Spring Rushing Waters Moon
My cousin, Diane, lives in San Francisco. Born near and raised in Morristown, Indiana, my mother’s hometown, she’s returning to the heartland for a visit. For a month. I told her a month would be long time in Indiana for me. She’s going several different places in the Midwest to see family, friends. Her recent retirement makes this possible. She’ll probably organize a small reunion of the first cousins, a tribe of which there are still many in the Hoosier State.
My siblings and I have been gone from there a long, long time. Most of our adult lives. I left first in 1969, moving to Appleton, Wisconsin. Mary after taking a job on a campus of I.U. in Kuala Lumpur. Mark later to Bangkok. Not sure when Diane left for San Francisco. Our cousin Leisa moved to the Detroit area when she married Bob. The rest remain.
Though I was born in Duncan, Oklahoma, we left there when I was under 2 years old, so Indiana was the first home I really knew and I stayed in state through college, leaving shortly after I finished my senior year. A short sojourn in another small Indiana town, Connersville, then gone.
If you grow into radical politics, Indiana is a tough place. It has a strong and unfortunate Klan history, with an openly Klan U.S. Senator and Governor being elected there in the early part of the 20th century. It remains unfriendly to those with differences, especially at the political level. Mike Pence, for example, is the former governor of Indiana.
It’s mostly farms and factories, though manufacturing, much of it supply chain work for the old Detroit, has declined a lot since my youth there. The factories have a complicated legacy. They attracted many from Dixie, white and black, folks from Appalachia, too. Though many of them voted for George Wallace during his abortive run for President, they also joined unions. In particular, the United Auto Workers. As long as the factories were strong and the UAW powerful, Indiana often turned out liberal Democrats for Congress.
As Detroit lost its grip on auto sales, the factories went dark, putting the children of that Southern and Appalachian diaspora out of work and back into desperate times. Poverty is the enemy of social progress in so many ways, not the least of it being the competition for work among folks of different backgrounds. Race being the most volatile difference of all. Indiana is now Trump country. He got 60% of the vote in 2016. Hillary only 37.
Warm memories. Family reunions in James Whitcomb Riley park in Greenfield. Visiting the farm in Morristown. Eating at the Copper Kettle and the Bluebird Cafe there. That sugar cream pie and Aunt Mary’s fried chicken. Basketball games in high school. That one time we won the sectional, beating much larger Anderson. Decoration Day parades with tanks and bands and baton twirlers. The 500 mile race. The preparation month. The time trials. Race day. Visiting New Harmony as an adult.
Mostly conflicted memories. Mom’s early death. Estrangement from Dad. An outsiders life in high school even if I was popular. Awkward times with girls and later women. The knuckle dragging politics, racial and gender attitudes. Early stages of alcoholism. It was not clear to me until I moved to Minneapolis how much I had missed by living in a culture poor section of the country.
I love my cousins and the times we’ve had together, as I did my aunts and uncles, all now dead. But the conflict between progressive politics, an educated appreciation of the arts and the reality of Hoosier culture was too much for me. Still is.
Anyhow, have a good trip, Diane.