Category Archives: occasional essays

Me and the Automobile (Part 5 of 5)

Back to the Academy

My first trip in the car was to visit my mother at Copeland Oaks senior center in Sebring, Ohio. The first sign that something was amiss was that the car became almost uncontrollable in even the lightest snow. The second was that the 700-mile round trip ground half the tread off one of the front tires, part of a new high-performance set. The alignment shop couldn’t do a thing with it—because, as it turned out, the car had been in a serious accident which had all but severed the principal structural member of the chassis on the driver’s side, and bent the front cross-member on which the engine and front wheel assemblies were mounted. I got the structural member from BMW in Munich and found the cross-member in a U.S. junkyard. The reconstituted car was a wonder. It didn’t seem to run just right until it got up to about 95 mph—and that attracted patrolmen even on what had appeared to be empty highways. I collected more speeding tickets with that car than with all the others combined—all of them while planning calls with colleagues en route to Caterpillar, Growmark, Archer Daniels Midland and other Central Illinois clients or prospects of First Chicago.


When I proposed to the lawyer that we share the cost of the reconstruction—which I thought generous—he claimed to know nothing of the defect. When I wondered how that could be, he fell back on his Black’s law Latin and asked me whether I knew the meaning of caveat emptor. I left his office in silence, realizing that, once again, I had been diddled—and wondering whether I could ever diddle as brazenly, and how I would live with the memory if I did. I had been noticing at about that time that many of the folk I met in the commercial world were much more intently focused on their own particular “business” (as was the lawyer) than was I upon mine. I had been moving toward the conclusion that this was because they assumed that they were in charge of their lives; I knew that fortuna and a karma that I suspected as both fleeting and fragile were in charge of mine. God had not yet reentered the picture, although hints of his second coming (to me) were beginning to show up. In any case, I have ever thereafter really enjoyed bad-lawyer jokes.


The BMW was the first car whose mechanical care and maintenance I relinquished almost entirely to the manufacturer. (I set the valve-stem clearances occasionally, but that was it.) It was also the car that entered me among those of modest means who got round from place to place in really good but necessarily used cars. I left it to Ellie as part of the divorce settlement. I’m not sure she ever drove it; it served, rather, as the first permanent occupant of the parking space we bought when we moved from Gambier to Chicago. Before the BMW, it had become a putative guest space, first come, first served.


The Big Beamer’s successor—a Ford Taurus SHO—was the first brand new car I ever had the use of. I chose it as my “company car” when I signed on in 1988 as Treasurer of Tonka Corporation. It caught my eye at the Chicago Car Show of 1987. It was driven by a dangerously powerful Yamaha V-6 through a manual transmission and was fully skirted about two inches lower than the long-suffering standard Taurus. I encountered several valet  operations during my Tonka employment that were mystified by the functional separation of clutch and transmission—and a couple that were utterly fascinated by the car. Ford recalled the SHO  a little after its first birthday to replace its 6-inch clutch disc with a 7-inch one that was able without “slipping” to handle the Yamaha’s torque.


Even while I continued in Tonka’s employment and the SHO remained in my care,  I indulged a desire that had been rising in me ever since the rehabilitation of the BMW 700, viz., to own the BMW coupe of the day, the 635csi. The Minnetonka dealership to whom I gave the assignment found on the third try a European version of the model, red with white upholstery and about 20k miles.  I thus acquired the greatest ride of my life—on wet or dry pavement clear of snow or ice. Otherwise, its rear-wheel drive and perfect front-rear weight balance turned it into an ice skate with a mind of its own. On one occasion, I was within 5 miles of a visit to my mother at Copeland Oaks in Sebring, Ohio when the coupe took it upon itself to execute a couple of figure eights on a fortunately empty uphill gradient of a highway and slid sedately into the median valley between the four lanes. A pickup truck with four-wheel drive threw me a rope and dragged me along the valley until his momentum and my speed-enabled traction allowed me to ascend onto the berm. I gave the driver the only $20 bill I had. When he noticed how profoundly embarrassed I was, he accepted it cheerfully and went on up the road looking for other victims of the weather. (A profiteering Publican—for whom I was very grateful!)


And so I went off into the most extensive unemployment hiatus of my life, almost 18 months, with two great cars—the SHO and the 635CSI. I had very little use of either as conveyances. But the BMW was a great touring car, and I had the time to have a good look at the Driftless region of southeastern Minnesota, southwestern Wisconsin and northern Iowa; at the Kettle Moraine in northcentral Wisconsin; at the bird sanctuaries of Aldo Leopold’s Sand County; at Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. (Of course, my sharpest memories of these ventures were of the actual touring—of passing a dozen vehicles at one fell swoop on a two-lane road in northeastern Wisconsin (and doing it at a sedate 95 mph), or spinning smoothly up and down through three or four gears on a twisty ascending road. It wasn’t about getting out into the countryside; it was all about driving out into the countryside. The scenery was the road itself, not what I could see from it.


I favored the BMW for these outings. And the SHO overcame its redundancy about half way through the year-and-a-half between finishing up with Tonka and starting up with Pacific Lutheran University: Daughter Kelly came into need of a “new” car, and the Ford met the need—and then some!


The 635 went into the moving van with the rest of my stuff to Tacoma and PLU in February of 1993. It would have been a great drive, but I didn’t have time for it. As I expected, the car’s marque and spectacular finish gave rise to considerable speculation in Tacoma concerning its owner. I considered putting it in storage and driving something drab and inexpensive instead but decided to establish my identity in the university by means of my actions in helping Loren Anderson reverse its falling fortunes. The initial array of these entailed relieving several senior administrators of their positions, cancelling or postponing projects, and transferring authority for significant spending even for budgeted items from departments to me. We thus escaped in the last half of the Fiscal Year 1983 about half the deficit guaranteed for that year by the University’s budgetary obfuscation of its straightened circumstance in wildly wishful enrollment projections. We used these immediate savings to convince the rating agencies that we were on the mend, and traced enough of them to voluntary efforts in the departments and divisions to make the financial resurgence of the university a communal rather than a leadership project. Only a couple faculty sang the old, familiar refrain of administrative dehumanization of the academy that was being accomplished by the “invasion” of corporate “suits” practicing profit-hungry capitalism. I tried my best—not at all helped by my possession of the 635—to  convince these reactionaries of the wisdom of Peter Drucker’s remark that “profit is the cost of doing business in the future”!


Meanwhile, the 635 attracted dozens of admiring remarks and purchase offers in gas stations or at stop lights. I worried that its red color and reputation as a fast and great-cornering car would mislead my new colleagues into thinking me brash, arrogant, or rich. In fact, those with whom I worked most closely admired the car without transferring much of their approval of it to me. I had to win their embrace by the reformed manner and improving accomplishments of my work—which given the obvious connections between PLU’s financial circumstance and the deleterious practices of my predecessors was easily demonstrated. The whole experience opened me quite effectively to the blandishments of Vocation as a strategy for right living, an introduction which grew immediately out of President Anderson’s entrusting to me the drafting of the rationale of his Strategic Planning initiative.


Four and a half years after arriving at PLU, I turned in the 635 as well as Anne’s middle-aged Buick on a three-year old Mercedes E-class. Anne had always wanted just such a car. She claimed to prize it as “safe”—as I had prized the 635 as eminently “driveable”!  It was hard for her to admit that the Mercedes proclaimed her ascent from homemaking and childbearing to Certified Public Accountant—the profession she obtained after the collapse of her marriage to finance the raising and education of her children. The opportunity to trade in the BMW as well as the Buick for the Mercedes came with Augsburg College’s offer to me of its presidency in Minneapolis in August, 1997.


Although the Mercedes was much better in the snow than the BMW, the rear-wheel drive they shared made neither one good for Minnesota winters. But we took advantage of the moment to get Anne what she had long wanted with little hope of getting—in part because I could get an Audi A6 Quattro as my College Car when we actually reached Minneapolis.  Over the course of my presidency, I leased two such cars, each for three-year terms,  interrupted by a similar arrangement for a front-wheel drive S80 Volvo (the largest and most comfortable of the three cars, despite its lesser traction: great seats, large cabin, plenty of supercharged pep). But I “heard” Audi’s 4-wheel drive “calling” me yet more persuasively. (I have entertained friends on several occasions with the possibly-mythological report—on principle, I have never “researched” it—that the German name of the original owner of the company manufacturing the Audi meant “to hear”. Eventually, he sold the company and agreed, in exchange, to leave off participating in the market in his own name. Hence, he resumed his calling by naming the new venture in Latin! (German, to say nothing of Latin, lends itself to this sort of thing. Consider Martin Luther’s colleague and sometime friend Phillip, making his way from Schwartzerd to the Greek Melanchthon as he moved from Heidelberg to join Luther at Wittenberg.  So far as I know, the names of no other autos have ever been as attentive to the characteristics of the autos themselves. “Jaguar” is close!


The Volvo sedans were not regularly fitted with either standard transmissions or all or four-wheel drive when my time at Augsburg was up in 2006. I therefore turned the 2003 automatic A6 Quattro back to the dealership and went looking—and actually found—a 2003 A6 with a six-speed manual transmission. It was silver into the bargain—as though it may have needed no more dress than the naked metal of which it was composed.



In the 13 years since I left Augsburg, the  “new” Audi has carried Anne and me to the Norwegian colleges and universities in the Upper Midwest in (the largely frustrated) search for a sustained program of student and faculty exchange with Norway that would have made both of us more cosmopolitan;  to the members of the Minnesota Private College Council to drum up (a satisfying modicum of)  support for the first Liberal Arts, English Language, Church-related small college in 21st Century China;  to Tacoma, Washington, to serve a one-year appointment as Interim Dean of  the (somewhat roguish) Pacific Lutheran University School of Business; to the principal tour destinations on the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas to demonstrate the (really seductive) charms of the Pacific Northwest to the  candidates  for a  “permanent” successor  dean of the School of Business (who might  bring the School a little closer to the University’s heel); to potential investors in a (never-to-see-the light of day) senior center on a decommissioned golf course on the campus of Pacific Lutheran University; back to St. Paul for a two-year stint as (the modestly successful but embattled) Interim Chief Financial Officer of Luther Seminary, the  largest of 8  seminaries of the ELCA which had fallen into  a financial quagmire caused by the decline of church attendance (and church leadership) in the U.S.; back out to the Pacific Northwest for the grand sail of the 1953 Loki-class Sparkman and Stephens  yawl, Irolita, (that I had bought in 2009) to Desolation Sound in the Inside Passage to Alaska, and back, finally, to  Minnesota, first to St. Paul and then to Red Wing for what we hoped would be (but wasn’t) permanent retired residence on the Mississippi.


At about midway in what is now the car’s sixteen-year road life, it became more expensive to keep it running in good order than its market value could cover. It was at that point, and on the verge of spending several thousands on a clutch and a couple other vital operating components,  that I adopted for myself as well as the car a new philosophy: I was going to keep both of us going long enough to be declared antiques—entities from an earlier era that could not fairly be held accountable for the sins of the current one (but which drew praise for weathering advancing age gracefully).  Some days—while singing an anthem strongly and on key, or after writing a good paragraph—this has seemed a wise and fulfilling philosophy. On other days—when avoiding more active friends to indulge the need of a nap, a stint in the Hot Tub, or a session with Aristotle, Luther or Hannah Arendt—I only wish I could shake off the guilt of my stopping out!


In either case, I get to run my errands in a beautiful, smooth-running, stick shift from another era, indeed (dare I say it?), from a better world—made better by expanding the coverage of the lessons of the 4-H Tractor Service and Maintenance seminar (principally that understanding the design of a thing enables the repair of it), and noticing and celebrating the presence of friends in the disguise of those bearing jumper cables in their travel kits.

Me and the Automobile (Part 4 of 5)

From the Professoriate to the Corporation

Driven by this peculiar form of the reputational demon, I found and acquired a two-year old 164E, Volvo’s first luxury sedan. It answered perfectly to the purpose. She, too, was blue, but with a powerful six-cylinder, fuel-injected, dual exhaust, engine; a four-speed “short stick” manual transmission with electric overdrive, and the first leather-upholstered saloon cabin of my acquaintance. I immediately lowered the new car slightly, added stiffer struts and shock absorbers, wider alloy wheels and “high performance” Pirelli tires (attractive as much for the brand name as for their quality).  Again, I was the envy of those at the college who knew anything at all about exotic cars and accessories,  and of and for Volvos in particular.


But I acquired the 164E to declare independence of my colleagues, not to win their admiration. I was trying, unsuccessfully, to mute the sneaking conviction that my falling enrollments were my fault, not that of the College’s marketing and enrollment strategies. I certainly felt that  I was beginning to lose the nascent and unnamed competition with those with whom I joined the college. For all of us—and, we suspected, for the administration and for students—this competition was measured in enrollments and other less leading indicators of popularity. (My efforts to overcome my sense of inadequacy were not yet successful enough to immunize me from this terrible tyranny.) And so I began seeking the kind of study opportunities that abound in academe—ones that convene in warm, exotic places; that give you a chance to show off with a paper or “keynote” speech; that are funded by one’s employer because they provide “professional development”. In short, ones that would carry me out of (rather than around in) Gambier for a Summer, a semester or a year.


My first strike was a National Endowment for the Humanities summer seminar at the University of Georgia on the Idea of Privacy in the Western Tradition. (One could still openly study Judeo-Christianity and even the “dead white males” who contributed to it—although such preoccupations had already become faintly suspicious.) But it was exciting to find in the universities libraries in Athens, GA, in Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, affirmation that child-bearing in what Tocqueville called “the European monarchy” was a public or civil, not a private, matter. After all, it distributed legal responsibility for the environment (via Riparian Rights and the Prevailing Lights Doctrine, for example) and of property management in general. Mere reference to such observations is currently inadmissible by either the friends or the foes of abortion!


