill our hearts with joy and peace;

Let us each Thy love possessing,
Triumph in redeeming grace.
O refresh us, O refresh us,
Traveling through this wilderness.

All good gifts around us
Are sent from Heaven above.
So thank the Lord,
 O, thank the Lord for all his love..

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


Starstruck. Transported. Carried away. Enchanted.

I was very young, sitting with my mama and sister in a theater south of Chicago somewhere. My father was playing in the pit orchestra. The houselights went down, the curtain opened...and the first plaintive ethereal strands of the Carousel melody rose from the orchestra. It was my first Broadway musical, my first Broadway melody, and I have never forgotten this beginning to a life long love affair.

Show tunes were part of the cultural common core back then. We might hear 'To Dream the Impossible Dream" (Man of La Mancha, 1964) or "The Rain in Spain" (My Fair Lady, 1956, movie 1964) or "If Ever I Would Leave You" (Camelot, 1960) on the car radio en route to the grocery store. The Beatles were but part of the gossip at school; I first heard Petula Clark's iconic "Downtown" on a jukebox in Kalamazoo enroute to my aunt and uncle's wedding in Michigan.

But what Elsa is to little girls today, Julie Andrews was to little girls in the '60s. Our Girl Scout troop went to see "The Sound of Music" on the big screen in a packed Saturday afternoon matinee. We didn't know any history, but we could all sing Edelweiss and My Favorite Things in our bobbed Julie Andrews haircuts.
Even today, I would wager that most people have heard tunes like "Seventy Six Trombones"  or "Hello Dolly" even though folks who frequent the Broadway channel on xm are mere specks on the data map of popular music.  

Which is why I am always thrilled and encouraged when November comes around and it is time for Tarkio High School's fall musical production.  For an entire semester, the cast and production crew are immersed in the language of the best American theater can offer, tried and true and lasting songs and stories and melodies.  Here is music with melody and grace; dialogue with humor...and wit.  The musicals are the masterpieces of our popular art and have stood the test of time  to transcend the era for which they were written.  A cast of twenty or thirty can sing the same tunes that Irving Berlin or Richard Rodgers wrote...and perform them to a packed house, whether that crowd is at the Starlight Theater in Kansas City...or in the red padded seats at Tarkio High School. 
 Putting together a musical requires heart, hands, eyes, ears, and voice.  It stretches the imagination, exercises memory, and, at its best, makes goose bumps appear. Like a good book, the two and a half hours of song and dance and storytelling transports performer and audience alike to another least until the house lights go up, but, perhaps, for days after.
If our schools don't promote and perform musical theater, a part of our heritage will be lost.  Who wants to live in a world without Nathan Detroit...or Nicely Nicely...or Marian the librarian....or Ado Annie?  These are characters as American as we are...with the enviable advantage that, when in the throes of a crisis they "they sing and they dance, which is so much more interesting than just whining about it,’’ in the immortal words of the Man in the Chair in another musical, The Drowsy Chaperone.

Is this a shameless plug for amateur theater?  You bet.  To join is to be part of our cultural fabric, woven into the seamless score of those past and present that can sing along....

Shhhhh...the lights are dimming...time for the second act.....wherever you are.....

Come on along and listen to

The lullaby of Broadway

The hip hooray and ballyhoo

The lullaby of Broadway

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Always, Always

A foretaste of winter blew through Atchison county last week...a whirling dervish of leaves and stalks, weakened tree limbs and trash cans reminding us that winter is waiting in the wings.  November has been ever so patient with us; the fields and roads have been dry as we glean the late grain from the bottom ground.  Rain is in the forecast for much of this week; the anhydrous wagons are rolling up route O like schooners on the Oregon trail as fall field work commences.  We hope for good weather to hang on so we get a head start on next spring, but the bottom line is this:  the combines are washed, the crops are hauled or in the bin, harvest 2015 is finished...there is always, always, something to be thankful for.
A trip to central Missouri yielded a double play of  pleasure: a windy afternoon at Redbarn catching up on family news, drinking tea and eating cookies, and bringing home another brown bag of Golden Russet apples, then the evening arrival of Kenzie and Levi to catch up on the wonders of the FB house and the toys there that wait patiently for his occasional visits.  His mother let him run off his six hours of carseat energy before bedtime, but promised a day of play on the morrow.  Sure enough, there was a knock, knock on our door at 6:30 Thursday a.m. and a little boy ready to hit the ground running....there is always, always, something to be thankful for.

Sunday was Josh's number five birthday....and Charlie's five plus seventy five plus birthday.  Some years we stop to sing and eat, then go back to finish harvest.  Sometimes we have a giant last year...with balloons and friends and remembrances.  But we always celebrate these two special people and the happy years of our family they enclose like parantheses.  Needless to say...a party is something to be thankful for.

