It was a beautiful Labor Day weekend in famous Ferguson. The temperature dropped and I took the opportunity to retire to the front porch after dinner. The katydids, crickets and tree frogs were in fine form, serenading me with the background murmurs of the cars running up and down Elizabeth Avenue. The air had a hint of autumn, a foreshadowing of seasons to come. The trees in our neighborhood had long abandoned their frivolous bright green hues of spring and donned more somber shades of deep green with hints of brown. The maids of May Day had become dowagers in just a few short months.
Earlier that day, I sat on the same porch, finished reading a book and laid it on the table in front of me. It was Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. When I decided to change the focus and name of this blog to “Poppy Walks the Dog”, I thought the least I could do was review some real writers who had a focus on dogs.
James Thurber was the first to come to mind, His “Snapshot of a Dog” remains one of my favorites. If you are not familiar with Thurber, check out his writings and cartoons.
Steinbeck was next on the list. It has probably been 25 years since I first read, Travels with Charley. It recounts Steinbeck’s 1960 lap around America, with his dog, Charley. The motivation was in Steinbeck’s words, “To find our what Americans are like today.” Like many of Steinbeck’s writings, it is both melancholy and hopeful. His journey was around the edges of the United States and encompassed nearly 10,000 miles.
What are Americans like today?
As one little guy sitting in the heartland, with my own perspectives and prejudices, I’m not qualified to answer that. We are certainly more diverse than we were in 1960. Our technology has certainly changed. We are blessed/cursed to have the internet and social media. We have the ability to be petty much more efficiently than in 1960.
Are we more divided? The media keeps telling us how we are such a divided nation. We are certainly just as political. Part of Steinbeck’s journey took him back to his hometown of Monterey, California, where he had time to spend with his sisters. This was against the backdrop of the upcoming presidential election, pitting Kennedy against Nixon.
Civil war is supposed to be the bitterest of wars, and surely family politics are the most vehement and venomous. I can discuss politics coldly and analytically with strangers. That was nor possible with my sisters. We ended each session panting and spent with rage. On no point was there any compromise. No quarter was asked or given.
Each evening we promised, “Let’s just be friendly and loving. No politics tonight.” And ten minutes later we would be screaming at each other. “John Kennedy was a so and so …”
“Well, if that’s your attitude, how can you reconcile Dick Nixon?”
“You talk like a Communist.”
“Well you sound suspiciously like Genghis Khan.”
It was awful. A stranger hearing us would have called the police to prevent bloodshed. And I don’t think we were the only ones. I believe this was going on all over the country.”
What are Americans like today? Are we better or worse than in 1960?
I believe the answer is a resounding, yes! We are better and worse than in 1960. Part of Steinbeck’s lap of America took him through the deep south at the beginnings of the civil rights movement. Many of those affairs make the recent Charlottesville events look like a Sunday School picnic. We have made a lot of progress since then. We are not perfect, but we are certainly moving in the right direction.
As a race, we humans are fundamentally flawed. We will never be perfect, hate will always be a force to be reckoned with. It won’t matter who we elect or what laws we pass, utopia will never be achieved.
But for tonight, I’m just a guy sitting on his front porch on a Labor Day weekend with his dog and I’m okay with that.