This initial strike led to the mother lode—Directorship of the 1980-81 Newberry Library Program in the Humanities in Chicago, on the Idea of Privacy in the Western Tradition. The resulting encounter with Chicago was so fascinating that I landed what I interpreted as “trial” employment  as a “credit trainee” at the  First National Bank of Chicago in the Summer of 1981. It went well enough that I journeyed to Gambier the following Fall to decide  in the familiar surroundings of the College and its Department of Political Science which path I would take into the future. The answer was left entirely up to me. I chose banking. Its appeal lay entirely in its being the path less taken!


The 164E bore me through the NEH Seminar at the University of Georgia and on into Chicago for the Newberry Library program with smooth power and fine balance. It was a wonderful, perhaps even a great, car. It bore its wide stance, stiffened suspension, and powerful purr with aplomb over West Virginia’s twisting, switch-back roads and through the  Gaps in which had arisen the extraordinary figure of Doc Watson and the sophisticated furniture industry of North Carolina. The car stumbled only once; during a weekend trip from Georgia to Charlestown, SC,  she sprang a fuel leak as I entered the town of Aiken, South Carolina. One of the injectors had failed. The 164E’s mechanical formulae and ratios were directed by an on-board computer, thus releasing me from maintaining the supply of replacement parts required by its predecessor (and from even the pretense of being the car’s mechanic). Nevertheless, I got an injector from a Volvo shop before the fuel-tank emptied or the car caught fire, and installed it in 110 degree temperatures in an asphalt parking lot in Aiken. By the time I finished the job, I was standing 4” deep in the asphalt. After I extracted both feet and shoes from the pavement, I finished the trip to Charleston and back to Athens, trouble free. High point of the trip? Touring The Battery by horse-drawn buggy at a slow saunter. No car can do it as well.


The 164E’s tank-like construction (it presaged the square, blunt form of the 240 series, without the squareness and bluntness) saved the life of son Sam and a couple of his friends. They were attacked by a pickup truck in the grip of road rage as they set out for home from a concert in Kent, Ohio—the host city of  Kent State University. The truck rode up over the rear bumper and crumpled the bodywork and upper structural members of the chassis forward to the cushions of the back seat—at which point the principal structure of the car blocked the A-frames and steering assembly of the truck from making any further progress in peeling the body work off the car. Although the truck and perhaps even its occupants may not have been entirely injury-free, they left the scene with greater alacrity than could Sam and his entourage. Nevertheless, before the night was out (and after several ‘phone calls to select a convenient (i.e., patrol-free) route home and to determine that the transmission and brakes could still be operated, at least minimally) the mangled Volvo turned up in Gambier. Its passengers struck me as “chastened”. I still don’t know what precipitated the incident—and wouldn’t have been at all surprised to learn that a part of it had been an America First attitude among callow midwestern pickup truck users in the “town” who despised its “gown” for precipitating the governor’s much earlier invitation of the National Guard. In any case, I didn’t report the incident and found a back-yard body worker who did a fine job restoring the car.


Hence, the 164E lived on, only to meet its doom at the hands of son Sam two years later. He was home from his Freshman year at Dartmouth, and helping us get what we needed from Gambier to Chicago’s Gold Coast for the year at the Newberry Library.  The incident that “totaled” the 164E  was a collision precipitated by a Yellow Jacket hornet that entered the cabin through an open window on a hot August day and harassed either Sam or the girl whom he had “recruited” to help with the work. Again, no one was seriously hurt, but two automobiles—one an extraordinary driving machine, indeed—were presumably retired forever from the nation’s highways.

A car that I asked Sam to lease the very next day, to finish the moving errands he’d started, met very nearly the same fate in very nearly the same way. A bee (perhaps yesterday’s Yellow Jacket wishing to repeat the experience?) tortured the same recruit, I was told—thus distracting the same driver with a similar consequence. I reported the cash I paid for the damage to the rental-car agency as an “insurance loss”. The IRS saw it, instead, as a “gift” to Sam to cover his responsibility for the injury to the rental. That pretty completely drained me—of morale as well as cash—and Sam and I agreed that running the Newberry’s Book Store on furlough from Dartmouth in 1980-81 (an opportunity generously offered us by the Library’s directors) would be good preparation for his taking fuller advantage of his matriculation. He did a nice job of it, as all of us noticed, and graduated in good standing a year after those with whom he entered as a Freshman.

Although Ellie and I were by then separated, I drove her and her mother up to Hanover from Chicago for the Commencement. I was car-less at the time, and the three of us floated down I-90 in a rented Lincoln Town Car. It was so wide that I expected to hear scrapping sounds as we made our way through turnpike toll booths. It was so long that I was able to escape overhearing the conversation between Ellie and her mother—into which I was not in any case invited.

One sign that the bookish part of Dartmouth never really got Sam’s attention was that the College refused to give him his  diploma until his book-store debt (most of it for skiing equipment, with the use of which he broke a leg) had been settled.  I refused to pay it off–until his grandmother proposed to do it, instead. (Most other of my cash “gifts” to Sam were to cover ministrations to those for whom he cared but to whom he had no moral or legal obligation. I admire his character on this point, suspect that he got part of it from me, and wish that both of us could better afford it.

When I stayed in Chicago at the end of the Newberry year, instead of returning to my Kenyon professoriate, I went without a car of my own for three years. I didn’t really need one. I was living inside the Chicago Loop very near my employer, the First National Bank of Chicago. Renting to visit my mother in Ohio was convenient, although it restricted me to conventional, uninteresting machines. (Trains and sometimes planes kept me in touch with my college-enrolled children.) And then, when my new career began showing promise, I re-entered –and was again thrown back from—the luxury car market. This time it was a five-year-old BMW 700. It was big, powerful, quiet, smelled “new” and seemed flawless in both appearance and performance. The purchase seemed one among friends; the car had been offered exclusively within the Bank by one of First Chicago’s in-house lawyers.

Me and the Automobile (Part 3 of 5)

From the Public to the Private; from Journalism to Political Science

It took three days and two sleepless nights each week to write, publish and distribute (illegally on campus, by the way!) The Spokesman. Within 8 issues, I utterly exhausted my financial and physical capacities. Eleanor Omoto, whom I had met during my reportage of Ohio State’s student government, agreed to become my wife—just in time to save me from what I’m sure would have otherwise been a total breakdown.  She carried me through the spiraling burnout of The Spokesman, and we fled together the smoking ruins of what I had meant to be my finest hour. We started a family and went to Hawaii to give this new life, and a second (third?) effort to combine success—this time—with self-acceptance,  rather than primarily the acceptance of my peers.  It worked!


Ellie had been born on Pu’unene Sugar Plantation on Maui, down in the “waist” of the island between Haleakala and Wailuku Heights. Her Nisei parents escaped the plantation well before Pearl Harbor for employment in the Maui County public schools. They sent Ellie to the mainland for a college education that most immigrant families in Hawaii were sure would be superior to any available in the islands. Our marriage and flight to Hawaii allowed me to escape in the reverse direction a  censure more painful than my father’s when the tractor wouldn’t start—that of my fellow ideologues. Many of them had declared the launch of The Spokesman “premature” and its editor/publisher “naïve”. Both observations were true, but they came as burning criticism from those who had conspired with me to undertake such “precipitate actions” as founding The Spokesman—actions of the sort that all of us agreed was the only way to break America out of its “stultifying conservatism”. Their criticism made the magazine even more exclusively mine, and I imagined that its collapse amounted to my own political and intellectual—even my personal—demise.


To overcome the pain—to “put it behind me”, so to speak—I enrolled in the Department of Political Science at the University of Hawaii soon after my arrival in Honolulu.  On the strength of my familiarity with cars (and with the help of friends of Ellie’s family), I got a job at a gas station and used it in part to fix up a derelict car that got me to my classes and job, and Ellie to and from the maternity ward for the births of the two Hawaii-born of our three children.


In both my initial encounter with it,  and in its resuscitated form, the car and I shared a great number of similarities.  It was a 1948 Plymouth 4-door sedan which had been left (abandoned?), along with its papers, six-years earlier by its abruptly emigrating owner. I found it reposing unused, unwashed and unwanted against the curb in a quiet residential neighborhood near Punahou School. The émigré’s designee as the car’s keeper (disposer?) offered me its title and exclusive use if I could get the car running and off his hands by qualifying it for current (1960) license tags. The night job I had just landed at a Waikiki 24-hour service station was fortuitous; the midnight shift was a good time—in that life it was really the only time—to read my political science assignments, study Chinese, work on the Plymouth, and bring both of us back to and into life.


When it was ready to take to the road, the car demonstrated a deficiency which I had under-estimated: It made too much of its own passage. It sent a potpourri of smoky crankcase and exhaust emissions into the driving compartment, especially on long-uphill pulls. My mother-in-law was rightly convinced that these emissions were unhealthy for Baby Sam and embarrassing for her. Noticing that the obnoxious fumes persisted, she came to suspect, I think, that as a mechanically-inclined “haole” male, I had a taste for them. .


In fact,  the defect was too expensive to fix. It was exacerbated by Chrysler Corp’s fluid-drive, which would lift the Plymouth inch-by-inch the two city blocks from the floor of the Manoa Valley to our diminutive apartment (an illegal 3rd unit in a duplex) more or less straight up the “Ewa” face of Mount Tantalus only under full throttle. (On Oahu, the town of Ewa marked one of the four compass points. Its opposite was “Diamond Head”, and Mauka and Makai—“mountains” and “sea”, respectively–were the others. I was never able to replace this Oahu Compass with the unerring sense of the four cardinal directions that I had carefully cultivated to win the regard of my mentors on the farm.


We were as lucky in finding and renting our apartment as in having a car that could reach it. From a certain point on the final approach to it, we had a  fragmentary view of Waikiki Beach, about three miles down the Manoa Valley in the general direction of Diamond Head. A middle-aged couple lived next door who  convened a Hawaiian hootenanny every Saturday night, always including at least a dozen ukuleles, 20 or 30 wonderful voices and an extraordinary repertoire of native music. (With Ellie’s help and inspired by the hootenannies,  I learned in those days to strum chords in basic keys on a Martin ukulele that was part of her dowry, and began to sing songs to the children—mostly from my own youth but in a couple of cases from what she remembered or what we learned from the hootenannies of the native  repertoire.) Our immediate neighbors in the duplex had a Dachshund who lactated whenever her family baby-sat the infant Sam. Another neighbor monitored the Pineapple crop for the state Department of Agriculture—and provided us with a steady supply of the most extraordinary specimens of the fruit. The back yard contained a Liche, a Coconut and a Guava tree, and a hedgerow of Mountain Apple trees lined the driveway. What with the Papayas, Bananas, and Passion Fruit brought over from Maui by Ellie’s folks on visits to their hapa-haole grandchildren, half of our diet was thus supplied free of charge—except for the gratuitous child-rearing advice that came to us with every shipment from Maui.


The apartment consisted of a bedroom, a bathroom, and a kitchen. The floor was Asphalt. Because there was no sink in the kitchen, we washed ourselves, our children and our dishes in the bathtub. It was affordable—and  we got permission to add a living room at our expense and without an increase in rent. (I and a couple of student friends mixed concrete in a wheelbarrow, using one of those big garden hoes with two big holes in the blade. We raised the floor of the area where we had once parked the Plymouth 4 inches (to keep out the daily drizzle known as Hawaiian Sunshine), and closed in the space with Jalousie windows. The new room doubled the size of the apartment and became the family bedroom, living room and study center.


Just after the Plymouth brought Ellie home with No. 2 child, daughter Kelly, in March, 1963, I replaced it with a second exotic (succeeding the much-missed Metropolitan)—a 1957 Volkswagen. It came from a fellow graduate student who was returning for employment to the mainland. It had a very small rear window, a “trunk” in the front and a 35 HP motor in the rear end, and could rise to the apartment in second gear without threatening its occupants with asphyxiation. The engine was air cooled, could be “timed” with the dome light (which was known in the family as the doom light, following the preferred pronunciation of an  East Springfield neighbor), and was great fun to drive. It was the right car for a life of modest ambition, of good discipline and efficient conduct, and of financial and professional sustainability.


Back to the Mainland

In fact, the Volkswagen became so much a part of the family that we shipped it to Seattle when we moved there for the University of Washington’s Ph.D. program in Political Science and Chinese Studies. Ellie cruised up to Vancouver  on a P&O Orient Liner with the 750 lbs. of our worldly goods, and I brought Sam and Kelly on Pan Am. We moved into Married Graduate Student Housing, a complex of 2 and 4-unit townhomes that had been built during the war to house the officer-families of a Naval Air Station on Lake Washington. (The base later became Seattle’s Magnuson Park; the housing continues to serve as it did in 1964.)


About a week after we arrived, we introduced Sam and Kelly to their first snowfall. We woke them at 3 a.m., dressed them in several layers of their Hawaiian duds, and let them slide screaming joyfully down the front yard into the parking lot on the first and perhaps only Seattle snowfall of that winter.


A couple of years into our Seattle residency, while stubbing out a cigarette in the dashboard ashtray, I slid the Bug into the rear of an Alfa Romeo in a rush-hour rainstorm—my first and so far only at-fault driving accident. The Volkswagen managed to bind the Alfa’s  emergency brake cable, thus blocking 5 o’clock traffic completely at a busy intersection—an embarrassment large enough to warrant (I thought) my committing the Beetle to the forceful removal of the Alfa to the road’s edge—at considerable additional cost to the VW’s front end. As was my habit even then, as the proud owner of old but still-working things, I saw to it that the damage was undiscoverable even to the closest inspection.


The perfected Bug often purveyed three of us students of modern China and the Soviet Union up to Vancouver, B.C. to rummage through its relatively uncensored book shops. On one of those occasions, and with the front end “boot” brazenly filled with Stalin’s collected works, we “confessed” at the border that we had, indeed, acquired while in Canada  two or three volumes of Mao’s writings—probably the most widely published and reprinted writings in human history.  The American border patrol officer, foregoing an investigation of the “boot”, asked whether we meant “books or Communistic literatures!” Despite our perfectly polite replies, Mao’s essays were confiscated and held at the border for the 90 days it took me to acquire from the State Department a narrowly construed, one-time import license for “communistic literatures”.


