From this report on the people next door — the most powerful nation on earth — one striking fact stands out: The Canadians and Americans are not “just the same"
MACLEAN’S MANAGING EDITOR
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In this critical year the American people look from the fresh casualty lists to the future as they measure their new might against the nation's great new responsibilities
THIS SUMMER seemed like a good time to travel through the United States to see how it was with the people next door, for in many
ways this had been an important, perhaps critical year, in our relations with them.
As almost any after-dinner speaker will tell you, if he hasn’t already, the two countries have lived in neighborly peace along three thousand miles of frontier without a frowning fortress for the greater part of one hundred and seventy-five years. Only once in that time did martial noises mar this idyll and that was in a clumsily fought, war that each side still thinks it won.
In this atmosphere of repeated assurances of friendship generations of Canadians have grown up proud of their ability to get along with the people next door. And in this same atmosphere the assumption has grown up on both sides of the border that since we are such good friends we must be the same kind of people.
In the last year the assumption of easy automatic friendship between people wrho are essentially the same has been more forcefully tested than ever before.
When the fighting broke out in Korea the U. S. was critical of the extent of Canadian aid and the speed with which it was sent.
Earlier this year Canada’s External Affairs Minister, Mike Pearson, made a speech during which he told the U. S. State Department that Canada was tired of being treated, in effect, like a branch
office of the U. S. He asked that Canada be treated like a nation—like the Egyptians, for instance.
As the U. S. Government gave every sign of repeating the familiar formality of examining and rejecting the St. Lawrence Seaway Canada indicated that this time it would go ahead with the great project on its own.
This was the year too when the Massey Commission in its report made official the view that the powerful influence of U. S. life on ours threatens our very identity as Canadians.
And so this summer seemed like a good time to visit the people next door, to re-examine the belief, worn smooth by much handling, that we are just like them.
Americans are different. They are different from each other and they are different from the Americans of ten and even five years ago. This is the country that produced Franklin Roosevelt and Robert McCormick; Walt Whitman and Edgar Guest; the Duponts, the Fords and the colored sharecroppers who must ride in the back of the bus. They differ from each other, in the same startling and dramatic terms as a Mongolian shepherd differs from a fisherman on the bank of the Seine. In the same measure they differ from us.
On my visit I traveled twelve thousand miles, mostly by bus but also by train, plane, foot and thumb. I was in towns in twenty-five states and in all regions. I talked to hundreds of people about
their troubles for U. S. A. 1951 is a deeply troubled country—about their grocery bills, their hopes, the changes that have come over their lives and their country’s. I talked to them about how they feel about Canada. And out of this came some conclusions, which it would be presumptuous to present as definitive or the essence of U. S. A. 1951, but which do tell something of how it is with the people next door.
Some of the differences I saw were close to the surface, like the way people I talked to said “vacation” (pronounced “vay-cation”) where we would say holiday. People pronounced it “heero” when they said “hero” and when they wanted to know if you had a cigarette they said, “Do you have a cigarette?” A chesterfield was not something to sit on but a coat with a velvet collar worn by a grown-up Lord Fauntleroy.
Other differences, less superficial, seemed to lie closer to the heart and the spirit of the people I talked to and for that reason, once observed, were more revealing.
All the people I met next door were intensely aware and proud of their Americanism. Often they came right out and said so, as did Arlene Chesna, a registered nurse living on 96th Street in New York. We were talking about how she lives: she makes twelve dollars a day, shares an apartment with another girl, finds businessmen dull as dates, prefers professional men but not doctors because they talk shop, and she has no desire to leave the
Symbols like TV and GI signpost the new roads America is taking in this year of crisis. A young man may get a uniform before he has a chance to earn his first suit
music and theatre Manhattan offers to return to her small Pennsylvania home town. Suddenly, almost impetuously, she straightened slightly in her chair and said, with quiet dignity, “And I want to tell you I’m proud to he an American.”
