Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Letters to My Elders

An attempt at consolidating my first twenty five years

Papa Ron
Thank you for being my friend. Much of who I am is because of the stories you've shared. I recognize the cultural importance of agriculture, as well as its intrinsic and health benefits. From the ranch in Wyoming, you were molded into a hard worker and a fickle spender. After some time in Los Alamos, the Cold War era defense industries brought your family to Southern California. However, as soon as you had a chance to return to the field, the city could not keep you in its denigrating trap. In Hauxton, CO, you ruled your homestead with an iron fist. There were no second chances and when the ice streaked across a gray sky, the piglets shared blankets with your children. As much as they recall your lack of child rearing tact, you were a good father. The time you ran three miles to the doctor's with my mother in your arms after she was hit by a car illustrates this. You taught your children the values of hard work and self-sufficiency. You gathered to celebrate with your neighbors and to share the heavy equipment that was too expensive for all to own. These values have been, in turn, instilled in me. Self-determination is libertarianism; and for that, I thank you.
After the Whelty's siphoned as much as your profits as they could, you called it quits. And although I will say you should not have carried a hate for grandma and her family this long, you knew when you were being taken advantage of and suckered. You taught me that love is conditional and that, in this life, we must depend on ourselves alone. After leaving the farm, you returned to the burgeoning, suburban metropolis of greater Los Angeles. As much as it pains you still, nearly half a century later, you remade your home in the sterile boxes beautified with yellowing lawns. You embody the value of sacrifice. The water company treated you well, but you remained a cautionary consumer and have a comfort in retirement to which many cannot relate.
You gave me my passion for history and geography. While many students choose distant lands to study, I find an insatiable interest in the American West. The rivers wind their courses; the cattle graze. Our movie nights, in which I've seen more westerns than I can count, sparked much of this interest. I recognize that farming is difficult and not hugely profitable, but I also know that there is nothing I'd like to do more with my life. The beautiful simplicity of life on the land still sparkles in your eyes. But, you've become restless. And soon I hope your spirit returns on the prairie wind to rustle the cornfields, to embrace the beauty of the West, and to inspire the romantic awe of subsequent generations, as you have with me.
Nana Rosalie
You are a character. And there isn't as much to say about you... You typify the same generation and you can count the decades on your wrinkled face. I think that what I will take from you is your sense of ownership of the self. You seized your destiny. You made mistakes, but you live with those as a guide, and in your own unique way, have passed those lessons on to me.
Grandma Marjorie and Grandpa Earl
You epitomize the nuclear family of the post war years, which is why I than you together). Just as Tom Brokaw writes of ordinaries in the Greatest Generation, I do not see yours as an entirely different story. Although we have an emotional rift, because in your culturally conservative ethos a blood relation is stronger than one on paper, I value the lessons you have taught me indirectly through my father.
The Depression taught important lessons in frugality. You represent a purer American mind in the years before planned obsolescence. In turn, I have found that "quality over quantity" to guide has led me to an appropriate place in the consumer culture of the early twenty-first century. The psychological and sociological benefits of a strong family bond radiates from the home you've built. The need for patience and discipline, enforced through a naval career, is clearly evident in your attitude.
Grandma represents the last generation of matriarchs, because somewhere in the rat race, women began to value career over family. You ruled why he was at sea. And without your guidance, my father would not be the man he is.
Josh Wilson
You fueled my smoldering interest in history and geography. You chose a hands-on approach to education, and much of my academic success can be attributed to you. The Odyssey was more than a service-learning event, it opened my eyes to the larger world, and although it took another few years of maturity to come to fruition, I believe that the Odyssey was my birth as an individual. You never encouraged conformity and anyone that knows me can attest to my vehement self-expression.
Mr. Hickman
You taught that every education must be holistic. You also, subconsciously or not, taught me to question everything that I read or hear in the media. Where the public education system lacks any clear plan to develop critical thinking skills, you did a superior job. As well, you told me to chase what I love and not concern myself with career goals. Enlightenment, it seems, is an education's purpose.
Dr. Brady
Of course. You were more than a teacher; you are a friend. You allowed me to explore geographic inquiry and constantly encouraged me to dig further. You entertained my questions and were honest. You made me love what I studied.
Dr. Matray
Although our tenure was a brief three months, I will never lose what I gained in that little room in Butte Hall. You took everything I had learned and made sense of it. You challenged me as a writer and thinker, and your timing was impeccable, as I had begun to grow tired of 'learning'. You carried a certain air of majesty about you, but you spoke to me, not as a student, but as a colleague. And that only encouraged me more. Thank you for your kind words about my writing. It only encouraged me to continue to write when I otherwise would have liked to give up. Your sense of humor also eased the transition from student of history to practitioner. 
As if I can ever seem more dramatic and weighed by nostalgia, I felt the necessity of committing some thoughts to print. I often reflect on my early years and try to make sense of them. I've said it before, but here is the closest I've come. It will take many more years. And many more mentors and family will continue to shape who I am. We are a dynamic species. Just as the snow and wind change the shape of a rock, so to do the people, ideas, and experiences on their journey shape the stubborn from Birth to Death. And just as I am shaped, and the rock is shaped, these words will change as I become aware of other impacts these people have had on me.
Friday, 22 AUG 2008

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