The VW carried Ellie, me and the two children up to Mount Ranier three or four times for hikes. I can still smell that clear, cool mountain air and see those long slopes and spectacular views from above the tree line. Once, we joined a caravan of budding political scientists on a three day tour of the principal attractions of the Olympic Peninsula—the Naval Station at Bremerton, the town of Port Angeles, the Hoh Rain Forest, Cape Flattery, the Pacific Coast, Lake Quinault. The trips to Mt. Rainier from Seattle required ascent of the Cascades. The VW’s 35 hp couldn’t muster itself and its four passengers up Snoqualmie Pass any better than in second gear at a top speed of 35 mph. Hence, we drove all the way up on the berm, with the kids begging the passing trucks for an air-horn toot or two. The experience taught me the automotive virtues of both power and traction.


Our life in Hawaii and Seattle was a blessed compound of beginnings—of family, of a new American statehood, of learning informed by (rather than informing) worldly experience, of learned beer-hall repartee cut off just as it began by high-decibel Rock-‘n-Roll, of friendships growing in the preparational hopefulness of student poverty. The right conveyance for us through all that was a carefully-maintained middle-aged model of The People’s Car.


The First Great Car

But I needed something bigger and, I’m sorry to confess, more enviable to convey us to my first teaching appointment—as Instructor in the Department of Political Science at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio beginning in the Fall of 1967. And the wish was granted far beyond my expectations. From the ’57 VW, I ascended all in one leap to a current year Volvo 122S, the station-wagon form of the Amazon series that marked the company’s signature effort to set the standard of automotive reliability and design authenticity for the new generation of the 1960’s. In fact, the car’s mechanical excellence and unpretentious appearance brought us to the new job in better dress, I then thought, than the job warranted. I arrived thinking (quite wrongly, as it turned out) that the education proffered by private, especially church-related, colleges (like Kenyon) ranked far below that offered by public universities (like the University of Washington, Hawaii or Ohio State) in pedagogy, curricular depth, and interest in and knowledge of the world and its ways. For the first time in my life, I wondered (very briefly!) whether the superiority of the car to the appointment meant that I had finally escaped my father’s censure, as well as the loss of The Spokesman and the several embarrassments of my early days in post-secondary education. For a slightly longer period, I took all of this as a sign that Kenyon was just the beginning of a career that was bound to rise steeply, moving as smoothly as did the Volvo at the behest of its beautiful mechanics.


The best feature of the Volvo was its engine. Known as the B18D, its four pistons were bolted to a five-main-bearing crankshaft (resulting in smoothness unheard of in ordinary passenger cars of the day). The cylinders were aspirated by intake and exhaust valves operated by an overhead camshaft and—wonder of wonders—fueled by two SU HS6 carburetors! I quickly acquired a vacuum meter and never started out on a trip of even modest length during its 12-year life without first tuning and coordinating those SUs.


The Volvo not only purveyed us and our worldly goods to Gambier; it actually introduced us to the town, and the town to us. When my sister-in-law and I agreed on the price of this magnificent car—she had little need of it, having just had a difficult delivery of her son and second child; our negotiations occurred in her hospital room—I called the People’s Bank of Gambier, and wondered how, as a prospective employee of Kenyon, I’d go about applying for a car loan. Bill Smith, the manager, asked me how much I’d need to purchase the car; where to wire the money; to call if I got stuck while making the trip, and to stop in after arriving for coffee and to arrange a repayment plan.  I thus recognized Bill as a Midwesterner of the sort I’d known as a kid. He owned a couple of harness horses and raced them at the county fairs in central Ohio. He drove them as he lent money—generously and with a quiet care for their health and welfare. I’m sure he was never charged with “cutting off” another horse while on the track—and would have disqualified himself in the event of even an accidental infraction. I  liked him, and especially my portrait of him, much more than the Eastern academics I eventually discovered among Kenyon’s faculty.


For 15 years, the Volvo (meaning  “I run!”) bore us through the trials of driver-training—self-administered for Ellie, when it was discovered that I lacked even the minimum patience for the job; for Sam (which was punctuated by a couple of mildly-damaging encounters with ditches along trooper-free gravel roads); for Kelly, obtained from her brother in between squabbles with him. Kate learned to drive in her ‘20’s, but acquired a fascination with good machinery from our ministrations to the 122S which continues to bind her to Volvo and the short-throw “stick shift” transmissions in its sport models.


The Volvo bore the five of us back to California for visits to Hawaii four times. One of these was “straight through”—with Ellie driving while I slept and vice versa. The children complained of every trip that the time between rest stops was far too extensive and that the space in the cabin for sleeping and playing was much too restricted by the spare parts inventory with which I insisted on traveling.  That expansive inventory assuaged the fear I had long ago felt of the tractors before the 4-H maintenance and repair program. With that inventory stowed in every nook and cranny of the Volvo on the verge of any driving trip of any length, I resembled the knight in Alice in Wonderland—so armed for battle that he couldn’t stay on his horse long enough to get to the battle field.


A liability of my high-anxiety trip-making was that I wondered what was likely to break next—would it be the jury-rigged tensioning arrangement on the fan belt, or the worn knuckle in the drive shaft?—and listened so intently for the answer that I really wasn’t available during the trip for either parenting or husbanding. I found the car’s  whisperings, mutterings and happy hums much more fascinating, unfortunately, than equivalent sounds from Ellie and the children. (Indeed, I have missed a good amount of my life by being constantly in a state of high anxiety! I caught the disease from my mother, who had a worse case than mine.)

Of the several trips to and from Los Angeles, the most interesting one mechanically was a return through the Mojave Desert to The Grand Canyon and across Interstate 80 to the Ohio Turnpike. An hour after hitting the road, an odd sound welled up from under the hood each time I decelerated—like a handful of marbles shaken in an empty  three-pound Maxwell House coffee tin.  My manuals led me to surmise that the fiber timing wheel had become warped enough to allow the valves to make light (thankfully!) contact with the pistons. The repair was beyond reach en route; it required a particular wheel puller as well as a new timing wheel and an installation that required perfect understanding of the firing order of the four cylinders. My anxiety levelled out at “super stress”,  and I drove 2200 miles at an average of 50 miles an hour, using the brakes rather than the transmission for all deceleration. The repair took me and Sam an entire week after we got home. Nothing ever matched the sense of satisfaction that we both felt when the engine started up and ran smoothly.


The whole experience—the loose marbles rattling in a coffee tin from LA to Gambier; the careful coordination of the distributor drive gear and timing wheel; the terrifying similarity of appearance between the warped and the pristine timing wheel—revealed what the jumper cables incident did, viz., that the old fear of the tractors had become a lack of confidence in other of my abilities. The entirely unreasonable hoarding of tools and spare parts didn’t really address this fear. Only the embrace of the friend bearing jumper cables could do that.


After the first service of the Volvo in Ohio—in Mansfield, about an hour north of Gambier—I (with the eventual help of son Sam) maintained the car and made all necessary and discretionary repairs and modifications. It never again found itself in the hands of a professional mechanic, not even after 150,000 miles and in its tenth year when we rebuilt the engine from a “junked” 122 and substituted it for the original. Thereafter, she took to the road with renewed vigor but with a good number of cosmetic blemishes on her chrome and paintwork.


This mechanical self-sufficiency was adapted to the Volvo from the tractors to overcome a new challenge: the bullying that Kenyon’s privileged students and faculty seemed to practice upon emigres to their privileged Eastern culture. Their presumptuousness and airs of superiority produced in me the equivalent of the weakness and inadequacy I felt with my father before enrollment in the Tractor Maintenance and Repair Class. And the self-sufficiency  supplied me at Kenyon, as it had earlier on the farm, with an island of control-through-understanding from which I could launch the pilot ships that were to find my of my quest for vocation, originally as farmer and son, and now as professor and inquirer (a form of studentship that required a neologism to distinguish it from the generic enrollment of high schools, colleges and universities)


But just as I put the latter pair of these firmly on course, I was beset with new doubt concerning my mastery of them; just as I accepted as both accurate and warranted my emergent reputation as a “deep thinker”, a “tough and respected teacher” from whom the most promising students were told by their mentors “to take at least one class”—I was suddenly beset with a new case of self-doubt. It was marked (dare I say “caused”?) by declining enrollments in my upper division discretionary courses and a palpable reduction in the joy I had come to feel in teaching them. I secretly suspected this as personal failure, but I explained it publicly as Kenyon’s fault—its weak recruiting strength; the anti-intellectualism of the soft-drug culture that had flourished on campus after Vietnam; the grade inflation that had escalated when faculty teaching skill came to be measured by the admission to their students to the most prestigious graduate and professional schools.


I decided that I needed to “get ahead” of my colleagues to quell the rising sense of personal failure. I concluded, in some obscure corner of my consciousness, that a “new” car would help, one as unique and admirable as the 122S had been 10 years earlier.

Me and the Automobile (Part 2 of 5)

From Rustic Christianity to Humanism

Between high school graduation in 1956 and the early 1970’s, when I wakened to the need of my teen-aged children for religious education, I went to church about 20 times—when home for holidays and once for the baptism of each child.  And I made those visits in four distinct cars, each matched to the particular phases of a 15-year saga in which I searched among my peers—ultimately without finding—for a perfectly comfortable home and refuge. The first phase was as a pioneering farm environmentalist in the ’36 Ford sedan. The second was as an activist journalist adjourning the ‘50’s and inaugurating the ‘60’s in a ’57 Metropolitan. The third was as the father of an interracial family in an abandoned  ’47 Dodge. The fourth was a transition from academic expert on China to the first encounter with an exciting confusion that I have come to call “the Dialogue of Reason and Faith” in a  ’57 Volkswagen, a  ’67 Volvo P220 and a 1972 Volvo 164E.  This final phase marked my emergence from the fruitless effort to reconcile ambition with acceptance by my peers by way of a transition into a new form of  independence paradoxically entailing elements of sociality.


From time to time as I drove through those four stages, I both mourned the loss of my original dream of professional life—to emulate my maternal grandfather (whom I resemble physically more than any other member of the family) and become a Methodist pastor—and gratified to discover in the academic world that I was adopting instead certain equivalents of the abandoned theological dream—the classroom lectern seemed a surrogate pulpit; my best lectures amounted, I thought, to homilies, and my best essays to devotions. My life which had seemed fractured was beginning, especially in Stage 4,  to acquire signs of wholeness.


To get back to the phases: I got rid of the Ford and left off all interest in the farm when I discovered, out of the blue,  that I had a talent for journalism.  As I went scavenging among the ideologies that littered the campus for perspectives that could be pasted together into a Weltanschauung with which I might head off what was looking more and more like a second collegiate crisis, I took—and shined!—in a class associated with The Lantern, Ohio State’s student newspaper. Almost immediately, I was made Chief Political Reporter and invited to publish a weekly column on the editorial page.


To mark this momentous occasion, I sold the Ford to a hotrodder who lived, as did I, in the residential compound built under the Ohio State Football Stadium—and invested the proceeds in the best-looking and best-engineered car of my college and early graduate-school days: a Nash Metropolitan. The Metropolitan was a diminutive, brightly two-toned (yellow and cream), English-built car. Its scintillating appearance matched the stardom obtained by the swelling frequency of my “Vern Frame” by-lines. And it seemed fitting that I, at 6’3”, should have such a small car. (And I was marginally conscious in acquiring the little car of taking my first environmentally-sensitive step toward a lighter Carbon footprint!) The Metropolitan was driven by a Morris 4 cylinder engine mounted cross-wise in front, thereby creating just enough room for a driver and one passenger. It was the Metropolitan’s tight design, size, distinctive appearance, and remarkable performance and efficiency that prejudiced me irretrievably in favor of European machines—and thus helped set me up for the as-yet undiscovered seminal scenes of the Renaissance, the Battle of the Books and ultimately the Reformation. This European bias explains even to this day my entirely unreasonable criticism of Japanese and Korean cars. The case against these was that they all too closely resembled what I saw as America’s boat-like cars.


But my life didn’t long deserve the Metropolitan. I was so thrilled by the praise I received from my readers that I missed the fact that it was for my opinions, not for my writing or thinking. Within a year of my quick rise to stardom, the advisors to the Lantern relieved me of both my reportorial and editorial assignments on the ground that I had become dogmatic, i.e., ideological. They were right.


At the time, however, I interpreted the censure as  a conservative conspiracy to weaken the kind of liberalism I was promoting in The Lantern—and I entered forthwith the second of the four phases. I sold the Metropolitan and invested the proceeds and every other liquid asset I could lay hands on in founding The Spokesman, a small 8-page weekly tabloid commenting (pontificating?) on the issues and events of the day—U.S.  policy toward Batista’s Cuba and, eventually, Guevara’s and Castro’s; the legitimacy of the Monroe Doctrine; the recalcitrance of the Ohio State administration in the face of student protest, etc., etc.

Me and the Automobile (Part 1 of 5)


On an icy day in the Winter of ’18, a friend with whom I had taken lunch insisted on walking me back to my car. We made it without incident, only to discover that I had drained the battery by leaving the lights on. I was immediately overwhelmed with the same sense of inadequacy and personal failure I felt in childhood and adolescence when I couldn’t complete my father’s directives because I couldn’t start a tractor or properly activate some machine critical for the assigned task. This was much more than embarrassment for leaving the lights on; it was a crushing, immobilizing sense of being utterly alone and helpless. But the friend started me up with “jumper cables” that were a regular part of his travel kit. With enormous gratitude, I said my goodbyes, and we set off in our separate directions.


The incident revealed a simple truth:  I feel as alone and afraid in my dotage as I did in my youth. And yet something has changed. For one thing, I’m not as immobilized by the fear as I once was. How and when did that change?  And is it possible that by digging into this a little deeper, even at this late date, I could overcome both the fear and the fiction (as the dead battery incident proves them to be) that have been inspiring it?


Guided by the fresh illumination shed by this incident, I’ll do my best to answer the two questions just above by charting the course of my life thus far by the cars I’ve owned. “Knowing” cars was important, indeed, to American boys my age—but I think knowledge of their “makes” and models was especially important to me; it put me on a par with the peers of whom I was otherwise afraid, and it gave me a competence superior to that of  father).


