While I was still “up north” as we say, visiting my family in Blackduck, I decided to stop out at each of the grandparents’ places. Some may consider this dull, but it was enlightening. Here’s why:
As if the Fates of blogging were looking down upon me, my time with my old granddads offered fresh examples of our young, Minnesota culture, wonderfully capping this theme and introducing another. This new theme was this: the depth we gain from having relationships with the elders in our society.
This is actually my theme for next time, though you’ll see its footprints in this post. But for this post, I want to keep up the culture bit. Here we go.
Do you remember last week’s post about the county fair and the demolition derby? Yes, America loves its cowboys and competitions. She also loves the smash, crash, sis-boom-bash of colliding cars.
Does America not also love the restoration?
Funny how a day after I saw functioning cars being destroyed, I visited my Grandpa Ferdig and saw this:
And not just functioning, but beautiful. Somehow, these themes are opposing, and yet equally American. There’s just as much a thrill to see a pristine car become a fire-ball as there is to see a humble junker turn into a prize-winner.
I first entered Grandpa’s house and greeted his entryway and den whose own faces greeted me back—those of deer and antlers of caribou, moose, and elk. He went out hunting in Colorado just this last fall as a matter of fact, and at his age, that’s adds optimism to my future of active senior living!
And this activity–the hunting–I think actually best represents Northern Minnesota culture. The Sportsman. For I don’t know another technologically advanced country whose citizens are so connected with nature in the way Americans are.
But for all the antlers on the wall, I’m not convinced the trophies are what drives the activity. And like his old, beat-up truck, I’m not sure it’s the dream of driving it around that gets him going.
Maybe it’s the passion to tinker with gadgets, or to see the beauty and potential in something previously discarded. Perhaps is about reliving the past. Either way, while America loves to smash and destroy, she also loves to build and create. Here’s my Grandpa standing next to something few people in the world would want to claim as theirs:
As American as apple pie, the automobile represents the wide-open spaces and the love to move about them. And in this case, the truck stands as a symbol of Grandpa’s creativity, improvement, and transformation.
Here’s a Studebaker he restored:
So he’s got his restored car, but what does he do? He starts another.
It reveals an American trait that has shaped its progression and growth. It’s in American blood–and literature. It’s the thrill of the journey; the change, the transition, the process rather than the result; the trip, not the destination. It’s what John Steinbeck wrote in “The Red Pony”. (Right, Mrs. Zea?–my 9th grade English teacher.) He wrote that “westering” was the key, not in reaching the Pacific coast.
I think this is what drives America. (I also think it’s what leads to high levels of anxiety and drinking.) But the need to keep active and building something is pronounced in the American culture and psyche.
Even more interesting—-it was the grandfather character saying this to his grandson in “The Red Pony”, if I’m not mistaken.
Thus enter my other grandpa: Mom’s dad, Grandpa Freyholtz. I also paid him a visit while “up north”.
I went to his house and entered the familiar rooms that I remember playing in as a boy. We sat, and of course, Grandma had coffee ready. We sat at the old table that we had played cards on numerous times during holidays.
We chatted about the usual, but I did what I always like to do when I have the chance: hear their story(s). Grandpa’s is interesting because he came from a family of successful farmers in the southern part of the state. He had a nice life scripted out for him, having just got married, had a couple young children, and successful operation. But see, it was this very “certainty” that bothered him.
Though one never knows what life has in store, he also didn’t want a life predicated by what his father and other family were doing.
So he made up his mind to pack up the family in 1965 and head someplace north of Brainerd–he said he liked the evergreens. He wound up just north of Blackduck, situating himself 250 miles away from the life he knew. The soil wasn’t as good, the growing season shorter, and his family wondered why he moved away. But he wanted a life that would be fresh and adventurous.
For better and/or for worse, one thought came into my mind: How American. The same trait that keeps people busy building is the same itch to go places and experience new things.
Then Grandpa said something profound, “I’m a restless spirit”. (What grandfather says that!?) It really struck me because I considered my own travels and my own difficulty fitting into any mold that resembles a “normal” life.
I identified with my Grandpa, but I also sharpened my identity as being a member of a larger group; because I think this is the same spirit that drove the Ingals family of “Little House on the Prairie” from Wisconsin to Kansas, that drove countless Europeans (and Asians, etc.) out of their countries for a new life across the Atlantic (or Pacific).
That I could connect with the words of the old, raspy voice from this elderly man made me realize more than these American cultural identifiers. I realized, through this intimacy, what makes “culture” the powerful, life-giving element it is: it adds meaning to your experience on Earth.
Gee, I guess our nascent culture does have some weight and meaning. And this must be the benefit that keeps other people (Native Americans, Chinese, Jews) attached to the ways of “their people” that I previous thought just a limiting liability.
So from my Granddads came two important lessons in American Culture: restoration and restless spirits. And my connection to them and these traits helped me realize the enhancement when staying connected to those that share your spirit.
to new plateaus,