A Texas rancher, Ferd Slocum, of Cresson, told me with the deep sincerity of a man offering some inside information: “I tell you we’re the luckiest
people in the world here in this country—in these two countries—of ours.”
The people I talked to obviously love their country, and being very much in love, say so, often. One reason for this highly articulate patriotism may lie in a little scene I saw enacted in a Washington home. The two boys told me that every morning at school the flag was raised while the children repeated the oath of allegiance. They went through the ritual for my benefit, right hands on their hearts, their eyes upraised to a flag which was there only in their minds as they said in unison: “I
pledge my allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands ...” They t old me they frequently sing such songs as America the Beautiful and God Bless America, in addition to their national anthem.
The people I talked to had a lively pride in the shape and the sounds and even the smell of their rich and beautiful country and they told of the things they had seen in their travels—and most of them had traveled considerably—with an air of
LOOKS AT CANADA
When most Americans think of Canada, which is not very Often, they think of a large chilly country where the fishing is wonderful and the people are almost Americans
wonder rather than boastfulness. This desire to talk about the bigness and the beauty of their country is probably not always appreciated when they are away from home, but in their own land it sounds like what it is, pride expressed naturally and with enthusiasm.
On the train going from Seattle to San Francisco one evening an elderly man, chatting with a woman
who had her hands full with two young children, was extremely anxious that she should stay up long enough to see a particular view much beloved by him. When the woman thanked him but declined, looking wearily at the children she was anxious to bed down for the night, her guide left her abruptly, hurt that she was not going to share his favorite part of America.
The people I talked to live close to their history. For example, if all the streets called Jackson in the U. S. were put in one place there would probably be enough to provide streets for all the towns called Jackson. Their speech is sprinkled with historical allusion and reference to men like Lincoln and Jefferson.
A young businessman in Phoenix told me: “I
AND ITS SYMBOLS
A fishing pole in the hands of a small boy is one of the symbols America cherishes. A nation which has drawn much of its strength from small towns found a president there, too
like driving up to the mountains with the family on the week end. Behind every rock at every turn of the road I think I can see the tips of Apache feathers in the dusk and sometimes I am sure I can hear the distant drums and the war chants. I have ihe feeling that we’re awfully close to the past here.”
Many of the people I talked to spoke like the man in a Minnesota town who said: “Why, that
border might just as well not be there. We’re all the same and you know if it ever comes to the pinch you would join the United States before you joined England.”
The answer to that came not from a Canadian but from Dean Wiley, a pipe-line foreman who comes from near Kansas City, Mo. Wiley is a war veteran who has never been in Canada. “Can’t you understand—the guy’s a Canadian. He was raised in Saskatchewan, wherever that is. He doesn’t want to be an American and I don’t blame him. I don’t want to be a Canadian either, but I want to be friends with Canadians. It’s no trick for people wdio are exactly the same to get along with each other. If we’re ever going to have peace it’s got to be among people who are different but get along fine. And I think it makes for a stronger world when you build it with different kinds of material. There’s always a big middle ground where we can get together without fighting and still be ourselves. Me, I’ll always be from Missouri.”
Most of the people I talked to were willing; although surprised, to be interviewed by a Canadian reporter. Some were hostile, like the man in Syracuse who said it was senseless to talk about world affairs with anyone from a country that “had to do whatever the King of England told them to.” Most, however, were friendly but uninformed. Along the border states they had a working knowledge of our geography, although a telephone operator in Fargo, N.D., next door to Saskatchewan, asked me what town in Saskatoon I wanted when I placed a telephone call.
The people I talked to seemed to think of Canada, in a vague and friendly way, as a large damp country to the north, stiff with game, fish, Mounties and mountains. They had been taught at school something about our geography, almost nothing about our history and little about our political institutions. Since few of them had any ties with Canada there had been no reason to learn more. Most of them agreed this was a pity and something should be done about it.