The Early Days

Most of my father’s disappointment in the adolescent and teenage me (and my own consequent sense of inadequacy) had to do with tractors—with the relative certainty that I couldn’t get them started, keep them going, or drive them through required tasks up and down the slick slopes of Appalachia without getting stuck or jack-knifing.


Of the three machines that took over the pulling and hauling jobs on the farm after the war from Dad’s beloved Percherons, one (a John Deere “B”) was started by spinning an external flywheel.   Another, understood as “mine”  (a battered Allis Chalmers with which I was to get the milk, which we shipped in five and ten-gallon cans, out to the end of the lane each day for pick up by the “milk truck” that took them to the creamery) was started with a crank inserted into the front of the engine. Only the “new” Co-op, purchased on credit from the Farm Bureau, had a battery (6 volt) and an electric starter. None of them ever started for me on the first try—nor, in the Winter months,  on the tenth!


I regarded the tractors as one with 1500-lb cows, 100-lb wire-tied bales of hay, 10-gallon cans of milk, and my father—when he was furious with fresh disappointment in me.  Except for him,  each of the large, heavy, uncontrollable entities on the farm seemed entirely careless of my or the farm’s welfare. Sometimes, they even went on the attack—the tractors, by back-firing when I still had hold of the crank or flywheel,  or running into a rock or frozen clod and suddenly steering straight into a snowbank or a slough. My father wished me well, but I suspect largely in the hope that my performance as his son would vindicate his own fatherhood and even, ultimately, his manhood. His particular “attacks” were said to repeat treatment to which he had been subjected by his father (after whom he and my mother named me). The “attacks” came as assignments to me, made in full view of his peers, of tasks patently beyond my strength.  Perhaps my incapacity to accomplish them confirmed an inadequacy that he had been told lay in himself. His mistreatment of me in these cases may very well have been an attempted catharsis that, unfortunately, yielded neither relief nor instruction. To this day, I wish we would have been given the time and wisdom to have figured each other out. Each of us had a deep interest in the other—amounting, I now think, to love—but we were kept from honest inquiry, he by his insecurities; I by my fear of his disappointment in me and of my own inadequacy.  In any case, he, the animals, the tractors and the impossible tasks constituted the chaotic forces to which my youth was subjected and which I constantly sought to domesticate.


It was my mother who mapped me out a route to this mastery.  She loved her husband,  cared for him as his nurse (to manage an anger that she knew or suspected was rooted in an extensive pre-marital bout with alcoholism), and protected herself and me (from him and from the exotic discomforts of life in Appalachia) by cultivating friendships with wives, mothers and colleagues who admired her Eastern sophistication and were gratified by her open-handed need of them. As a Methodist pastor’s urbane daughter, she undertook her protective befriending in the conviction that God loves all of us—including her frequently fearsome husband.


I believed (hoped?) that it was so—and developed a complicated liturgy to support this simple Faith.  If in cutting hay I made it around the field without breaking a knife or jamming the cutting bar, I repeated the pattern of prayer and song, both at the top of mylungs, that I had performed on that first circumnavigation. Another successful round, and I dared to think that Jesus did love me—but for just how long, or for how many more circuits? I’m sure my mother’s own Faith was more sophisticated and very strong, but she gave me confidence that God is Providential despite occasional evidence to the contrary, and that saw me through my youth, my long and continuing effort to satisfy my father, and the vicissitudes of an academic career immersed in and largely expected to comply with the Secular Humanism of the Enlightenment.


But what really began to grant me some semblance of control over my father and the other farm forces with which he seemed allied was a week-long Tractor Maintenance and Repair Program offered by the Jefferson County 4-H. Silently acknowledging what I was just beginning to realize (that my father knew no more about the internal workings of the tractors than I did), he signed me up for the course and then drove me the 30-miles there and back each day. (At age 11, I had been “stopped” on an Ohio highway by a State Trooper while running an errand in the farm Jeep, and neither my father nor I wanted to go through that again.)


I learned to clear vapor locks, clean and “gap” spark plugs, began to grasp the basic principles of ignition and carburetion, and even got a peek at clutch and brake assemblies. I graduated from that program as the budding master of the machines that had bullied and shamed me for years—and with a new and insistent sense of responsibility for their mechanical welfare and general appearance. This sense of responsibility was literally proprietary. It grew from the primary teaching of the 4-H program: Know how a thing works and you can keep it from breaking—and fix it if it does. (Later, I encountered a higher version of this principle which turned out to be applicable to the Liberal as well as the Mechanical Arts: Know the intention in the design of a literary work or of a device and you can teach the argument and explain the mechanism.) These and other insights of the 4-H program helped shape my eventual academic perspectives, making me, for example, critical of the basic Social Science axiom that people and institutions constitute “systems” (of inputs, outputs and feedback) just as mechanisms do. Despite a large quantum of  academic  uncertainty about what the human condition is and whether it is truly unique, I have never been convinced that the material and human worlds can be illuminated by a single methodology. But  most of my graduate-school teachers, being social-scientifically inclined,  thought they could.


From its beginning in the Tractor Maintenance and Repair Program, this notion that big things and powerful forces could be understood and thereby tamed pointed at an even deeper and more providential possibility, viz., the coexistence of  another world—not the one of Jesus riding Shotgun with me during the harvest, or of  my mother’s protective love, but one as yet inarticulate and un-named whose imminence somehow explained the lovely possibility of the others. Only later, after I had excused Jesus from any role in any imaginable personal existence, did I notice that I had made myself bereft thereby. Thus began the search for a reconciliation of all three providential co-existences—of a constantly accompanying Jesus, of my mother’s protective love, and of worlds purified by the exclusion of materialism or history (indeed of something resembling the Joy by which C.S. Lewis was frequently surprised). Taken altogether, this sense of life as multi-dimensional and yet comprehensible led me willy-nilly to the academy, to the classroom, the library—and to the need of friendship.


Still, I remained a callow youth inhabiting the no-man’s land between adolescence and Young Adulthood when, in my 15th year, my father died of heart failure at age  47. Within a year, Mom moved the family off the farm and into town. In that great transition, I relied heavily on the rudimentary sense of personal power that was rooted in my new-found ability to fix things,  It helped me deal with the fact that Mom’s prudent removal of us from farm to village effectively took me out of a world in which I was just beginning to feel fully at home and  moved me into a noisy, congested refugee camp. And there I sought two kinds of relief. One aimed at a kind of escape in the form of the kind of employment available to the itinerant—organizing a dance band and playing gigs; submitting an occasional article to various magazines as a free-lance journalist;  being an important part, ironically,  of a political cabal; studying something in an exotic college. The other aimed at a thorough inclusion in the urbane world as a “professional”—working as a byline journalist for a famous newspaper; publishing my own magazine, and—yes!—professing political science and the specialized knowledge of an exotic part of the world.


From Farm to City

Guided by this epidemic-sized confusion, I set out after high-school graduation on both the itinerant employment and professional ambition tracks simultaneously—a strategy portending slow progress at best, and utter catastrophe sooner or later. I was sustained in this confusion through its long tenure by my swelling mechanical husbandry. Now lacking a fleet of tractors and farm implements for which to care,  I turned to automobiles. All the way through high school, college, graduate school, and well into the first years of the professoriate, I ministered to the ordinary automobiles of the day that were owned or operated by neighbors and friends—diagnosing their illnesses, starting them, tuning them up, and repairing them, and winning thereby a passable quantum of the standing for which I yearned. Most of the machines on which I practiced in those days were still rear-wheel driven, and none were as yet computerized—although some required metric tools.


My specialty became clutch and drive-shaft replacement. I must have lain under two dozen cars along curbs in Amsterdam, Ohio, on the Ohio State campus in Columbus, and in Honolulu, removing transmissions, bell housings, pressure plates and sometimes fly wheels—and putting them all back together in alignment and (most of the time) with nothing left over. Twice, I let the car of the moment down off jacks only to discover that I’d left out the new clutch! Fortunately, such mistakes were so egregious that I never even started excusing them; I simply apologized for them and went back to work to correct them.


The mechanical know-how on which I then relied went far beyond but was nonetheless an extension of the familiarity common among us adolescent boys to know at a glance the make, year and model of all American brands, many  English brands, the prestigious German brands, (Mercedes,  Porsche, Audi), even  the almost never seen  Italian marques, and (in Hawaii) the Japanese brands.  This instantaneous recognition, especially of the model year, depended on observational powers that our teachers of grammar and mathematics  never suspected we had. And these powers extended to other especially interesting features of the automotive world.  Even before we could drive, we knew the location and jurisdiction represented by any patrol car within a mile radius of our position.


This extra-sensory awareness of the proximity of policemen was, for me,  an instinctive effort to protect the critical collateral value of the automobile—a private, personal, portable space.  Having my own car gave me a standby means of escape from the conventional  competitive world (in which I often embarrassed myself by failing) to  the romantic Grand Ole Opry world of  the Open Road. Knowing cars and how to fix mine allowed me to dream with Jimmy Rogers and Merle Haggard of ramblin’, of ranging on my own out from a world in which I was all too familiar to places where I was altogether unknown. The anonymity promised me immunity from any recorded recognition for my failures. The combination of privacy and anonymity reminded me of the fixed spaces I was able to confiscate on the farm—personal places where I skinned out the Muskrats, Racoon and occasional Mink that wound up in my traps, or closets where I kept my cornhusking and hoeing tools, or the lean-to shelters I built in the woods and used for my semi-annual trapline scouting expeditions with Teddy, the farm guard dog. This concatenation of privacy and anonymity helped me to imagine a random smattering of havens across the course of my life through a world fundamentally uninterested in me or my welfare—and opened a chance, at least, that I might find alone (among itinerant jobs or in the course of professional training) the success that I had so far failed to find publicly at home. It was my way of keeping ambition alive in the paradox of a private mobility.


The first car that I made my own and thus opened a route to this peculiar world of privacy and anonymity was a 1936 Ford two-door sedan. I found it retired onto the back row of a used-car lot (suggestively close to the entrance of an associated junk yard).  I saw promise in this derelict, much more at first than in myself. It took me half a day to get the car started, and almost a full day to get it home; its mechanical brakes were worn out as well as maladjusted. The most reliable way to stop it was to run into something, which a couple of times was another car at a stop sign. The resulting bumps were pretty gentle. Still, none of us in Appalachia had yet heard of or experienced road rage; every one we encountered within 20-30 miles of home was likely to be familiar—if not to us then to our parents.

My reconstruction of that car from related vehicles left to rust away in junkyards was analogous to the reconstruction I thought I had to make then of my life as a whole. That summer (of 1957), I was “stopping out”, perforce, of an aborted college start at Westminster in Pennsylvania. I feigned illness and was permitted to withdraw “incomplete” from classes that I was bound to fail just in the nick of time. I got home just in time to help a friend of my mother’s keep his gas station going while he recovered from the kind of heart attack that had killed my father.  That summer, Mom and sister Polly landed housekeeping employment at Chautauqua, a day’s drive to the East in Western Pennsylvania.  I used the camouflage and income of the gas station—and the accompanying freedom from parental and collegiate audits—to scavenge through dozens of junkyards along the Ohio for parts from fallen Mercuries, Lincolns, and Fords (all models between 1932 and ’52) that I could fit onto and into the ’36 sedan. Ultimately, I traded a pistol I had acquired (without my mother’s knowledge) for a Candy Apple Red paint job to get the car road-ready in time for my Fall transfer to Ohio State University, about 150 miles West of Amsterdam.


As I should have known, and certainly didn’t, the readiness of the car for Ohio State considerably exceeded mine.  I see clearly now what I should have seen then—that I sought relief from my personal un-assuredness by owning and embellishing things that were admired by the taste mavens of the day. If such things also worked well, I escaped the embarrassing charge that all I cared about was appearance! In fact, I was preoccupied in those days with reputation; I was trying to create rather than find my place in the world.


The strategy I adopted for this—and applied simultaneously to the reconstruction of the ’36 Ford—amounted to Individualism. I would build both my life and the Ford with the kind of self-reliance enabled by the Tractor Maintenance and Repair program. The earliest stages of this individualistic strategy  governed my abortive collegiate initiation at Westminster: I did everything but study. I directed  the Sigma Nu chorus; organized and arranged the music for  the Bill Vern Quintet (and played the Traps on our dance gigs); played softball and basketball on intramural teams, and spent a lot of time “thumbing” back and forth to Pittsburg for sheet music and percussion accessories.  But it was the mysteriously scented whiffs of progressive rationalism that I encountered at Ohio State that swelled the individualist longing for personal recognition well beyond the containment of the Revival Meeting Christianity that had helped me handle the fears I encountered on the farm.

The Political Science of the Reformation

The following post is the first of a two part essay titled The Political Science of the Reformation written by Bill Frame as a Recapitulation of a Presentation to the Adult Forum of United Lutheran Church in Red Wing, Minnesota, December 2, 2018

Part I: The Ruling Role of Reason in the Kingdom on the Left

Ever since Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon introduced me to their image of “God’s Kingdom on the Left”—in which I perceived a community of interdependent vocationists rendering service to their neighbors—I have wondered whether the Reformers supplied a Political Science to develop and sustain such a community. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.


The most notable feature of the two-fold government ascribed by both John Calvin and Martin Luther to God’s management of human affairs is the radical separation of the two “folds”. Indeed, this very separation of the two “kingdoms” (as Luther called them) seems to be the critical condition of obtaining the sanguinary influence of Grace through Faith and the Holy Spirit upon the political condition of mankind—for which both Reformers fervently prayed (without, may it be noted, even the slightest hint of messianism)! Let me try to make sense of this peculiar “separation-as-bridge” idea.


Here is Calvin’s description of the two kingdoms. It appears late in his 3rd Institute–just after his account of God’s liberation of us from servile obedience to Church, Law, and National Morality:


…there is a twofold government in man: one aspect is spiritual, whereby the conscience is instructed in piety and in reverencing God; the second is political, whereby man is educated for the duties of humanity and citizenship that must be maintained among men. These are usually called the ‘spiritual’ and the ‘temporal’ jurisdiction…by which is meant that the former sort of government pertains to the life of the soul, while the latter has to do with the concerns of the present life—not only with food and clothing but with laying down laws whereby a man may live his life among other men holily, honorably, and temperately. For the former resides in the inner mind, while the latter regulates only outward behavior. The one we may call the spiritual kingdom, the other, the political kingdom. (The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Vol I, Book III, Ch 19, p. 847.)


