In preparing for my retirement in another month, I cleaned out the office I’ve occupied for the past 30 years and moved to a smaller office across the hall. I’m guessing I tossed a small dumpster worth of stuff that I hadn’t looked at in years and our new publisher will have no use for.
People have been nice to me over the course of my career and my walls were lined with a number of awards, some that I’m pretty sure I didn’t deserve. I put all but a couple in a box and I will hang some of them in the new cabin my wife and I are planning to build. Somewhere (either in the basement or in part of the loft) I will establish a new office/man cave and the walls will be filled with stuff I like to look at.
It won’t be a shrine to past glory. When I write, I like to be surrounded by things that inspire me. Ironically, the box that was filled with past awards was sitting in my garage when a five-inch rain blasted my part of the world, flooded the garage and when I got to work moving stuff out of the mud and water, I lifted the box and all of the plaques and awards dumped out on the ground. I’m not exactly sure what the Maker of the Universe was trying to tell me, but it made me think.
Most of my nearly 45 years as a working journalist isn’t really defined by awards and honors I’ve received, but in the stories I’ve written about people that are in bound newspaper volumes. If I really want to do some valuable time wasting, I’ll dip into those volumes and read a feature on a farmer or businessman or some kid who did something remarkable. It’s the people whose stories I’ve had the pleasure of writing about that really fills my soul.
In moving my office, I took down a bulletin board that contains lots and lots of stuff that inspires me. Pictures of my children and grandchildren, of my wife, my parents and grandparents. A picture of my son and I with our German Shorthair hunting dog and the quail we had shot one Saturday morning. A letter to the editor from Jack Howard, a notorious union Democrat who excoriated me on any number of occasions, and did it again with this short and pithy letter, which still makes me laugh and wish I could communicate that effectively.
I also moved a 100-year-old photograph of my grandfather sitting behind the wheel of a 1916 Model T Ford. The car is beyond cool, but the back story is what inspires me. My grandfather lost his prominent farmer father, George Washington Paxton, around 1910. Then in 1918, he lost his mother to the Spanish Flu. With her death, he and his youngest brother, were put aside by their older brothers, who took from them their inheritance of southwest Tama County farmland. His younger brother went to live with their oldest sister. My grandfather dropped out of high school and went to work for a doctor for food and a roof over his head. His job was to drive the doctor on his rounds, visiting those sick and dying from the Spanish Flu.
What inspires me is my grandfather’s courage, as well as the courage of the town doctor. In 1918 there was no national quarantine, there was no shutdown of business, no shuttering of schools. And we know that the Spanish Flu killed as many young people as it did old, unlike COVID-19 which is almost entirely a pandemic to the old and infirm. We also know that in 1918 there were no antibiotics, no respirators, nothing really to treat this worldwide scourge. At the time my granddad had no home, he had no future, he was abandoned by his older brothers who stole his inheritance.
And here he is, sitting in a 1916 Model T with a grin ear to ear, looking ready to meet the world. There are lessons to be learned from our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and all who came before us, if only we take time to listen and not judge all past by what we think we know here and now in the present. We must stop destroying their legacy because of imperfections we now see as racist or anti-feminist or some other PC nonsense.
In fact, as my own father became an old man and talked to me about his childhood, his year in the South Pacific in WWII, his hardscrabble farming start-up, I was introduced to my grandfather’s imperfections. As great a grandfather as he was to my brothers and sisters and me, he was a relatively lousy father, partly because he lost his own dad when he was 10 and suffered from rotten older brothers.
But I will never erase his legacy because of his failings. As I battle daily the destructiveness of the Coronavirus on my business, on our community, our churches and schools I will continue to gain inspiration from a picture of this teenage orphan heading who knows where in a 1916 Model T.
Over the weekend, anarchists (not sure yet of what variety, white or black) knocked over and dragged the statue of Frederick Douglass into a gully in Rochester, N.Y. Frederick Douglass. An African American who escaped the bonds of slavery, made his way north and became a social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer and statesman, who became a national leader in the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York. He worked with Abraham Lincoln to liberate slaves from the south and recruited freed black slaves to serve in the Union army to help defeat the Confederacy and then lobbied for those black Union soldiers to gain the right to vote. His famous Fourth of July speech called out America on what the Declaration of Independence failed to do for enslaved blacks.
A man with little patience, he and Lincoln fell into disagreement over black voting rights after the Emancipation Proclamation, but later reconciled. After Lincoln’s death, Mary Todd Lincoln gave Douglass the President’s walking stick. He then supported U.S. Grant and helped pass the 14th, 15th and 16th amendments to the Constitution. The mayor of Rochester has pledged to replace the statue.
SOME OTHER thoughtS on the destruction of monuments, statues and murals. What of the artists who created them? It was President Roosevelt who put unemployed artists back to work painting mostly patriotic paintings and murals and doing bronze sculptures during the Depression. How is it their work can be marginalized by the “Cancel Culture”?
The Cancel Culture, led by Antifa, Black Lives Matter and other whacked out leftists, are also talking about removing books that in any way relate to their perceptions of white supremacy.
This is Hitler’s Nazi Germany and their attempt to cleanse German culture by eliminating perceived threats, ie. the Jews and Jewish history, art and literature, the Gypsies and their culture, and anything else that got in the way of Germany’s 1,000 year reign.
A black woman in line to become Joe Biden’s vice president couldn’t say definitively that statues of George Washington shouldn’t be torn down. Biden says you shouldn’t use violence to take down statues and art, but won’t defend the right of artists to create patriotic art and statuary.
Where are traditional Democrats and liberals who once defended the right of free expression? Where are leaders who should advocate for creating statues honoring African American history instead of expunging white history? And why can’t Mount Rushmore stand beside the carved mountain statue of Crazy Horse in peace and mutual understanding?