All the people I talked to thought we had our television and our own draft for military service and only a few knew Canada had troops in Korea. The only man I met who knew the name of our Prime Minister—and I didn’t ask everyone by any means—wasn’t sure how to spell it. Nearly everyone, particularly in the south, had an exaggerated idea of our winters, although none of them were candidates for the classical role of the tourist who, legend has it, brought skis to Canada in July.
Several people I talked to were surprised I didn’t have an English accent. One amateur anthropologist, who claimed he could pick out a Harvard man singing Yale’s Stein Song in a male chorus, tagged me as pure Ohio. Most Americans who are familiar with Canadian speech seem to think it has Scottish undertones. My own observation is that the “out” and “about” are the tipoff. Most Americans get an “aou” sound in there where Canadians clip the syllable somewhat.
In Syracuse a woman who has often been to
Canada told me indignantly that the theme of a recent Howdy Doody puppet show for children on TV treated Canada as a sort of Siberia. Characters in the fable were told if they didn’t behave they would be sent to Canada “where it’s c-o-old.”
Bob Fuller, a Chicago taxi-driver, said he read the Tribune editorial page but it had no effect on his attitude toward the British in spite of the views of publisher Col. Robert McCormick.
“That’s just a lot of politics,” he said. “I fought beside the Canadians and the Limeys in the last war and I’ve got a lot of respect for them. Most, people here have too. I’ll say t his one t hing though. If there ever is any trouble bet ween Canada and the U. S. it will be caused by those English Tories who are buying up all the property here in the States. They say the English own most of Hollywood. But I wouldn’t worry about it. Canadians and Americans will always be friends and don’t pay any attention to cracks the Tribune makes.”
Jim Baccus, of Fargo, had read t.Ae Pearson talk and referred to it as “a Whitehall speech.” He thought that since t he U. S. was spending so much on defense for t he West it had the right to examine closely the intentions and the performance of its friends, and they shouldn’t get angry when it did HO.
“For instance,” he said, “there has been a lot of criticism here of bringing Mexican labor in to work our crops when our own farmers have sons in Korea. People are bound to ask how many men the Mexicans have in Korea,” he said.
In Gary, Ind., I talked to Ray Underwood at his job on a Bessemer furnace at the huge U. S. Steel plant. Ray was teaching English at the University of Valparaiso and working on his Ph.D. when he was asked to come back to the job he did during the war. “I want to write some day,” he said as he worked in a control house lit by the glare of molten iron. “I probably won’t make as much money as I do making steel but it will be cooler. Have you got any authors in Canada? I’m trying to think of some we teach our kids about, but I can’t think of any except Stephen Leacock.”
In Emporia, Kan., where the office from which William Allen White, famous editor of the Gazette, looked out on the world has been preserved, I talked to Lt. William (Sally) Rand.
Rand, who was raised in Atchison, Kan., is back in his home state taking accounting after being invalided out. of the army with a leg wound he received in the Korean war. When I asked him he said: “The Pats? Sure, I know all about them. They got there just before I got mine.”
The people I talked to in U. S. A. 1951 were troubled. Most of them agreed with what Charles Dickens said of another place and another critical summer: “It was the best of times, the worst of
times.” Some of them used his exact words. To be sure, wages were good. They had to be if you were going to pay six and seven dollars a pair for small children’s shoes and a dollar twenty-five a pound for beef. Business was good but many businessmen, like a Texas rancher whose sales will be half a million dollars this year as against eighty thousand in the Thirties, was worried and wondered where it was all going to end.
While the price of beef made them angry — angrier than any other domestic problem, according to a public opinion poll— the people I talked to had a deeper concern. Young people wondered how they were going to plan and shape a secure future; parents
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feared for their children; the really cosmic worriers feared for mankind with more reason than usual, and in everyone’s mind was the chill fear of war. In New York signs point the way to the nearest air-raid shelter.
Part of this concern centred in the almost eager desire to see their country’s new might measure up to its great new responsibilities.
A woman in Nashville asked me: “What do they think of us in Canada?” She and other people I talked to seemed acutely aware of how much destiny they hold in their hands,-and in that way, of course, they differ from Canadians.