The juxtaposition of this description of divine governance with a review of God ‘s liberation of us through Jesus Christ suggests the distinctive task of all modern political science, viz., to find and develop a reconciliation between our freedom and individuality, on the one hand, and our need of collaboration and civility, on the other.


The immediate question before us here is: Does the reconciliation of individuality and governance embraced by the Reformation offer mankind a more civil, just and sustainable community than the various alternatives otherwise forged in modernity, such as the Leviathan proposed by Hobbes and Locke; the Capitalism recommended by Adam Smith with preliminary support from David Hume; the Social Contract advanced by Jean Jacques Rousseau; the Republican Government enshrined by Federalism in the American Constitution of 1787, and the radically diverse and yet egalitarian “identity” cultures currently emerging from largely immobilized traditional democracies? (The ancient alternatives, described especially well and comprehensively by Aristotle, became obsolete with the rise of the modern state, and beyond our moral and ethical reach with the arrival of Machiavelli and the eventual and consequent dawning of The Enlightenment. The Reformers, however, remained open to Aristotle’s politics for managing the affairs of their Kingdom on the Left; Did that help their Political Science escape the strictures of modernity? We’ll see!)


So—how did each of these modern regimes square the demands of liberated individuals with the elements of political life that protect and domesticate that liberation? Hobbes supposed that human beings are better understood as in a “state of nature” obtaining before their entry upon political life. Hence, he imagines us on an equal footing with each other (in strength, cunning, property), and radically egocentric—rather than as drawn by a teleologic nature toward ever greater sociality, neighborliness and practical and theoretic wisdom (as Aristotle and a bevy of “heathen” thinkers admired by the Reformers thought). Hence, his Leviathan provides powerful, legal protection of each citizen’s right-to-life, and thereby frees us each of our deepest fear (viz., of violent death at the hands of a neighbor), to pursue a lengthening list of “human” rather than “civil” rights. (Even with John Locke’s sympathetic adjustment, the imagined vast “state” seemed incapable of producing even the modicum of patriotism necessary to provide a standing army of civilians willing to stay in the breach just when their lives were at risk!)


Smith’s notion of an exclusively economic society composed of liberated, self-interested individuals guided by “an invisible hand” and supported by a “moral sentiment” native to humankind  needed, nonetheless, a government capable of ameliorating the several dislocations produced by industrial life—such as the propensity to monopoly among entrepreneurs, and the “idiocy” that is certain to develop among division-of-labor workers in industrial manufacturing.


Rousseau’s  “correction” of Hobbes’ droll description of the “state of nature” (in which life consists of “a war of each against all” and is consequently “nasty, poor, brutish, solitary and short”)  with his naïvely social “noble savage”, and his substitution of a community-forming “social contract”  in the place of the minimalist guarantee of “the right to life” was attractive—but the astringent “civic virtue” on which it depended turned out to be beyond the moral reach of any polity known to or imaginable in modernity.


James Madison and the founders of the American Constitution of 1787 sought a “more perfect union” (than the Articles of Confederation) for a population whose tendency to fractionalization was limited by (and therefore made controllable) a combination of institutional checks and balances known as “Federalism”, and the “greater number of citizens and extent of territory” presented by the array and extent of the 13 colonies (and manageable “by republican [i.e., “representative”] rather than of [“direct”] democratic government”.  (As I will argue later, this majority-faction-stopping diversity of culture and economy that empowered the Federalist political science of the American constitution was very helpfully supplemented by a Christianity bearing a distinctive mark of the Reformation—namely, a separation that came to be described here as between church and state!)


To find whatever political science may have been created by the Reformers, we must look initially (and perhaps exclusively) into their conception of temporal government—which Luther called the Kingdom on the Left. The principal elements of the theology which Luther and Calvin largely shared were drawn from Scripture and applied ultimately to mankind by God’s Right Hand in what Luther called the Kingdom on the Right: That we are “justified” in our relationship with God by Faith alone; That we are thus freed from the intermediation of the priesthood and thus become equal members of the Priesthood of all Believers, and that there is nothing we can do, either alone or in company, to win salvation (which, according to the terms revealed by holy Scripture, is a gift of Grace freely given by a loving God).


Luther sets out to establish a sustaining institutional form, legal structure, and political ethic—let us provisionally call it a “political science”—for his Kingdom on the Left by carefully hewing to the methodological advice Calvin posits at the end of his summary of God’s two-fold government of mankind:


Now these two [realms] …must always be examined separately; and while one is being considered, we must call away and turn aside the mind from thinking about the other. There are in man…two worlds over which different kings and different laws have authority. (Calvin, Ibid.)


From the beginning, Luther names “human reason” as the exclusive founder and caretaker of God’s Kingdom on the Left. Not only does he thus juxtapose Reason to Faith, but he credits Reason as capable (under certain conditions of rhetorical cultivation and experience) of resisting the sinful propensities of the flesh since The Fall as well as those stirred up in the world by Satan’s gratuitous blandishments.


This resistance is accomplished by the chief product of reason—”the sword of the [civil] law”—which, of course, “is in the world by God’s will and ordinance.” (Luther, “Temporal Authority: To What Extent It Should Be Obeyed,” in Timothy F. Lull, ed., Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings (Minneapolis, c1989), p. 660-61. Both law and its enforcement have been among us from the beginning, “for the world and the masses are and always will be un-Christian, even if they are all baptized and Christian in name.” Moreover, even the best Christian soul, while on earth, is carried about in a mortal body and cannot, therefore, escape the need of law “to keep still and to maintain an outward peace.” (Ibid., p. 665)


Reason “is to have no jurisdiction over the welfare of souls or things of eternal value”, and the Gospel is to have no jurisdiction over temporal affairs.


[A] man who would venture to govern an entire country or the world with the gospel would be like a shepherd who should put together in one fold wolves, lions, eagles, and sheep, and let them mingle freely with one another, saying, ‘Help yourselves, and be good and peaceful toward one another. The fold is open, there is plenty of food. You need have no fear of dogs and clubs.’ The sheep would doubtless keep the peace and allow themselves to be fed and governed peacefully, but they would not live long, nor would one beast survive another. (Ibid., pps. 665-66)


A key rationale for this stark separation of the two kingdoms and of reason from faith is that reason finds the axioms of Luther’s Reform theology utterly incomprehensible—a form of “foolishness”—even when stated in the most “reasonable” imaginable form. “God comes down to you!” Do not follow the instincts of reason; do not climb up to Him!


He has made a ladder, a way, and a bridge, to come to you, and says: I descend from heaven to you and become a man in the body of the Virgin Mary. I lie in the manger at Bethlehem. I suffer and die for you. So believe in Me, and have the confidence to accept Me as Him who has been crucified for you. (Ewald M. Plass, comp., What Luther Says (St. Louis, c1959), p.173, Para. 504 (and passim in the section on “Reason”)).


A critical consequence of all this is that nothing much about reason—including role in the management of temporal affairs—can be learned from the Bible. So, from whom can it be learned? From a bevy of “heathen” political thinkers led by Luther’s theological nemesis, Aristotle!


[N]othing is taught in the Gospel about how [the Kingdom on the Left] is to be maintained and regulated….Therefore the heathen can speak and teach about this very well, as they have done. And, to tell the truth, they are far more skillful in such matters than the Christians….Whoever wants to learn and become wise in secular government, let him read the heathen books and writings. (Quoted from Luther on Psalm 101 by Duncan B. Forrester, “Martin Luther and John Calvin,” in Strauss and Cropsey, eds., History of Political Philosophy (Chicago, c1963), p. 290, note 36.)


Despite this (to some) surprising bow to Aristotle, et. al., Luther does not entirely skip over his own largely rhetorical contributions to the political science of his Kingdom on the Left.


I have written more splendidly and profitably of civil authority than any teacher has ever done (except perhaps St. Augustine) since the times of the apostles. In this I may glory with a good conscience and with the testimony of the world. (Plass, p. 575, para. 1749).


And again, in 1532:


…since the time of the apostles, the office of the state has never been praised in the manner in which we have praised it. (Ibid., para. 1750).


His ultimate peroration on temporal authority (in his essay on why and to what degree it should be obeyed) is a paean of praise for the political that is worthy of Cicero or Aristotle (except for its opening clause):


[N]ext to the Gospel…no better jewel, no greater treasure, no costlier gift no finer foundation, no more precious possession, exists on earth than a government that administers and upholds justice. Government authorities are properly called gods. So great are the virtues, benefits, fruits, and good works that God has placed into this estate. For not in vain has He called its administrators ‘gods.’ He does not want this to be a lazy useless, idle estate, in which people seek only honor, power, pleasure, or mere self-interest and wantonness. (Ibid., p. 576, para. 1753).


All this amounts to Luther’s brand of forensic ( or teaching) rhetoric: Strategic comments meant to cultivate popular respect and willing obedience to God’s left-handed rule. To it, both he and Melanchthon add a student-recruiting and curricular proposal for raising the standard of statesmanship and legislative acumen. In his exhortation to the rising number of Christian princes to build schools for the temporal kingdom (from which has emerged the world’s loyal Lutheran colleges, including even Swedish and German ones in America’s Upper Midwest), Luther argues that Councilmen should feel duty-bound to provide civic education to children whose parents fail to do so. As those into whose “faithful keeping” God has consigned “the property, honor and life of the city” (i.e., the poleis, the distinctive political form of classical Greece), the Princes are told that they would be remiss in their duty before God and man if they did not seek its/their “welfare and improvement day and night with all the means at their command.”



…the welfare of a city does not consist solely in accumulating vast treasures, building mighty walls and magnificent buildings, and producing a goodly supply of guns and armor…A city’s best and greatest welfare, safety and strength consist rather in its having many able, learned, wise, honorable, and well-educated citizens. They can then readily gather protect, and properly use treasure and all manner of property. (Luther, “To the Councilmen of all Cities in Germany That They Establish and maintain Christian Schools (1524)”,  in Lull, op. cit., p. 713).

Read Part II of The Political Science of the Reformation.

Learning Lessons from a Dog named Rose

She’s a “tricolor” Border Collie, a black and white 50-pound dog with a brown smatter in her cheeks and flanks. The smatter is all but obscured by a white blaze that begins at her nose, ascends to the top of her head, and then leaps over a band of the jet blackness of her topsides to merge in the white collar at her withers, finally to reemerge in the brilliant sternlight that quivering, tail-wagging bundle of curiosity riveted at any given moment (and for only a moment) upon the architecture of a gopher hill, a flitting songbird scratching for seeds beneath a shrub, a person of either gender that comes within her purview. We’re sure she would thereby make a disturbing presence to any sheep or cattle she might encounter professionally. Those are the beings she was especially bred to irritate and guide. Among her intriguing physical features is the pink glow of her hide that shows through the thin white bristle of her snout—no doubt the source of her name, which she has acknowledged as her own from our first meeting.

We found her at the Red Wing Pound in the Fall of 2016. She sat trembling and silent in the center of her cage, surrounded by a dozen barking cellmates, each standing at the glass doors of their particular cages, straining to present their adoption credentials to any visitor capable of tolerating the  desperate cacophony of the place.  At least in part, we chose her because she looked as we felt—anxious to escape the place as soon as possible. She was then four and a half years old.

We took her for a trial walk, watched her wrestle hesitantly with a brother (with whom she had been turned over to the Pound by the grieving widow of the farmer who had raised them), paid for her inoculations and the implantation of a tracking chip, and stopped off on the way home for food, bed, kennel, games and leash.

Neither our lives nor hers has been the same since. She immediately destroyed the household regimen that was just beginning to crystallize for us in Red Wing—and quickly succeeded in establishing her needs and preferences to guide its replacement. Mornings now belong almost entirely to Rose. She expects—and receives—profuse apologies for the appropriation of even an hour of any one of them for an errand, a haircut, or a meeting in town. And there is no hiding any such appropriations. Changing dress (even from one casual outfit to another), hair-combing, teeth-brushing, wallet, phone and car-keys-gathering tell her that a violation is imminent. She then stamps into her kennel, criticism of us written in every facial expression and disgusted posture.  When we return from even the briefest absence, she bolts from her compound in full chortle (she almost never barks), slips and falls on the wood floor making the sharp turn to the stairs down to the front door, pauses there only long enough to notice that neither of us is adequately responsive to her manifest interest in an outing. One of us eventually gets her into her walking harness and out onto the streets and byways of Wacouta, where the hysteria gives way to a studied hunting expedition, usually of squirrels.

In this and in many other ways, she has taught us to think differently and better about the human and animal worlds—indeed, about the creation in general. All three of us have benefitted from this constantly interrupted but continuing seminar. For example, Rose is becoming practiced in the art of canine sociality. (She has a surplus of the human variety). And we are learning to forcefully pronounce the word “no,” and to enjoy the benefits of actually meaning it.

Rose has never, to our knowledge, met a human being that she was unwilling to follow to the ends of the earth. With Anne and me both ineffectually (and somewhat jealously) shouting, “No! Off!” she leaps upon any who come within range, standing before them (if they haven’t gone terrified into full retreat) with her paws upon their shoulders, looking lovingly (and, in the case of five footers,  levelly) into their eyes. Both the lunge and jump of this maneuver are invariably accompanied by a full tail wag—the stern light fluffed out and flashing in a peculiarly asymmetric vertical arc (or horizontal pump). When a dog of any sort and size shows up, she is just as fascinated, but the body-language dhospitality goes entirely out of her. The lip curls; the tail goes still and straight; the head drops and the ears lie flat along the skull. Before we’ve succeeded in pulling her up, she has attacked dogs twice her size. These strikes are sudden, and as suddenly abandoned. The victim flees as soon as released, and Rose’s  masters (a major misnomer in her case) are left to offer apologies, cast about for a diagnosis, and try yet another ameliorative therapy. From these incidents, we fear for our reputation rather than hers—even as we note that dog walkers in our neck of the woods (and perhaps of greater relevance, in our age range) ask for and usually well remember the names of the dogs they meet, and show little or no interest in the identities of their masters and mistresses.)

