The picture sticks in the mind, the mobile home park after the hurricane went through, the boxes scattered, the tide of flotsam and wreckage, trees blown down by 145 mph winds, a former paradise become a moonscape of destruction, and how will they ever put it all back together? It’ll take years. And many of the occupants were elderly. Do they now go back north to live with their children? Has the loss put them in a funk for the next three years? What can be done?
I recall my dad’s love of his Florida mobile home after he fell off a barn roof in Minnesota and fractured his skull and got bad sinus problems that made winter unbearable. He took Mother to Florida to live in a trailer. They had a canopy over a little terrace where they sat in the shade and ate supper. He read about Minnesota blizzards with some satisfaction and I don’t recall him worrying about hurricanes. Both of them are gone now but I look at the pictures and imagine flying down to Florida to rescue my parents.
They were cheerful people, came of age during the Depression, went through the War, built a house in the country, had six kids whom Dad worked two jobs to support, and I cannot remember them ever complaining. And I imagine that, even in the midst of wreckage, they’d still be cheerful. They’d say, “Well, we’ve been meaning to downsize anyway.”
I inherited my cheerfulness from them. I’m an easy-going guy. I go through the scanner and the TSA guy says he needs to pat down my inner thighs, I don’t report him for sexual aggression, I pretend it isn’t happening. I hear people misuse “that” and “which” or “lay” and “lie” and I don’t correct them, certainly not in the airport anyway. If I saw that someone’s hair was on fire, I would give up my own double latte to douse the flames and not ask four bucks in compensation. It’s how I was brought up.
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I look at the upcoming midterm election and I see candidates running for Congress who believe that gravity is a hoax and Caesar salad dressing causes strokes and the CIA caused Ian using Infrared Atmospheric Nuclei and the polls show them ahead and come January we may have a House with a large Dementia Caucus, but I am not dismayed. Call me a fool but I believe the old amiable America I’ve known is still functioning.
I believe that if you want to see America clearly, don’t read the paper, go to a state fair. I only know the one in Minnesota but when I went in August, I didn’t see a Proud Boys booth or militiamen with AR-15s walking around the Midway. I saw people eating deep-fried cheese curds and looking at pigs the size of VWs and riding on something like a giant salad spinner while screaming. They inspected giant John Deere tractors and Caterpillar dozers and displays of championship quilts and art made by gluing seeds to plywood, and in all the milling around and waiting in line and consumption of animal fats, I detected no polarization, no civil strife, just great cheerfulness on a sunny summer day. The gentleman serving up milkshakes in the Dairy Building was quite affable though it was the ninth day of the Fair, nine days of mixing shakes; he said, “So how’s your day going then?” “Never better,” I said.
His sentence, beginning with “So” and ending with “then,” told me that he’s a native Minnesotan, not a Canadian, not a Floridian. And his “so” had a distinctive Minnesota elongation of the “o,” which I like.
I worry about Minnesota, looking at Europe where fascism raises its head in France and Italy and Sweden, countries with large percentages of non-natives. It’s a fact. People are wary of being outnumbered at home. America has been the exception, proud of being a nation of immigrants. Minnesota has growing populations of Hispanics, Hmong, Somali, Ethiopians. They don’t pronounce that “o” the way we natives do but we admire their spirit, having escaped dreadful conditions, who now want simply to live in peace and raise their families.
They bring a spirit of cheerfulness that is thoroughly American and will prevail. Today is a new day. Put yesterday’s mistakes behind us and the darker aspects of American history, and let us meet as equals and do our best for each other. And don’t forget to rake your leaves and pick up after your dog. That is all. Thanks for reading.