In Phoenix, Ariz., I talked to Odd Halseth, archaeologist who lives in an adobe house outside the city, with the buff-colored bones of an ancient Indian pueblo beside his museum to remind him that man hasn’t learned so much, after all, for a fellow who has been around so long.
“Man has a lot of arrogance to think that he is the only species fit to inhabit the earth,” he told me, as we sat in his office where the thick mud walls were a fort against the 110-degree desert heat. “Other species were here, some of them for millions of years. Because they could not or would not adapt themselves they disappeared.” Odd, who is a Norwegian by birth and has spent the last forty of his sixty years studying Indians of the southwest, looked around the relics, the books and the classical library of Navajo and Apache ceremonial chants and nodded. “These things give you perspective. And I wish we taught geography and history the way we teach finance. Everyone learns that you can’t draw from a bank account forever without putting something in it.
“Well, we’re trying to do that in the world today. The U. S. is using its natural resources too fast. The water table is going down. Do you know,” he said, looking toward the window and the irrigated fields which in their natural state are designated as semiarboreal desert, “they used to have floods here years ago? We’ve taken the trees from the mountain slopes and now we have a desert.
As Fulbright Sees It
“If I may say something to you as a Canadian it would be this: Guard
your natural resources. This is the critical year—now. Don’t embark on unrestrained immigration, because”— and he paused—“when we become a have-not nation you will have to help feed us.”
Halseth, who served in the Canadian Army in the First World War until the authorities discovered he was a Norwegian and fired him, thinks food is the real cause of war. “Politics cloak the real reason men fight,” he said. “When the Spaniards came to this country about 1640 they came because they were running short of natural resources. Their shipbuilding and their metallurgy had stripped their forests. The Russians are aggressive today because they have just about reached their agricultural potential. When the Spanish conquistadores were on the move the world population was, according to the best ecological estimate, about five hundred millions. It’s now about two and a third billions. There’s the cause for wars.”
“The most strategic minerals in the world today are those that go to make good nourishing food,” he said.
In Washington I talked to Democratic Senator William Fulbright, of
Arkansas, who is afraid of what is happening to American public life. I sat in a committee room while he and his colleagues heard testimony from Morris Ernst, the brilliant New Deal lawyer from New York who had come to give testimony which might help solve the problem.
Later, Fulbright talked to me in the crowded Senate gallery. “This is the trouble as I see it,” he said: “Morality is becoming synonymous with legality and we’re apt to think if a thing’s within the law it’s perfectly all right. In that committee room we were examining a resolution to set up a nonpartisan commission —something like one of your royal commissions—to consider the ethical conduct of public business. I don’t know exactly how this commission will work and I recognize the fact that you can’t legislate morality. But I think it is needed, not because government is any more corrupt than it was, say, in the time of Harding, but it’s so big now and enters into the lives of all of us to such a great degree (and I don’t think this degree will lessen for some time to come) that we should pay more attention to how government is run. If we don’t we just won’t get the best men in the country into it. And we need them more than ever before.”
In Oak Ridge, the town the atom built in the green mountains of Tennessee, Tom and Louise Brockett and their baby Tommy live in one of five types of government houses for fortyfive dollars a month, listen to a diskjockey spin a show called Up and Atom over Station WATO in the mornings and never speak about the work Tom does in the secret plants over the hill.
“I have no idea what my husband does,” said Mrs. Brockett. “None of the wives know what their husbands do and of course you just don’t ask. It isn’t as much of a strain on a woman’s curiosity, once you accept it, as you might imagine.”
Once when the conversation swung in the direction of nuclear fission Tom spoke up quickly, like that character in a play who bounces on stage and enquires brightly “Anyone for tennis?” Only Tom said, “Have you got Hadacol in Canada?” This is a patent medicine which has made a fortune for its publicity-minded sponsor. The deliberate non-sequitur served its purpose as a conversational road block.