Anne and I arrived at the Pound the day we found her with a Border Collie bias. Mine was of Pam, the deranged but brilliant drover of the dairy herd on the Ohio farm in the 1950’s. Anne’s was of Misty, the brown-and-white beauty who accompanied her into our marriage 24 years ago and spent the last four of her 12 years with us in the Pacific Northwest.

Pam knew which of the twelve milking, fresh, or dry Holsteins for which we had stanchions went where. If one of them got into the wrong stall, she got it into the right one with nips and barks, somehow avoiding the head-butts or stampings that were directed at her for her trouble. But when she was off-duty, she was ready for play—for example, seizing in mid-air, six or seven feet above the ground, one bite of every forkful of manure flung into the spreader for Winter application to crop fields. My father and I tested her at different heights and horizontal speeds and were never able to get a fairly tossed morsel above or past her. This behavior, aided by her preference for very close association with carrion, guaranteed that she would never become a house dog; she and her “Heinz dog” (i.e., 57 varieties) compatriots got one meal a day from us and found the rest as best they could in field, stream and barnyard. I have no recollection of her sleeping or nuzzling anyone in supplication of a gentle petting. I remember her as always on her own terms, and in perpetual motion.

Misty brought a truly remarkable capacity for shedding into our newly-wed household, the rich daily quota of which she affectionately rubbed into the business suits I wore to my work at Pacific Lutheran University. Although it took yards of masking tape each month to remove that rufous deposit, I counted the traces of it as her approval of me as a fit successor to her mistress’s former spouse. She led us at a jaunty pace up and down the hills of Steilacoom on the weekends, rose from her backseat lair to pant and drool on the gearshift lever whenever Puget Sound leapt into view against the backdrop of the Olympic Mountains after an inland outing, and greeted us warmly at the back door when we came home from work. When the lumbago in her back and hind legs began to immobilize her, I carried her 60 pounds upstairs each night and down each morning, anticipating with Anne the blast of anguish that would come with the decision to put her down. We recognized our desperate wish to avoid that bitter cup as the very fear that tempers and sometimes extinguishes the dawning of every new love—including our own! This was the first really important lesson we learned from a dog.

Learning that lesson meant that we enthusiastically adopted a dog that might very well die ahead of one or the other or even both of us. And it deafened us, appropriately, to the gratuitous warnings given us by several friends and well-intentioned consultants: “Border Collies demand lots of real work, and will leave you and your household un-badgered and un-chewed only if fully employed in enterprises to which they have been bred!” Rose’s presentation of timidity—which turned out to be an adoption strategy flim-flam—deepened our deafness. But it was really the biases that we acquired from living with Pam and Misty that convinced us to bring Rose home that day now nine months’ past.

It took us a full week to learn the extent and refinement of her toilet training and another couple to discover an accident-free routine sensitive to her retentive capacities, sleeping and waking habits, and exercise needs.  Rose, herself, invented most of this routine. It begins at 5:45 a.m. each morning—invariably, whether we’re on Standard or Daylight Savings time—when she wakes us by pushing her wet snout far enough under the covers on each side of the bed to make contact with our faces or the backs of our necks. She expects one of us (that has turned out most regularly to be me)  to accompany her on an early-morning, even pre-dawn, survey of the property, and the other (Anne) to have her breakfast ready when she returns from this investigation. In fact, Rose is ready to undertake her morning sniff only after she is sure that Anne has actually opened the dogfood cabinet and has  freshened her drinking water.

Rose’s morning sniff takes about 15 minutes. She focuses first on the breeze blowing over the Mississippi, either from Wisconsin or from Southern Minnesota and Iowa. She stands stock still at the edge of the bluff, 82 wooden-steps above the river—ears, tail and head up, nose quivering, obviously sorting out a rich array of scents and odors that surely includes Beaver, Goose, nesting Ducks, Gizzard Shad (partially eaten by Bald Eagle fishers who sometimes drop the remnants on Wacouta rooftops, as if expressing their clear preference for Walleyed Pike), and—closer in—Wild Turkey, Coyote, Fox, Racoon, and, of course, Skunk. Then she turns her attention to ground smells left during the night by the passing of deer, cats, other dogs, rabbits, etc. Throughout the sniff, both of air and ground, Rose is more than half expecting to catch the sound and sight of a squirrel—fleeing the neighbor’s bird feeder, swinging from tree to tree, chortling down a taunt upon the earthbound huntress. One early Spring morning, when Rose and I were out for our daily mile-or-so walk, she bounded six or seven feet up an 18-inch diameter tree in a vain attempt to spike the taunts of two grey squirrels that had been baiting her from the high branches of a small wood. I was surprised to see her that far up the tree; she was surprised to realize there was nothing to hold onto once the momentum of her bound ended, with the tree still standing and the squirrels still in it. She landed hard—but her fascination with squirrels has never wavered.

Rose’s squirrel fetish has made her especially aware of bird life. She is used to watching their arboreal acrobatics and thus notices with a mezzo-soprano bark we’ve heard only a couple of times any Bald Eagles, Pileated Woodpeckers, Crows or Wood Duck pairs roosting or exploring for nesting sites in the trees overlooking the bluff. (The most extensive bark we’ve ever heard from her was directed at a neighborhood Irish Setter whom she caught surreptitiously removing an antler fragment from her garden trove of such treasures. The effect on the Setter was merely to speed up his flight.)

Her passionate pursuit of squirrels sometimes endangers her pack-mates. She brought me hard to earth during an early-Spring morning sniff when she caught the sound of a squirrel rummaging in a neighbor’s yard. At the time, I was quietly admiring a spectacular sunrise with my end of her leash securely wrapped around my left wrist. Very suddenly, I was pivoted 180 degrees to my right, and went down in what I’m sure was a spectacular flop.  She seemed to accept responsibility for the fall. Instantly she gave up on the squirrel to nuzzle my prone and groaning form. (She does something similar when I start the floor-exercise segment of my nightly stretching; she leaves her kennel to stand above me, looking for signs of life. Once she realizes that I’m still alive, she accepts a brief hug as her due and immediately returns to her lair. We have wondered whether she would stand long enough over a fallen master to allow him or her a life-saving draught of Aardbeg, Laphroig,  or Lagavullin—as brandy was once allegedly offered fallen travelers in the Swiss Alps by Saint Bernards trained by monks to supply it from collar-borne flasks. We have doubted that such training would pass muster with the current monitors of inhumane treatment of animals. But the real reason we have not undertaken it is that we simply do not share the same taste for the Islay eaus d’vie—one of the really daunting challenges of our marriage!)

Rose’s care-giving instincts are naturally compromised by the extraordinary attention she pays to her own interests, especially her gustatory ones. As soon as I remove her leash at the end of the morning sniff, she bounds up the stairs to her dining site in the kitchen. If breakfast has not yet been served, she scouts for Anne. We can easily imagine her folding her forepaws expectantly, and chortling out the reminder that she receives but two meals a day, and there is simply no excuse for delaying either breakfast or dinner. In any case, she bounds up and down the seven steps from the front-door to the living level while I’m dressing for the morning sniff, all in anticipation of a breakfast not yet served. And we are convinced that the occasional abbreviation of the morning sniff is exclusively caused by her anticipation of breakfast. She wolfs—Martin Clunes, aka Doc Martin, claims that 95% of domestic dog DNA is of a piece with that of wolves—down her food, morning and night, faster than any farm boy ever ate his supper in anticipation of a ball game a bike-ride away. She gets a cup of dry (and expensive!) food down in less than a minute.

Nothing brings her as close to perpetual motion, and to a full concert of pre-bark alto yelps, than our return to the house from a two or three hour absence. Even the end of an hour’s separation from us turns her into a whirling dervish. Her in-house compound is carpeted. At least half of her antic, which can only be understood by even the least anthropomorphic among us as “unmitigated joy”, consists of skating across the newly-installed wood floor of our living quarters (her in-house compound is carpeted), often on her side, flying down the seven stairs,  ricocheting off the front door, repeatedly jumping upon each of us (sometimes as vigorously as she once attacked the squirrel-bearing tree),  all the while yelping steadily in an alto key.

We have been told by Dog Whisperers that this behavior is actually our doing! By fussily apologizing for leaving her alone, assuaging our guilt by making our return a momentous event, we make every leave-taking an excuse for a frantic reunion! To correct this, we are now doing our best to return as though we were never gone. But this is like asking her to forget that it’s suppertime. So—instead of ignoring her, we remonstrate with her: “Stop that! Calm down! You’ll get neither food nor affection until you stop this misbehavior!” We are then, of course, obliged to reward her for even the slightest lessening in the hysteria with a snack and a vigorous pet. And that perpetuates the behavior. The embarrassing truth may very well be that we welcome her hysteria as a sign of her affection for and dependence upon us. A calm, non-yelping Rose would be much less interesting to us than the existing version.

Indeed, I fear that we are actually widening the realm of her domination of us in other ways. For example, we are finding spare moments during the day to take her out for urinary relief. She uses these always for a short walk and a miniature sniff, but only occasionally for their intended purpose. And on these rare occasions, she punctuates her achievement with a stylized effort to cover and obscure the deed with a great turf-throwing, four-paw scratch fest that resembles a pacer in perfect stride making no forward progress whatsoever. She does this with such stylized, show-dog pride that the scratching seems meant to mark her passing rather than to hide it—like  self-conscious mothers who instruct their children in loud voices and sophisticated language in public places.

She gets her morning and evening food down so quickly that we wonder when she’ll find nutritional value in the food pan itself. She finds the kitchen garbage container quite fascinating, but the only loss Anne and I have suffered so far was of a half-dozen sea scallops that were thawing on a cutting board just beyond (we thought) the limit of her standing reach. Such items are now placed another two feet higher—on the 48-inch warming shelf under the exhaust hood for the pride of the kitchen—a four-burner, two-oven, one griddle and one grill Viking.

We knew very little about her life and circumstance—her pack and its history—before our meeting in the Fall of 2016. The Pound’s “Rose” file reported that she had been brought in “matted and dirty” by a widow who had been led by her husband’s untimely death to give up the farm on which Rose and her brother had spent four of their five years of life.  Without any hard evidence, we surmised that the farm probably lay along the Mississippi between Hastings, Minnesota and Alma, Wisconsin. We had ourselves just declared our Wacouta “cabin” at the head of Lake Pepin—about halfway between the Hastings and Alma locks-and-damns—our ultimate (at least penultimate) home. It helped us think well of that decision to believe that by way of it we were also restoring Rose to her home.

The great river fascinates each of us. Both Anne and I have positioned our desks in the parlor—a room with 75% of its wall space given over to floor to ceiling windows looking up, down and across the river in a 180 degree arc from the northwest to the southeast. From behind my computer during a single hour on a wind-filled,  sun-dappled Spring day, I may see a dozen mature and a half-dozen immature Bald Eagles, a gaggle of five or six Turkey Vultures, the outriders of a migrating troop of white pelicans, a great blue heron (legs trailing, far too long for compact on-board storage—some cutting through a 15-knot breeze on a steady flap, others soaring in the updrafts, calling to mind Yeats’ gyres of The Second Comng. Smaller raptors, ducks, and even larger foraging birds—cranes and swans—weave in and out of the tableau with the seasons.

For three of the seasons, flotillas of as many as 16 barges (five ranks of three each and “one on the hip”, i.e., lashed directly to the towing vessel—which actually pushes rather than pulls the barges) move up and down in the dredged channel day and night. Even the briefest glance at the river suggests life, teeming even as in transition—maturing, advancing, leaving, coming.

And the bluffs and palisades that line the “upper” river on both sides host a rich life of mammals, wild turkeys, songbirds and land-borne invertebrates. Rose leads us each morning through the shadow of “Rattlesnake Bluff”, the 200-foot sheer face of which has been attempted, we’ve recently learned, by a mountaineering son-in-law during one of the 8 or so bi-annual Blended-family Thanksgivings we’ve convened at Red Wing. (One of the several divorces that have transfigured two generations of Anne’s family and mine has denied us direct testimony of the adventure.)

Rose scouts for game during our morning walks, but she has yet to catch or even to confront any. The walks are peripatetic, constantly interrupted by evidence—known only to her—that something interesting passed this way recently. Not only does she smell and hear better than her master and mistress; she sees better. The sign that she has noticed a herd of deer crossing her path, or an eagle close overhead, or a canine barely visible in the distance is her assumption of a rather work-a-day Pointer stance—head up, ears erect (except for the very tips); stiffly immobile (except for the quivering nose); all four feet firmly planted. Indeed, she lifts a leg only to get a tootsie out of slush or to leave a marker of her own passing after the male fashion. (Otherwise, she seems content with her gender and squats to leave sign of her itinerary.

In all of this, and despite her sweet temperament with people, she confirms in a hundred ways Martin Clunes’ axiom that she is mostly wolf. For example, we’re just beginning to grasp the  specific roles Rose herself plays or has assigned to us in her “pack”—“procurer” for Anne; “enforcer” for Bill; “gracious appreciator” for Anne; “nay-saying critic” for Bill; “manipulable” for Anne; “manipulable x 2” for Bill.

So—Rose is helping us make home—finally!—in the River Place we’ve owned and often visited for almost 20 years. Indeed, we sometimes wonder whether she hasn’t somehow acquired legal title to the property—and registered it in a more secure cache than the one which once contained her deer antler.

We would never have adopted her to live with us in the city; we miss the city less because we have her in the country.

But our relationship with Rose—and with each other—is mysteriously affected by her “dog aggressiveness”. We have invested more in relieving her, and ourselves, of this particular form of anti-social behavior than in any other part of her training. And she is much improved. Nevertheless—and just when we had begun to hope that she was over it—Rose attacked a profoundly pleasant Cocker Spaniel after an exceedingly brief and quiet encounter. I was walking her at the time, and had asked the spaniel’s owner to allow the two a tentative sniff. Rose burst upon the other dog and brought it onto its back before I could intervene. Aside from some traces of saliva generated in the heat of the moment, no visible wound was discovered, and my apologies were accepted by the spaniel’s owner.

