|Change and the American Character
My family hails from the South... I mean from way back. They came from the slums of Middlesex, London, and after a generation in Ireland,
they boarded a boat to the Virginian colony, whether voluntarily or not. The next generation then squatted in the Bladen swamps of North
Carolina, and the next generation after that moved further southwest to the foothills in upcountry Alabama. From there, the next
generation dove south to Natchez, Mississippi, then 30 years later north to Shreveport, then 30 years after that my father was born in Fort
I'm mentioning this not because I'm a genealogist (I gleaned all this information from other family historians who are far more interested
than I am), but because I'm fascinated by what makes America tick. And that tick seems to be movement and change.
Aboriginal Americans moved around, often for trade purposes or, in the case of Plains tribes, to follow food sources. African Americans,
once freed from the bounds of slavery, sought freedom through courage by traveling to northern cities, joining cattle drives and the army,
or simply by traveling to the southern schools under hostile conditions. Poor whites, like my family, constantly searched for better
Americans are a people with itchy feet. It doesn't matter where their families originate, or how they got here... each generation is on the
go, looking for greener pastures and better opportunities. Living in a country that was founded and shaped by these restless people
makes me see how much the US culture invokes this spirit of moving.
Often, it's the physical landscape that reflects this quest for finding something better "just around the corner." Think of the many
abandoned cemeteries that scatter around haphazardly. In Europe, cemeteries tend to be associated with a long-standing church, and the
congregation takes care of them. Not so in the US...families buried their dead on their own plots of land and then, when the next
generation moved on, those graves stood forgotten and overgrown. Entire towns lived and died with the tide and ebb of economy and
location. Certain cities grow, while others are barely holding on. Some schools are bursting at the seams, and others sport boards over
their windows and doors. Buildings that once defined a community are torn down for newer construction that can be renamed by current
movers and shakers. Big factories sit shuttered. Rail lines and roads become weed-strewn scars on the landscape as newer commercial
byways change how towns function - think of industrial loops and interstates.
Our cultural legacy is constantly changing, too. Our history has had many wrongs - slavery, forced Indian removal, segregation and racism
- and on the whole, Americans address these issues bit by bit so that my son sees people in various shades of brown, not black or white.
My grandmother canned her fruits and vegetables, but I need to look up how to do that on the internet, and "foodies" are "rediscovering"
recipes that thirty years ago were considered everyday fare. We fill our homes – in which most of us will not grow old - with things that are
cheap and easy, not necessarily long-lasting. Shoot, we think a phone or computer is obsolete when they're over a year old...
I'm not writing from the perspective of a high horse here, either. I'm part of this legacy of change. During the Great Depression of the
1930s, my grandmother, who lived in San Angelo, saved enough money to buy 12 acres and a grocery store in Red River County, Texas.
Years later, my mom and stepdad built a cottage on the land, the store having been abandoned long ago. Now, my mother has to sell the
house and land that's been in our family for three generations because my sister and I live and work in big cities, and we're not willing to
While the United States is a young country, relatively speaking, and is still defining itself, the definition seems to be one of transience. Our
geography and culture reflect that. Maybe this perspective will lessen as the nation grows older, with fewer opportunities to start anew.
Or maybe we'll just continue to blaze new trails and leave our old worlds behind, whether that is in a new location, or in the fact that we
forget how to bake a pie from scratch, or just because we're always searching for who we are - when in fact, change is who we are.
|Although tons of coal still populate the ground underneath Thurber, changing economies made the town - and its industries- obsolete.
|When people move away, towns die, and the dead become even more dead, like here in Boggy Depot.
|The Hornets of Gotebo done flew away after the school was shuttered.