Louise had one more word on the atom age. “I sometimes wonder,” she said, “if we did the right thing bringing little Tommy into a world like this.” Her husband scoffed gently. “You don’t stop living because the world’s in a mess. You go on.”
Bob Burns, a public relations man of Phoenix, Ariz., had the same nameless fear of the future, which seems to be a modern malaise. He said: “I
never thought I would do this but sometimes I look back at the depression years as the good old days. I always seemed to have money then. Not much, but enough. Now I sometimes have the feeling of being on a raft that’s caught in a strong stream. The only thing to do is work and live from day to day.”
Roger Dixon got off the train forty years ago in the Texas cowtown of Bowie, at the end of a trip from England, wearing stiff hot English clothes and carrying a set of golf clubs. The cowpokes outside Bob’s Hotel stifled their amusement and the bank manager put him up for six weeks until he got squared away. Now he is one of the biggest cotton merchants in the biggest cotton-producing area in the world.
Looking back, in his office in the Cotton Exchange Building in Dallas, he told me: “I think we’ve grown lazy.
This inflation could be licked if we worked forty-four hours a week and produced more instead of just forty hours. As for the Russians, well, they’re fanatics. Capitalists are fanatics too, I guess, and we aren’t going to change each other. But unless we can persuade them to get back inside their own country there is real danger of a war.”
Alton Phillips was washing his car in the backyard of his small white house in Kilgore, Texas, in the shadow of one of the oil derricks that are more numerous than lampposts in the downtown area of this capital of the East Texas field. His small son Tony was playing on the lawn. Alton sells washing machines and was a Seabee in the Iasi war.
‘Sure I’m worried about the state
of things,” he said. “A man would be a fool not to be. But I’ll tell you I’m not reading any more about it than I can help. My reading these days is all planned to improve myself.” He reads books on salesmanship with titles like Think and Grow Rich and How to Turn Failure into Success. But even with the assurance he gets from his reading he’s worried about business prospects.
“At the first of this year there was so much talk of shortages that business was good, almost too good. I don’t know what’s going to happen if they reach an armistice in Korea. Don’t misunderstand me; I’m not afraid of peace breaking out, but what happens to business when these dislocations come along?” he said.
Everywhere I heard complaints about high prices and what a short shopping list did to a ten-dollar bill. In Los Angeles most of the people I talked to were parents and their concern seemed to centre on raising their children safely. They talked of the problems raised by girls maturing socially, if not biologically, at an early age and having regular dates as young as thirteen. I saw a clipping from an advice column in which a girl asked for counsel. She had been going with this fellow for four years and now she found she no longer loved him. She was eighteen.
Last Week, a Miner Died
One father, who is no sensationalist, assured me that the dope traffic among high-school children had not been misrepresented and said you could buy narcotics in or near any high school in town.
The phenomenal increase in Los Angeles’ population—more than a million during the war years alone, bringing it face-to-face with a threatened water shortage and a fantastic traffic problem - is just one of the signs of dramatic change in U. S. living.
The years have brought prosperity and pushed back the spectre of the Thirties in the Red River Valley, which Jim Baccus, secretary of the North
Dakota Farm Bureau in Fargo, described as the richest valley in the world “including the Nile.” One farmer who had to take a job as a school janitor during the Thirties so his family could eat was now worth a quarter of a million dollars.
“The North Dakota farmer is one of the economic aristocrats of the nation,” he said. “About ninety percent of the farm homes are electrified and the average per-unit income is about nine thousand dollars. They take their holidays in Florida and Bermuda. They’re just getting paid for what they didn’t make during the bad years.” He felt improved farming methods would fend off another major disaster even if dry years came again.
Times have changed too in the coalmining town of Pocahontas, Va., where I talked to Glenn Boone. When he started to work underground at the age of seventeen a miner got $4.80 a day. Now with the help of John L. Lewis they get $16 a day for a fortyhour week.
“My girl’s dad started underground when he was nine,” said Glenn. “He’s been mining for forty-seven years.” Now the mine’s almost “robbed out” and recently the miners had been working only three days a week.