But the setback has made us consider such radical options as: acquiring another dog as a companion; finding a regular walking mate in the neighborhood; teaching her an array of micro-sports that would keep her in the yard and yet lower her reserves for hyperactivity. Most of all, we’re trying to figure out what she is trying to accomplish by snarling rather than sniffing at other dogs. Are the ones that attract her ire male or female? Spayed or sexually active? Is it particular pheromones that set her off? Something about the appearance or approach of the other dog?

The deep contrast between Rose’s human sociality and her contrary attitude toward those of her own kind has made us wonder whether particularly shy or agoraphobic folk, or even misanthropes, might suffer this contrast in reverse.  In either case, the attitude entails agreement with Hobbes’ description of the human condition as a war of each against all. But our reflection on Rose’s behavior is leading us to think her growling and snapping at an encountered canine may very well be protection of us, a communitarian or “pack” instinct utterly denied to his fellow humans by Hobbes’ axiom that “life in the state of nature is nasty, poor, brutish, solitary and short”.  We agree that Rose’s pedagogy won’t provide Swift (Jonathan) with new reasons to prefer the Bee to the Spider in the Battle of the Books—but we think the jealousy that seizes Rose when one of us offers a friendly pet to a strange dog is very preliminary proof that Hobbes’ quintessentially modern characterization of human nature is wrong. Rose may be a true Lutheran: a Reformer for whom “drover” is her Calling, and the community (“herd”? “pack”?) to which she is in service is constituted of Anne, herself and me!

The power of Rose’s pedagogy to illumine such matters may be fading. We have been trying hard to raise her tolerance of other dogs; to delay her first snarl, to relax her curled upper lip, even to offer a little welcome to the new-met canines. Her suspicion of strange canines has always been codependent on her curiousity about them. The advancement of her sociality seems to depend less on us and more on the urbanity, experience, and (we suspect) gender, of her new acquaintances.  Of every 10 dogs that she meets nowadays, she both gives and accepts an exploratory sniff from about half of them. This ratio may depend on a fair representation (namely 50%) of males. The other day, an 11-year-old Chocolate Lab came up from Wabasha with the delivery of our new lawn mower. Although Rose can no more abide lawn mowers than vacuum sweepers, she continued to discreetly investigate various features of the Lab even as its master demonstrated the operation of the lawn mower!

Whatever becomes of her sociality, Rose has brought us a sweet disposition and a whole cartload of fascinating psychoses which we have been exploring assiduously and with great joy—stumbling along in parallel on either side of Adam’s Wall, unable to see each other over it or to hear each other through it. Our progress in mutual understanding depends, instead, upon what we earnestly trust is a cautious anthropomorphism on our part, and “caninemorphism” on hers. Hence, for example, we are reluctant to conclude from Rose’s occasional appearance of shame that she has done her business in the basement—unless evidence suggests that she has (and then we avoid punishment if we doubt she’ll grasp the connection between the unfortunate deed and its disciplinary consequence).

Nevertheless, we have learned much about ourselves from Rose—and believe she finds us worth her care and protection. Among other things, she bears well the critical responsibility for getting us up each morning whether we wish to or not—and of making us careful of both her and our own nutrition.

And she surprises us in some way or another every day!

The Long Road Back to Red Wing

In the Spring of 2014, 8 years after resigning the Augsburg presidency, Anne and I retired. We stopped hoping for interim posts or consultancies, and started thinking hard about how to live without the cash and connections of employment. Age 80 had come into view for both of us, but we had yet to develop a strategy for replacing colleagues with neighbors, acquaintances and relatives with friends, and house with home. In fact, we had yet to decide where we were going to attempt this exercise in home-making.      

We took up Planning, the art regularly practiced in our work but never in our lives. We began by abandoning our long-standing determination to live in America’s Pacific Northwest—fewer acquaintances and more of them attached to a part rather than the whole of our lives—and moved on to shedding whimsies that had more to do with place than people—to live in foreign cities, large Victorian houses (with a lot of rehabilitation projects), suburbs and small towns. Instead, we conceived of a series of household moves that would lead us from diaspora to our own new and final Jerusalem. We thought wistfully of starting in Chicago, the first city of both of our diasporas and of our meeting and courtship, and swerved back to the Twin Cities. We had friends in both places, but the Chicago ones were from banking and other careers that had lost their currency with us. The Twin Cities ones were fresher; they had been gathered in the course of accomplishing the Augsburg presidency—the most thrilling work of our lives.

To address the home-making task, we drew up a list of Retirement Questions, presuming to answer them with the attentiveness eventually liberated from the duties of employment: Whom had we each so far become—as spouses, parents, friends, selves? What now were our respective prospects for personal growth and new life—and how could we best realize them?

The peripatetic lives that both of us had so far lived had denied us comprehensive and integrated narratives from which we could extract identities confirmed by a core of close relatives and friends with whom we had shared the formative encounters of our respective autobiographies. The Retirement Questions thus became the starting line of our retirement ramble. We were thrilled at first by the creative freedom implied by the fact that we had no answers to them—until we realized that we were fleeing just such freedom in order to end our diasporas in a community that we could serve and that would be willing to serve us. Continue reading

Paris Together: A Week in January, 2016

We dreamed of visiting Paris together from the day we married in 1993. We finally got around to it 23 years later.  

We visited other places in the meantime, some suggested by Anne’s employment or friends, most by the 9-year presidency of Augsburg College: Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, St. Petersburg, and the capital cities of the Baltic states; Hong Kong, the 800,000-strong “villages” of the Guangdong seacoast, as well as the principal cities of the Chinese mainland; Leipzig, Strasbourg, and other centers of the German Reformation, as well as Dresden, Prague, and Warsaw; Windhoek (the home of an Augsburg study-abroad site) and the Namibian outback and coast.

Both of us had retired by the end of the Summer of 2014, and Paris regained its privileged position among our plans. But a fractured shoulder and cracked tibia (Anne) and a pacemaker to overcome a cardiac short circuit (Bill) intervened, and it was not until we found ourselves wondering what to get each other for Christmas, 2015 that the visit acquired an itinerary. A week before Christmas, and a month before we embarked, we bought a week-long travel package to the City of Light from Delta Vacations–hesitating for only a moment when we realized that every one of Delta’s international travel arrangers live and work in Minot, ND.

We flew nonstop to Charles de Gaulle overnight on Monday, January 18. Anne slept. I worked hard to believe that I would survive being pinned at the knees by the seat-back sleeper in front of me. Nine hours later, as it turned out, I had survived. Anne woke, and the two of us finally found the driver the Minot arrangers thought “people of our age” should use to get into—and out—of The City. He settled us into a black Mercedes cocoon and somehow got us through the Tuesday morning rush-hour traffic to our Holiday Inn, the 2-star hotel at the Sainte-Placide stop on the #4 Metro line (just north of Montparnasse) from which we intended to launch our daily forays.

The room there was typically miniscule—just large enough to accommodate a queen-size bed, a gratuitous “upgrade” from the twin bed option we had reserved. What really got us off on the right foot with the hotel was being checked in as soon as we arrived! Instead of wandering listlessly for the afternoon in the Jardin du Luxembourg, or fighting off sleep and jet lag in a bar, we simply napped for a couple of hours and made the first outing of the visit by 3 o’clock that afternoon.

We descended from a heavily overcast 40-degree (F) day into the Metro at St. Placide and took it two stops north to St. Sulpice. When we ascended to the street surface, we “knew”, of course, that the great church just ahead was Sulpice. In fact, it was St. Germaine-des-Pres, a 12th century eglise  on the site of a 6th century forbearer —which explained why the alcove chapels were missing Delacroix’s painting of Jacob wrestling the angel, a noteworthy representation of Joan d’Arc, and the memorial to the St. Sulpice congregants who died in WWI. When we came early for mass five days later, just before we returned home, we found Delacroix, Joan d’Arc, the memorial—and enjoyed a recital on the famous organ at St. Sulpice. (Sophie-Veronique Cauchefer-Choplin played part of Bach’s Offertoire during the mass, and Rheinberger in Memoriam of Jacques Caucheter, d. January 25, 1985, afterword.  For the recital, she performed J Ibert, Musette et Fugue (Trois pieces), and finished up with a 10-minute improvisation.) We celebrated the delayed discovery of St. Sulpice by taking lunch afterwards across the street at Les Deux Magots, the fabled haunt of Hemingway, Sartre and de Beauvoir. (After we got home, we followed Tom Hanks as he searched through the nave of St. Sulpice for the “The Da Vinci Code”.)

As we looked for dinner that evening on our way down Rue de Rennes toward our hotel, we bumped squarely into our linguistic deficiency. We had made dinner reservations for that evening at Pasta Luna on Rue Mezieres, apparently in the shadow of the two churches. None whom we first asked, however, seemed to know the whereabouts of Pasta Luna—because, we eventually realized, our pronunciation of “Mezieres” was incomprehensible, except to an adaptive shoe store saleslady we approached as we were about to give up. She heard just enough in our fractured French to realize we were asking about the street that ran right by her shop. She walked us firmly out to the intersection and pointed out the street sign. Within five minutes, we entered the Pasta Luna.

It was, indeed, a “deli”—about the size of four telephone booths. The boyish North African behind the counter was prepared to do no more than make sandwiches. He reacted to our announcement that we had arrived to take advantage of our reservation by dispatching his mother (who was having coffee with her daughter at one of Pasta Luna’s two tables) to import some English. It arrived in the form of a vivacious woman who doubted that news of our reservation had reached the deli. She was very pleased to learn, however, that we were nevertheless anxious to have a sandwich each and bottle of beer. The émigré and his mother were happy as well, and we had that evening the most pleasant dining experience of the visit, fawned over in gestures and smiles by an immigrant family offering a joyous brand of gustatory hospitality.

Our linguistic ignorance was embarrassing but did not diminish our interest in the visit or in things French.  Anne’s experience of Paris was of a conference 40 years earlier at an anonymous site long since entirely forgotten. It was on taxes for the executives of American-based multi-nationals whom she then counseled for one of the big accounting firms that has since been swept up in the industry’s consolidation. She and her husband stretched the sojourn by a couple of days to take in a museum or two and a night at the Follies.

My fascination developed at Kenyon College when Montesquieu and Tocqueville, in particular, opened for me and for my students the fundamental proclivities of the modern commercial republic—its deeper regard for the ordinary than the exceptional; the profound anxiety of its citizens toward each other; the primacy of economy over polity; the diagnosis of individualism as a symptom of equality rather than freedom. Ultimately, they helped me see both the inevitability as well as the virtues of modern democracy. It eventually occurred to me that they understood these things better than others upon whom I, as a political scientist, relied because they were Frenchmen. Continue reading

A Return to Appalachia

In the Fall of 2015, my sister Polly and I took advantage of a high school reunion to visit our childhood home in Jefferson County, Ohio. It was a visit, not a return; we had each concluded long since that we would never again permanently reside there. But each of us urgently needed a visit. We wanted fresh familiarity with the identities we acquired in infancy and adolescence. We supposed that critical elements of these had survived our respective diasporas and had now to be reconciled—or declared irreconcilable—with the new lives we were constructing for ourselves in retirement.

Seventy five years earlier, our parents, who had married in their mid-thirties, brought me and the expected Polly from a largely Irish-American community in Philadelphia to the coal-dusted foothills of the Appalachians. The migration covered less than 500 miles, but it vaulted across a cultural divide too wide for any of us, at least, to bridge. It started from a long-serving urban frontier of second and third generation immigrant communities whose expectations were just beginning to rise, and it landed on what would become in 1964 the opening battle ground of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty—unmixed strata of English farmers who had arrived 100 years earlier, and eastern European townspeople who had come within the past 50 years to mine the Bituminous coal of the region. The first were tee totaling Protestants; the others, mostly Catholic, built beer halls at the same time as churches. In those days, never were the twain to meet (especially in marriage).

The big steel mills along the upper Ohio River were expanding to accommodate FDR’s Lend-Lease commitments to Churchill. Like a million others, many of them Black and from the South, our father was drawn out of the Depression by the gigantic Bessemer blow-torches at Weirton and Wheeling, West Virginia, and Steubenville, Ohio. They were just giving way to open-hearth furnaces for smelting the ore brought down from the Mesabi and other ranges in the Upper Midwest.

Our mother distinguished herself and her family by bringing into the New Found Land her Temple University normal school education. She was the eldest of four siblings who had been raised by a Methodist minister widowered by tuberculosis, who was eventually called to the Frames’ church in the Roxborough/ Manyunk section of the city. There, Mary Watt McWilliams  met and married Everett Earle Frame, the next youngest of five siblings who were largely raised by a mother who was widowed by heart disease when her children had just cleared adolescence. Dad succeeded, against all odds (according to the parlor stories Nana loved to tell her grandchildren) in graduating from the 8th grade.

Both parents were accomplished rhetoricians, but in separate languages. Every one of Dad’s utterances was a gross but artful violation of the 3rd Commandment. But he won excuse for his remarkable speech (what I as a close student heard of it was almost entirely clear of obscenities) by a charming public sociality and the ready employment of a resonant bass voice (for the inheritance of which I thank him) in the church choir and in the county chorale pulled together annually for a single rendition of The Messiah on Christmas Eve.  Mom’s teaching skills and, we suspect, her beauty and poise made her almost instantly a keynote speaker for The Grange, the Farmer’s Institute, and several other state-wide organizations. Their linguistic differences were spoken in the same accent, and the two of them made themselves abundantly clear to each other—and to us!

The great rush to expand steel production for the approaching war sprinkled a grey curtain of dust over the sharp hills and towns up and down the Ohio River. Indeed, Steubenville—the family’s first abode in Appalachia—earned an extensive reign as the “dirtiest city in the world”. (The appellation applied only to the coal ash, not to the city’s infamy as a center of prostitution—a dimension of its reputation that made an 8-10 pm windows-shut and doors-locked drive down Water Street a rite of passage for newly-licensed male drivers.)