I am enjoying the evenings spent working with beautiful glass at the Tarkio Glass Company.  It is never too late in life to try something new and always good to concentrate one's mind on the work of one's hands .  A new medium with new tools and new techniques waits just down the street!  A simple pleasure from a gift warmly received....

Sunday evenings mean it's time for praise and pancakes at church, time for kids to practice the songs for their Christmas program, time to enjoy the fellowship of GAs and RAs.  The fellowship hall echoes with chatter; the air is fragrant with frying sausage ; the tables are sticky with syrup and peanut butter. I take the trash out to the dumpster in the sudden silence and say a thankful prayer for the big-hearted men and women giving of their time to these little ones,  feeding Jesus' lambs and loving their neighbors.

So much thanksgiving before Thanksgiving!  Including the third grade program at school (I can attest that three of the third graders do have their parts memorized!) and an invitation to eat Thanksgiving luncheons on two different school days!  I fondly remember eating lunch at Westboro school the week before Thanksgiving; such a generous platter the Pilgrims could hardly have imagined. It is appropriate to celebrate gratitude in our schools; in a way, I am surprised that we are still able to acknowledge this not-really-secular commemoration.  Enjoy it while we can...

....I found a mouse on my kitchen floor while I was mopping up toaster crumbs.  Yes, I let out a small shriek.  But there IS always something to be thankful for...

It was dead....

Give thanks!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Prairie Perspective

Beach or lake? ....This is a parlor game we play when we are deep into the second month of harvest and plunging through the waves of an ocean of  grain. Where would we rather be? Enjoying the quiet banks of a tree rimmed lake up north or the constant music of the ocean running back and forth over the sands. We have spent pleasant hours in reading and reflection next to water; to revisit these settings in our minds and contemplate their delights is a companionable way to while the hours away.  Beach or lake?  Idle chatter of a prairie schooner, pipe dream of the landlocked.
I plead guilty to this kind of over-the-rainbow-pie-in-the-sky-view-finding. Especially in moments of weakness...or days when the wind blows over 30 mph.  But not when the sun's rays slant low and golden, casting long and deep spider web shadows of barbed wire fences...or electric lines...or windmills.
Then I take issue with those who castigate our surroundings as uninteresting, or dismiss them as man-made and artificial. We may rightly stand in awe of extreme landscapes, exceptional, one of a kind and incomparable.  But we ordinary folk don't live in places like that.  We cannot fully appreciate the landscape around us unless we not only accept, but also appreciate, the role we humans play in its order and rhythm and, yes, beauty.

On a fall day day in November when the fields have donned their harvest hues of dun and buff and weathered gray, I think the view from the hill behind the greenhouses is much what Lewis and Clark would have seen, had they been camping in Atchison county in late fall: smooth and rounded hills within a level horizon, creek banks marked by dark creases of trees and covered by a great stage of a sky, maybe gray and hovering close, maybe impossibly blue and distant.
From my hilltop, I can see the pageant of farm work proceed with the seasons.  The desolation of winter is broken only by the dark patches where cattle are fed and the graffiti of wildlife tracks.  Spring is a brown season...we often have three brown seasons up here, you know.  The wild trees venture faint bloom and leaf by May, but the green of new crops above the no till stubble won't be visible from a distance before Mother's Day most years.  Nature's calendar rules; the native warm season grasses linger in their weary clumps until the sun raises them up with warmth.
 Familiarity does not breed contempt. A volatile and unpredictable climate breeds a citizenry that wears the inhospitable nature of its chosen home as a badge of honor.  Who needs a wilderness when the weather itself is a raging beast? The domesticity of the Corn Belt is part of its attraction. An orderly landscape of crops tracing the topographical contours, the 90 degree precision of east-west, north-south section roads, the geometry of grain bins and augers, all suggest the virtuous productivity of the people and their partnership with the land.  The treasure of this place lies underground and the service of man to fellow man is in the cultivation and harvest of soil and production of grain in a place especially suited for the purpose.

The emigrants of Oregon Trail days bypassed this piece of prairie in search of a more hospitable clime across the mountains.  The folks that settled our hills, planting crops and orchards, building homes and fences, churches, cemeteries, and schools were justifiably proud of their industry, equated civilization with progress, and published their accomplishments for all of posterity to appreciate.

Periodically the movers and shakers far away take a look at the middle of the country, our American "Empty Quarter",
and lob long distance pot shots at how we think, what we believe, and what we do. They should peruse their own community's Biographical History and learn to appreciate the pride those who built the small towns and settled the counties took in their barns and homes, the Poland China hogs and  Buff Cochin chickens, their businesses, their politics, and their churches.

We can't offer much in the line of beaches...and our vistas are short on drama.  But this place abounds in a different quality...that of rootedness.  Human effort, persistence, and adaptability have given us a view we can appreciate for its history and hope for our future.

We can visit the beach anytime...

That's my prairie perspective....