Friday, July 20, 2012

High Riding Heroes

My heroes have always been cowboys,
And they still are, it seems.
Sadly in search of and one step in back of 
Themselves, and their slow movin' dreams.
--  as sung  by Waylon Jennings and  Willie Nelson

I grew up in the 1950s during the decline of radio and the rise of television as the family home entertainment medium of choice.  Consequently, I developed an appreciation for the offerings of both media.  

As she worked during the afternoons, my mom would listen to soap operas such as our "Our Gal Sunday" (Can a girl from a simple mining town in the west find happiness with one of England's most titled Lords?), The Romance of Helen Trent (proving that romance can begin at thirty-five.), and others. 

Shortly after four PM, the programming changed and soap operas gave way to programs designed to entertain the kids when they got home from school before the family sat down to supper.  Sponsorship changed from soap, detergent, and home products to breakfast cereals.  The theme of the shows shifted from modern romance to tales of high adventure and great good deeds. Lead characters were no longer women seeking happiness and romance but strong men striving to carve out and civilize a place in the American West. 

When I got home from school, after the chores were done, I would sit and soak up the adventures of Wild Bill Hickock and his sidekick Jingles P. Jones, of Sky King, the Arizona rancher who flew an airplane while maintaining law and order on his large Arizona ranch.  I would eagerly follow the adventures of Straight Arrow, the crime-fighting alter ego of rancher Steve Adams, and, moving north, of Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, sworn to bring in the lawless and maintain the right.

After supper and the news with Lowell Thomas, the entire family would listen to the adventures of The Cisco Kid and his sidekick Pancho, followed by The Lone Ranger. 

Much of my character and many of my values were imparted to me by these mostly fictional heroes. They lived in a world that never existed and did great deeds that never took place in history.  Yet, from them I learned values that remain eternally real.  

I learned to be truthful. The bad guy was usually a liar.

I learned to be honest.  The bad guy usually cheated at cards and sometimes got shot because of it.

I learned to be honorable.  The good guy always carried through on his commitments, even when he was alone, and no matter what it cost him.

I learned to be loyal.  The good guy always stood with and never deserted his friends.

I learned to be courteous, to answer when spoken to, to listen without butting in and to treat others as I would want to be treated.

And I learned to be kind.  The good guy never mistreated his animals or those who couldn't defend themselves.

And I learned that life itself is an adventure that will find you if you let it.

Fictionalized heroes in fictional situations living real values: who would have thought it?

To whom or what do you attribute your values, your character?

How's that working for you?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Simpler Times?

Shortly after ten PM on Friday evening, 29 June 2012, 80 mile per hour winds of the June 2012 Derecho knocked out electrical power in our community and those around us. We awoke on Saturday morning to a world decidedly different than the one we had awakened to a scant 24 hours before.

There would be no fresh brewed coffee; the coffee maker requires electricity.  Neither would there be any fresh perked coffee since the stove is also electric.  Unless I chose to drag out the camp stove, there would there be no bacon, eggs, or even oatmeal due to lack of a heat source. Thank goodness city water and sewer allowed the water to continue to run and the toilets to continue to flush.

Land line phones were out and cellular service spotty due to storm damage.  Wireless phones require electricity even even when attached to the land line.  Internet service via the iPad was so slow and unreliable that I shut it down to save battery.

In short, our thoroughly modern community five miles from Washington Dulles Airport and thirty miles outside our nation's capital was forced to cope with the limitations of what our nineteenth and early twentieth-century ancestors would have called every day life.  Without power, our options were limited.

The community in which I grew up had been electrified less than fifteen years when I was born.  During my boyhood, we had neighbors who lived without electricity, mostly for fear of fire and electrocution.  Somehow, they never quite made the connection between coal oil lamps and fire hazards.  Oil lamps were a familiar hazard. Electricity was a great unknown and prone to fail during summer and winter storms.

My grandmother cooked on a wood stove four seasons of the year.  So did my mother until 1953 when Dad bought her a stove that used liquid propane as its fuel.  He chose gas because electric power was unreliable and cooking and eating were important even when the power was out.

At my Grand Dad's house, water was pumped by hand and carried to the kitchen in a bucket.  A good friend's family dipped their water from a nearby spring.  Our electric pump provided cold water to the kitchen as long as the power was on; during power outages, we hauled water pumped from my grand parents' well in ten gallon milk cans.

