A not-so old settler

Last Sunday I did services at Wolf Creek and Taylors Falls. Then, I trekked up to Cushing for the Settlers Picnic, an event that began in the 1930’s by people who’d lived out in the Barrens and up in around the Cushing-Wolf Creek area but who’d left the area, mostly because of finances. In the Barrens the soil is poor and farmers who were promised good soil and great crops simply starved out. At any rate, the former residents wanted to reunite and had their first picnics out in what now is State land and unavailable for things like picnics. I was at the first indoor event that has been held ever since in what was Cushing Elementary School and now is the Cushing Community Center. The event is put on now by the Historical Society. Marcie Marquardt moderated the event and I think she is president of the Historical Society.

The audience had enjoyed a lavish potluck so long-windedness was a guarantee of putting 3/4 of the crowd to sleep. These people are the third generation to enjoy the Picnic and many of them–most of them–are getting along in years themselves, so brevity, I thought, would be a virtue. And so I talked about being a “Recovering City Slicker”, about growing up in Hollywood and in the Hollywood Hills, where a boy could take his dog and bow and arrows and have to worry about not much more than poison oak, rattlesnakes and an occasional skunk. I wish I’d mentioned people more, people like Harry Jolson, Al’s brother, and how he could be heard on summer mornings in his bathroom doing vocal scales in that brittle, metallic Jolson voice. I did talk about the Sears Foundation and its semi-trailer that came to Valley View Elementary School to let city kids see a real cow (“That’s where your milk comes from.”) and a chicken (“That’s where we get your eggs.”), (“Feel the wool on the sheep.”) and (“Smell the _____.”) I also talked about being a city kid that was taught in elementary school about contour plowing and windbreaks. I told about the farm on Highway 48 that I’d pass enroute to Birchwood and Exeland where the farmer had plowed up and down the hill, rather than across. Sure enough, within a few years he had a gully there instead of productive land. I observed that windbreaks are disappearing, partly because some trees have died of old age and partly because today’s big machinery demands being able to go edge to edge and trees get in the way and so get cut down. I asked why we seem to learn nothing from history.

I also talked a bit about famous people–and I’ve met many over the years–if they have feet they put on their socks the same way you and I do. I learned early that there is great value in treating every person as–simply–a person, a human being worthy of dignity and respect until we find out otherwise. I talked about the power of money and greed and how I saw the San Fernando Valley go quickly, so quickly that when I left California 50 years ago they were buying up vacant lots to create neighborhood parks. Development had happened so quickly that the idea of a park was not considered or even thought about. I said that we have the luxury here of planning, of thinking about what we want our place on earth to be like. I quoted John Borchert, a retired urban geography professor at the University of Minnesota who told me that if we want to preserve our downtowns, we have to work at it because our society is geared to the automobile and strip malls are a natural result of that. And I observed that the local Historical Society was very important; in much of southern California the old timers and history have gone; development and growth happened so quickly that what was is something few people know.

I had a good time, I ate well and sold a book. There was no time to read a story. Speaking of story, Peter Kwong, who spoke with us in Amery a couple of weeks ago, wrote in this week’s column that my reading of “Snow Job and The Four Dwarfs” was “hilarious” and “the highlight of the evening”. What a nice comment! Kwong also thinks I’m famous; little does he know. One thing I have learned is that it’s one thing to write, another to get published and yet another to get published and get paid for it. Another thing I’ve learned is that people may know you’ve got stories out there but it’s a large leap from knowing about them to reading them, much less paying for the privilege. And that’s true of even my own family, which is disappointing.

Enough for today. We had heavy rain and wind. Blown by the wind, the pontoon managed to shove the dock about two inches to the south. I’ll try to re-align it later this week. It’s 4th of July week and a combination of daily living stuff and an electrician coming, as well as the 51st anniversary of Marina and my first date. Someday I’ll write about that date.