“Don't let anyone tell you it’s a cinch to be a miner,” he said. “I always ask people who talk like that how they would like to work underground. Safety is better than it used to be but you never know if you’re coming back up. We had a man killed last week.”
“When we were on strike the last time some of the merchants over in Bluefield were against us. If it weren’t for the miners that town wouldn’t exist.
I can’t understand their attitude. Well, those new seat covers on my car came from the mail order and I’m not the only one,” he said.
Cecil Gravely, who lives in a fiveroom company house, with the plumbing outside, for which he pays three dollars a room told me Pocahontas (Pop. 3,000) has changed, too — for the worse. “Now there’s nothing to do here. Not even a ball game,” he said.
The Freedom Train Didn’t Call
Segregation of colored and white people (Negroes have their own restaurants, washrooms and churches) is still legal in the south but the social pattern has changed in the last ten years. The integration program of the Army and the influence of labor unions in removing wage differentials has had a lot to do with it. Not long ago in Atlanta Dr. Ralph Bunche was given an honor escort of motorcycles on a visit.
“That couldn’t have happened a few years back,” said R. C. Johnson, colored principal of Parker, the largest Negro high school in the world, when 1 spent some time with him and his family in Birmingham, Ala.
“My greatest fear,” said Johnson,
“is that as the Negroes receive greater opportunities they will not be trained and prepared to accept them and such a failure would strengthen the arguments of those who say they do not deserve them. Negroes will never resort to violence to get what they want, but there is a growing restlessness among the younger people who are not content with their old lot. The picture of the idle contented Negro with his hat over his eyes, asking for nothing and getting nothing, is being rapidly outmoded even as a. myth.”
Birmingham has a population of three hundred and twenty-four thousand, of which a little fewer than half are colored. Negroes have one swim-
ming pool and inadequate playground facilities and these shortcomings lead to juvenile delinquency, said Johnson. “Even if we had the attendance officers to bring them in we couldn’t handle all the Negro children at our school. We’re asking for more schools.”
Mrs. Johnson introduced me to their daughters, Barbara, nine, and Alma, thirteen. The night before she had a party for Alma and her friends in their backyard. “Many of the parents came by and said how they wished they could have a party too, hut they didn’t have the room,” she said. “That is one of the biggest problems Negro families face. If they don’t want to go to the colored theatres—and they aren’t very attractive— they must depend on the home for their amusement. Where the home is inadequate or not congenial trouble begins.”
Both Johnsons are active in their church, which is for Negroes only and Mrs. Johnson is one of two Negroes on the National Board of Home Missions and the only Negro woman. She told me how, when the Freedom Train was scheduled for Birmingham, local authorities insisted on segregation of lines. The people running the train refused to bring it on those conditions, so Birmingham didn’t see the train.
In the same city I talked to Charles Fell, of the News, who said: “Many people in the north do not give any southerners credit for being liberal or progressive in their thinking about race. Many are working to right ancient wrongs but even the Negro leaders agree it would be unwise to move too quickly. Some of our critics confuse social equality with social justice. We want social justice for our colored people.”
I talked to Mrs. Mabel Bonner, a colored housewife in Fort Worth, and asked her why she didn’t move north. “Oh, I know I wouldn’t have to ride in the back of buses, but you get used to that,” she said. “I’m afraid I’d freeze to death up north. Besides, I’m a Texan. I’m proud of Texas and I want to stay here.” She said many Negroes preferred to stay in the south where they knew the rules, stern as they were.
Maggie’s a Government Girl
With blood and bravery the Japanese-Americans have won for themselves a place in the changing U. S. that is proud and secure. I walked along Seattle’s First Avenue, the street where seafaring men make a home away from home in the burleycue theatre, taverns, cafes (two eggs any style 25 cents) shops (hockproof watches $1.69), down to the market district and talked to men from the Japanese - American 442nd Combat Team, the outfit that won three thousand Purple Hearts and a big reputation in World War Two. Recently Van Johnson made a movie about them called “Go for Broke.”
