The Old Scout

The Land of the Free and the Home of the Berries
June 28, 2005

These summer days when strawberries are in their prime seem to bring out the kindness in people. You bring home a little carton of hand-selected berries and wash the best one and pop it in your wife's mouth and this is a statement of tenderness. Tenderness and stubbornness make for a good marriage and marriage is the true test of character—to make a good life with your best critic. You have many critics but your spouse is by far the best-informed of all of them.

I favor marriage between people whose body parts are not similar. I'm sorry, but same-sex marriage seems timid, an attempt to save on wardrobe and accessories. Marrying somebody from your team. Still, it's probably good for them to have to fight for the right to marry. My parents eloped against strong opposition from both families and they were in love for the rest of their lives and held hands and were tender on into their eighties. Of course they always had fresh strawberries.

The honeybees are enjoying their six weeks of life until their wings wear out and they drop dead, and we humans feel the transitory nature of life, too. Summer is brief up here in St. Paul. Fresh sweet corn has a short season. You boil up a few ears and you say, "God is great and God is good. And we thank him for this food. Let this meal to us be blest. And now I think I'll skip the rest. Let's eat. Amen." And you slather the corn with butter and salt it and eat it blissfully, row by row, left to right, hit carriage return, next line. And you think that this is the first of many corn feasts.

But it isn't. You're busy. Events press on you. The weeks pass and suddenly it's September and corn is over for the year and those ears are all you'll get. This happens again and again in life. Your friends sit in your back yard one night drinking beer and singing old songs, and you say, "Let's do this again sometime." And you never do. You promise yourself you're going to return to that great stretch of river in Montana and it doesn't happen.

Politics is transitory, too. The big huffers and woofers come and go and the tidal changes they promise don't quite happen. Look at the Conservative Revolution: What did it change? It got us into one reckless war in Iraq and it steered the economy toward the reef, but any fool could have done that, you didn't need a conservative.

On the Fourth, honoring one tidal change that did happen, the adoption of Mr. Jefferson's little peroration against the King, you sit in the shade and think of America at its best, a generous and redemptive land, an amiable people. A nation of optimistic sentimental humorists. Europeans can be shocked at how instantly friendly we can be with people we don't know. We meet strangers over a cup of coffee and suddenly we're telling about the crazy uncle who ran off with the church secretary. We rally to help people we never met. Amiability is the basis of civil politics: You don't cheat people you like, you don't abuse people who might become your friends.

That's the America I know, the nation of Rotarians and Methodists and generous teachers and parents, and then there's the other one, the angry freeways and the inhuman office parks and the angry radio and the greasy TV, the media America that seems to be gaining on us, but the old amiable America lives on. You can find it this summer at the state fair where people come to view pigs the size of Volkswagens and eat deep-fried broccoli and ride inside something like a salad spinner and look at a threshing machine and see a two-headed calf. There are blue-ribbon pies and bushels of apples and you can walk around and look at your fellow Americans perspiring in their shorts and t-shirts.

Meeting people, it seems that more and more when you ask them, "What do you do?" they don't have a simple answer. There are fewer farmers and machinists and welders and many more people in various forms of information technology and manipulation. Fewer ministers and more executive assistant vice presidents in charge of organizational resource imaging. This is troubling. But somebody must have grown these strawberries, and they are at their prime now, and we should enjoy them fully. The ones in September aren't nearly so good.

© 2005 by Garrison Keillor. All rights reserved. Distributed by Tribune Media Services, INC.


From the Desk of Garrison Keillor

Garrison Keillor
Photo by Cheryl Walsh Bellville


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