Water for washing was heated on the kitchen stove summer and winter.  There was no shower; the bathtub was made by Wheeling Steel, hung on a nail on the back porch and was dragged in at bath time.  We learned early how to take a sponge bath. 

There was no bathroom. The "necessary facility" was an outhouse which required a walk, or else a chamber pot that had to be emptied daily.  People back then dealt with a lot of mess and smells with which people today are entirely unfamiliar. 

There was no central heat and no air conditioning, but houses were designed with windows to take advantage of whatever cooling breezes there were.  When it was hot, we slowed down, drank lots of water, and stayed in the shade as much as possible. When it was cold, we put on extra layers, piled extra quilts on the bed, and built the fire a bit hotter in the stove.

Some would say that times were simpler back then.  And, when viewed through one lens, they were.  But that simplicity required more knowledge, more skills, and more labor than we are used to expending today.  In those times, these now antiquated skills were a normal part of life, necessary for comfort and survival, learned and practiced almost from the time one could walk.  

Today, we learn, practice, and rely on different skills for our comfort and survival.  Today, our twenty-first century houses and facilities are ill designed or equipped to support a nineteenth century lifestyle for more than a short time.  Yet, when the power goes out, we are returned to the capabilities of the nineteenth century and must make do with that which is. 

When the power goes out, I wonder how well my life skills match up to those of my grand parents and great grand parents.

How well do yours?

How would you make do and survive an extended period without power?

What would you have to do differently in order to thrive in such an environment?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Independence Day

"Let freedom ring.
Let the white bird sing.
Let the whole world know that today 
Is a day of remembering...
Roll the stone away
Let the guilty pay;
It's Independence Day!"
 (from "Independence Day, as sung by Martina McBride)

June of 1776 was hot in Philadelphia where representatives of thirteen English-speaking colonies on the North American Continent were "in Congress Assembled".  The curtains were drawn lest the content of their deliberations would be reported to the King's authorities and they be charged with treason.  The windows were also closed, adding to the general stuffiness and discomfort of the delegates.  In the absence of modern sanitation, the city swarmed with so many flies that a motion to open a window was staunchly opposed because it would admit too many.

The delegates were among the leading citizens of their colonies, among them John Adams and John Hancock of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Caesar Rodney of Delaware, Samuel Chase and Charles Carroll of Maryland, Richard Henry Lee and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, and Lyman Hall of Georgia. 

They were planters, they were trades persons, they were businessmen and merchants. And they were met to petition his Majesty, the King of England, for redress of certain grievances, the chief of which were taxes arbitrarily imposed on them by a far-away crown before whom they had no official representation.

Some wished to to restore harmony with the mother country.  Others favored dissolving all bonds with England.  

After much debate an more than a few false starts, a committee was formed to draft a declaration of "independency."  The result, mostly written by Thomas Jefferson begins with the words "When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands that have connected them with another" and continues to speak of self-evident truths:  "that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

These were radical ideas.

The rights of citizens are inalienable rather than granted as favors by a capricious ruler?  Radical!

Citizens have a right to live freely and pursue their own interests rather than those of their liegelord? Radical!

Governments are formed to secure the rights of the citizenry rather than the privileges of the chosen few? Radical!

Governments are to derive their power from the consent of those governed rather than the divine right of kings?  Radical!

Citizens have the right and even have the duty to abolish an oppressive government and then to form a new government based on principals that seem good to the citizens themselves rather than what seems good to some distant monarch?  Unspeakably radical, treasonous, and revolutionary.

By assenting to these ideas, by declaring all things connecting the thirteen colonies to the mother country dissolved, and by claiming for themselves the rights of independent states, those who signed the declaration were committing treason against the English Crown.  Yet they approved, and signed.  Each one signing pledged for the support of the Declaration, with a firm reliance on divine providence, their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. 

Independence day isn't only about fireworks and picnics and dogs and burgers and beer.  It's about radical ideas.  It's about self evident truths and inalienable rights and duties. It's about pledging your life, your fortune, and your sacred honor.

How radical are you?

How do you claim your inalienable rights?

Are you willing to join the signers and pledge, for the support of this Declaration, your life, your fortune, and your sacred honor?