“Some of the boys have seen it four times,” said Sam Kozu, who runs a wholesale produce firm. His brothers, in the firm with him, were both in the 442nd. He went back to school to be taught by a Caucasian how to speak Japanese. Sam was an interpreter with Intelligence.
The war years redistributed the population with a sweeping hand. Maggie Halden went to Washington from Seattle in 1940 to become a government girl, is now with the State Department.
“I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the coast to live. Seattle was spoiled for me during the war when I went back; it was an embarkation town. Besides I’m going to get married and live here,” she said. She said a good typist can get thirty-one hundred a year to start in Washington.
She lives by herself in the same apartment she has had since 1945 and where the rent is controlled. When she first came to the capital she rented a house in Maryland and brought in five other girls. They did all the work themselves and the experiment worked so well that when two of them got married the others carried on.
“I play the piano and go swimming for relaxation. Sometimes I go out to a driving range with my boy friend but he hasn’t let me play a game of golf yet,” she said.
What’s Funny About Brooklyn?
Merri Holway, who comes from Youngstown, Ohio, has been in Washington for seven years and the population of government girls has changed constantly in that time, she observed.
“Some of them don’t like it and go home. Others, the lucky ones, get married,” she said. Sure, she would like to get married but right now she is too busy taking care of her ailing parents, who have moved to Washington, to think much about it.
Mrs. Walter Truslow was born in Brooklyn in a more gracious day when the borough was a city and had its own mercantile might, long before it became part of New York and a legend which she thinks is false and a little distasteful.
“It’s time people knew Brooklyn had something more than a tree and the Dodgers,” she told me in her apartment on Remsden Street, a street which retains the brownstone stoops of another day. Her husband, a retired orthopedic surgeon, helped her to recall the names of the famous families who were Brooklyn before it became a great manufacturing centre and before the throngs of immigrants came over Brooklyn Bridge to run its machines.
“People forget, if they ever knew, that Brooklyn has produced many men and women of culture. Now it’s become a bad joke on the radio,” she said sadly.
Once a man wondered if farming was worth it, but with the coming of electrification, good roads and better prices the life of a farmer is a good one. Willard Colwell, who lives out old Highway 50 near Emporia, Kan., wishes he were as lucky fishing as he has been farming.
“I might have done better somewhere else but I doubt it,” he told me. He bought an additional piece of land for $18,500 and has paid for it with four years’ wheat crops.
In the winters he and Mrs. Colwell go to California. He likes to make two-dollar bets at Santa Anita. The j farm is electrified, of course, and life | is a lot different from a few years ago. j He worries, though, about prices. “I j don’t know how much longer the | consumer can take it. He’s the fellow j who buys all this stuff we grow, you know.”
The Harpers, of Emporia, Kan., are like many another young family whose roots of home have been plucked up almost before they had a chance to get a grip. During the last war Mrs. ¡ Harper lived in rooming houses around j the country trying to keep close to her ! husband Leroy wherever he was stationed. That was before their son Mel I was born, of course. But now' he has j been recalled to service and while they | have a house to go to at his assignment | in Lexington, Mo., they are on the j move again.
Before oil was discovered in the frontyard of Mrs. Lou Della Grim in | December 1930, Kilgore was a small j Texas agricultural community having | a tough time with the depression. Now j it’s the capital of the East Texas oil j field and Liggett Grim, one of Lou ! Della’s sons, is one of the twenty-five
millionaires in this town of ten thousand.
The downtown district of Kilgore, where Liggett owns the theatres and the hotel, bristles with derricks. When they found oil on the site of the Presbyterian Church they moved the church to a new location.
How’re Things in Sauk Center?
The day I was talking to Liggett in his home, valued at a quarter of a million dollars, and set in a six-acre estate, he was planning a party for the evening. Invitations had gone out to three hundred and fifty guests to eat
FOOTNOTE FOR WHAT IT MAY BE WORTH
[Tu Anyone Contemplating Tyranny]
The moon is still inviolate.
The stars secure,
The sun is punctual, to date,
The winds endure:
And bird is born of feathered bird,
And soil" of song;
Unalterably, a robin beard By Caesar’s throng,
Sang every jetted cadence then,
As now, and verse;
In spite of violence by men The Universe Wheels on!
—Martha Banning Thomas
barbecued chicken prepared by a dozen cooks under the lamplit trees.
Life has changed, too, in that prototype of the U. S. small town, Sauk Center, Minn., the birthplace and the burial place of Sinclair Lewis, who used it as his model when he wrote his Nobel Prize novel Main Street.
Joe Jackson, the jeweler, who has lived here since he got out of the regular army in 1928, doubts if he and his wife could have chosen a better place to make their home, his business and raise their son and daughter.
He bought his house in 1931 for $400 down and he didn’t see how he was ever going to pay the rest of the $2,200 price. It was a tough time to be starting up in business but he was a watchmaker and a good one and he and his wife worked hard. Their daughter is married now to a doctor in Duluth and the boy is a lieutenant commander in the navy after having received an appointment to Annapolis.
“I sometimes wonder,” Joe mused, “if I could have done better anywhere elsein a big town perhaps. I doubt it. Small-town life (Sauk Center now boasts three thousand people) is a lot better than when Lewis wrote about it. If we want a change we can get in the car and drive into the city (Minneapolis) for dinner. Yes, I’d say all in all we’ve been pretty happy here.”
The people of Sauk Center were once angry with novelist Lewis, but today the movie theatre is called Main Street, the Chamber of Commerce carries a facsimile of the book jacket on its letterhead and describes itself in its literature as The Original Main Street.
“You have no idea what Sinclair Lewis has done for this town,” Harold
Lund, secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, told me in his office on Main Street. “People come from all over the world to see this place. And many of them are Canadians. They seem to be interested in Lewis.”
Lewis did more than bring some tourists to Sauk Center. He made it, through his art, the essence of all American small towns. You’re aware of this when you come to it and the people who live here are aware of it. Sauk Center has become Main Street in the way that a bird, which was only a bird, became a skylark after Shelley wrote about it. It has become Main Street the way a city in France became Paris after countless writers laved it with prose as purple as wine.
At the Palmer House they remember Lewis with his black moods, and his unhandsome face inflamed by a skin infection since early youth. Jim Morgan remembers him as a “spasmatic” drinker. Main Street made little impression although a Nobel prize committee was later to regard it highly.
“What did it tell you?” he asked. “Took you into every house on Main Street. So what? I know all those houses.” His favorite is Elmer Gantry.
A Nameless Man in the Rain
Chuck Rathe, a Pacific war veteran who with his father runs the Herald, met Lewis when he came back to Sauk Center to address, of all things, a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce.
“I had talked to him when he was here,” said Rathe. “And I got the feeling that Lewis, the man who won his reputation for hating small towns, really loved them. He was sorry for them and feared for the welfare of the people who lived in them because of their limited cultural and social advantages. His dream for them was that each would become a little Athens.”
It was raining the evening I arrived in Boston toward the end of my visit with the people next door. I took refuge under a tree ( Ulmus Americana) on Boston Common when I was caught in a particularly heavy downpour and just before the waterproofing wore off the leaves and I had to run for it I had a visitor.
He wouldn’t give me his name when he found out I was a reporter but if it will help to identify him he wore, in addition to the regular decent Bostonian garb, one of those light-striped jackets favored by New Englanders in the summer. He said he came from Connecticut and was pleased to meet someone from Canada.
“I come from British stock and my ancestors fought the British and beat them,” he said. “But, I must say that the world has been in a mess ever since the British stopped running it. There’s a man called E. B. White who’s always saying in the New Yorker that we should abandon our sovereignty as nations. That’s all very well but the wrong people are abandoning it and this business of the weakening of the British Empire is the worst thing that could happen to all of us because this country certainly isn’t ready to take over. Goodnight.” if
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