The grey curtain is now gone, erased by post-war economic malaise. So also has passed the urban infrastructure once covered by the dust—the “Hub” department store, where our Christmas dreams were born and, as we eventually discovered, fulfilled; the ornate theatres where we were introduced to Bambi, Abbot and Costello, The Greatest Story Ever Told, and to the first fondling searches of young love. The great downtown churches that had hosted and rotated the holiday festivals and Revival Meetings remain, inactive during the week and surrounded by block-on-block of asphalted parking lots, empty even on Sunday mornings.

We spent the four days of the reunion visiting the farms, coal fields and mining towns of our youth, and calling on the handful of folk with whom we had stayed in touch down the years. We found the farms abandoned, the coal-veins (both surface and deep-shaft) stripped out and exhausted, the towns almost entirely emptied of the progeny of their Italian, Polish, and Russian founders, and the acquaintances in most cases presenting themselves as anachronisms of a vanished epoch.

But we got the first hints of the selves that we came looking for from each other—in correcting, embellishing, sometimes disputing, our particular recollections as we hunted down the country roads that once connected the miscellaneous sites of our early maturation: Who had lived there? Had that family belonged to our church? What had caused our placement just beyond the reach of the simple, authentic hospitality of the region? What of all that moored us to those days and scenes, however far from them we had strayed over the last 50 years?

We did learn—both in the initial urban and eventual rural dimension of our life in Appalachia—about full-blown ethnic diversity. An Italian neighbor gave a shotgun into the care of our father “until after the war”. (Dad took the gun, me and the dog in search of rabbits one day, just before he was to restore it to its owner. As was typical of his entrepreneur-ism, he knew nothing of hunting. When the dog drove the “jumped” rabbit back to us, he was too startled to fire. The gun was returned the next day, unfired, along with a full box of shells. He never again hunted, though he left me in the training of neighbors for hunting and trapping—fascinated, I think, by the fact that his farm-bred son could draw at least a thin stream of revenue from the fur-bearing residents of a world immediately at hand but so profoundly alien to him.)

I have a clear memory from my earliest days there of the sound of Italian in a Steubenville bakery. That lilting train of vowel-ending syllables hints to me of Joy and fresh-made Bread. I still revel in the chance to order an Italian red by its domain name. (Hence, have I repeated over and again wife Anne’s story of her daughter, a Choral Music major, who once tried the perfect pronunciation she had learned from Verdi and Puccini in a Florence restaurant, only to confess her one-way fluency to the waiter when he shot back his appreciation along with a flirtatious inquiry.) German was plentiful among the hills, but the war muted the public use of the language, even more than it did Italian—perhaps because most of the German inter-war emigres took up residence on the farms, whereas the Italians (as well as the Poles, Slavs and Russians) populated the cities and mining towns.

Polly, two years my junior, remembers the rented residences in Steubenville and on a farm near Richmond, Ohio, only by way of family stories and reunion visits; of our being tended by  the chief engineer (then called janitor) in the furnace room of the Jefferson Union School Building while Mom instructed her charges upstairs; of our stamping across a snow-covered field in our Mother’s firm grip to be put into the care of Elizabeth and Sam Bake, who lived without car, horse or indoor plumbing on a 10 acre farm within sight of our rented farm but on a different planet of prosperity and worldly wisdom—and, as we all knew full well, on a greater one of neighborly care and love. Both Polly and I can still smell the poverty and lye-soaped cleanliness of the Bake’s tiny house, and hear the eerie moan of the little pump-organ they encouraged us to play.

The Bake’s house burned sometime after its owners had shuffled off this mortal coil, and the hulk had fallen in upon itself. Much earlier, the barn, across the creek and up the far slope, lost its usefulness to Sam’s decrepitude, and has utterly disappeared since. The house on the rented farm is still standing, abandoned and screened from the road by a forest of adolescent saplings. The barn that once stabled Dad’s team of Percherons is also gone, having yielded its weathered siding and mortised-and-trunneled oak beams no doubt to accent the “rec” rooms of the ramblers that dot the road-side fields that once produced Winter wheat or pastured Jerseys, Guernseys, Ayrshires and Holsteins.

Polly and I had been scolded by our mother for playing tag under the horses while Dad, the farrier they eventually came to trust, shod them. Our courage and his permissiveness were warranted by the horses’ docility, though Mom remained sure that one or other of us would soon be kicked into the next county. (We never were, but years later we made a frantic run to the hospital in Steubenville, by then 30 miles away, after a 1600-pound Holstein, being prompted to its stanchion by Pam, our Border Collie drover named for Mom’s most didactic sister, stepped on Polly.  That Polly could cry louder and longer than seemed humanely possible is the only surviving mark of the trampling. Earlier, Mom had protected me from a potentially damaging whipping when I released an inner tube, inflated to discover (for “vulcanize-ing”) a slow leak, to a jaunty, bouncing roll to its death on a barbed-wire fence below the house. I learned that day, as did Polly, Mom and at least three townships, that “the only inner tubes to be had in 1943 were on new cars, #,@,*’s and xxx”!

The horses did light draft duty on the farm, and only on Dad’s days off from Weirton Steel—itself now as abandoned as the farms, villages and even cities it and the other mills once sustained. But the team actually seemed to revel in being put into heavy harness for the horse pull at the Jefferson County Fair each Fall. There, for a brief moment, they gave the full measure of their strength to feed their master’s competitive instinct, itself revealed in its most passionate form by his attribution of it to the horses rather than himself. Neither of his children can recall how well the team satisfied this instinct, but know that Dad transferred it automatically to the Cockshutt E-3 when, just after the war, it was acquired through the Farm Bureau to replace the horses. The principal rival of our Canadian-built tractor was our neighbor’s Farmall H; it’s Red outshined the sun, and its driver seemed to float above the drive axle, a height before our peers us boys all longed for. Both the Frame father and son wanted a tractor tall and big enough to confidently defeat the Farmall Ms that so regularly claimed the working-tractor-pull trophy at the Fair, but farming never prospered us enough for that.

The four of us, the horses, and Teddy (the rented-farm dog), made a two township transmigration in the Spring of 1944 (the year I started school) to a “bought” farm near East Springfield. For all of us, except the dog, the acquisition marked a bright new day; Teddy went “home” at least a half dozen times before he made his peace with the new place. To the rest of us, and especially Dad, the special feature of the new place was that it was “ours” (although it was known to us and our neighbors for the whole of our tenure as “the Beresford Place”—for the family who homesteaded it and from whom we acquired it). For Dad, and for many years therefore for me, land ownership was the necessary condition of real independence—from the shame of personal failure symbolized for males in America by unemployment; from the menacing spectre of abject poverty and homelessness. At a deeper level, ownership of the farm—and, even more, successful operation of it—damped a smoldering fear of his own suspected incompetence (a divination concerning his feelings that I later made from my own).

At the very least, this great hunger for independence symptomized a profound alienation from the society and culture of the Appalachian foothills. He clearly felt unwelcome there. I think he also walked in the shade of his beautiful and gifted spouse, deeply determined to free her children from the rusticity of Appalachia.

In any case, he took up farming without knowing very much about it. Hence, he sought and followed virtually every suggestion of the Agricultural Extension Service—rotation cropping and contour farming; the trading of home-grown wheat and oats for corn (and the construction of a “diversion ditch”, still visible but largely overgrown) to reduce top-soil erosion; the purchase of a used 30-foot, topless silo to ferment green corn for a 12-milker dairy herd whose pedigrees were kept “pure” by  the earliest practice of artificial insemination; vacuum-driven milking machines and muzzle-activated watering reservoirs. He also talked a third-generation farmer on the other side of town into buying the first combine in the country—a heavily used (and therefore constantly “down”) International Harvester with a three-and-a-half foot cut. Nevertheless, it commenced the revolution in that part of the world that ended great harvest tradition of The Threshing Party, and left the big Huber machines to rust away in forgotten corners their owners’ barnyards.

Such investments were given too little time to mature. To produce ready cash for family needs, Dad hired out as school-bus driver for the system in which our mother taught. He hauled his own children and 30 or so others within 20-miles of the 3-room school house that saw us through nine grades and three teachers—all without indoor plumbing. The school-yard Catalpa trees remain, complete with pods; all else is gone.

Dad died of a heart attack at the age of 47, 10 years after moving us to the new farm. It happened while we were grinding feed at the end of what had been for him a hard day supervising construction of a new “milking barn”. (Today, the barn, quite decrepit but still plumb, is the only outbuilding remaining of the half-dozen that once graced the place. I “made” the varsity basketball team in my sophomore year by means of practice beneath a “hoop” made by the East Springfield Blacksmith and mounted in the “mow” of the “new” barn.)

Luckily, Mom and Dad had taken the advice of the Steubenville banker who lent them the money for the farm and bought life insurance in the amount of the mortgage. Through her grief, my mother listened and firmly rejected her 15-year-old son’s petition that she keep the farm for his eventual management. It was never her cup of tea. Any stint in the fields extended her chronic Hay Fever to Asthma. Polly and I inherited the same proclivity, and remember sitting with her over a tub of steaming water among the corn-meal “mush” crocks in the basement, our bibs smeared with Vicks VaPo Rub.

After a couple of buyers defaulted, the farm settled into the hands of James Peters. He and his wife live in a “new” one-story house where the quarter mile lane crosses onto the Beresford land. The house in which we were raised is abandoned, the orchard gone, and the arable acreage of the quarter-section reduced by at least as much as Dad, the Percherons, and the rest of us had added. Peters told me that oil pumped from “fracking” wells on adjacent farms will soon make its way across the Beresford Place for a fraction of that received by those who are just now selling their farms’ mineral rights. The oil will be borne away by a pipe that will deliver it to a power plant in Carrollton, the seat of the more prosperous county to the West where Mom served the last decade of her teaching career. She commuted there from a rented apartment in the upper stories of a funeral home in Amsterdam, a town 10 miles still farther inland from the mill.

The move from the farm to Amsterdam meant leaving the East Springfield Methodist Church. It had been the almost exclusive reserve of our social life while on the farm, and the altar of our hope and ambition. It’s pulpit was regularly supplied by Asbury Seminary in Kentucky, which annually sent missionary choral quartets into the Appalachian outback; although we were made to learn piano (me) or the Baritone Horn (Polly, with our father doing his best to keep up with her high talent on a battered instrument he found at an estate sale), the seminarians’ Spirituals captivated us and became the core of our individual repertoires. We taught them to our own children, and sang them during car trips and after meetings of the Grange or the Farmers’ Institute. They formed the bridge over which Mountain Music entered the sophisticated world our Eastern and educated mother had given us, initially through the “Hi-Fi” of our Webcore “record changer”. From there, the musical stream widened into the folk music of Harry Belafonte, Joan Baez, Josh White and Johnnie Cash. But it all began with hymns—and the interesting ones were saved for the Revival Meetings; we weren’t allowed to get that worked up on Sunday mornings!

There was another church in East Springfield, but the two congregations had almost nothing to do with each other—on Sundays and any other day, for that matter. We did see a member or two of that church at the twice annual revival meetings in town or at the Hollow Rock Camp Ground down on the River—where once the baby-sitting-Bakes had to explain to our parents the glee Polly and I were showing when we were found speaking (nay, shouting) at each other “in tongues”, and punctuating each delivery of babel with a fistful of straw thrown up from the tent floor. Even though we were each “saved” at least once each year at such meetings, and always at first feared and then reveled in the catharsis of confessing our shortcomings to the pastor, or, quite often, his wife (who prayed “hands on” with those answering the altar call) we were never thought as close to God as we were that night at Hollow Rock.

It is important to mention that the shortcomings that so pleased the pastors and their wives were simple disappointments to our father; he exacted fresh confession of them on the occasion of any negligence entailing waste, but he never forgave us them. Their confession, indeed, seemed to deepen his own sadness and sharpen his anger.

The funeral home, where his “viewing” was convened and on the second floor of which we lived after leaving the farm, is today nearly the only sound and attractive building left standing in Amsterdam. The miscellany of stores, restaurants and milkshake parlors, which witnessed the great bulk of Polly’s and my adolescent crises and triumphs, are gone, their places taken by vacant lots. Mom, who lived in full possession of her wits into her 98th year, is buried above the town in a carefully groomed cemetery whose earliest residents arrived on the site in 1840.

Oil via “fracking” has kept up the roads, but the society has all but collapsed. The churches are hanging on by a thread, nine out of ten of the gathering places of our youth are gone. The school system has been attached to a larger one closer to the river (in fact, the one in which Mom first taught), and Steubenville, the destination of our movie and dinner dates, has been bypassed by a freeway to Pittsburgh. The oil is drilled by itinerant teams and pumps automatically through complex plumbing networks to distant points of consumption, leaving fresh scars on land only partially healed from the days of “strip” coal mining.

But in the midst of all that decrepitude, we encountered new life among Polly’s classmates at the Reunion. The gathering occurred a mile from the Beresford Farm in a de-commissioned church building which had hosted any meeting not exclusive to either of the two East Springfield congregations—Grange, Farm Bureau, ecumenical Vacation Bible Schools, the Halloween Party, the Oyster Stew dinners of a farm federation whose lectern was often graced by our mother, etc.  A few of those attending the reunion flew in from elsewhere, and gave themselves away by their relatively tasteful dress but confirmed their roots by the quick, wise-cracking humour that neither Polly nor I were ever able to master.

Polly’s “accomplishments” and mine were hailed by her friends in resounding silence—and greeted with pride by the two of our teachers in attendance, and the best of Mom’s friends. Margie Gregg, the 97-year-old widow of Mom’s superintendent, herself the director of the church choir in which my father and I were singing when my voice changed, lives very actively in the midst of the Amsterdam wasteland. Cicely Worthington, the 89 year old physically disabled teacher of literature whom I tutored to win her technologically-assisted driver’s license in exchange for the beautiful worlds she opened to me with the help of Shakespeare, John Donne, and the like, lives equally engaged in Carrollton. We capitalized on the opportunity to tell them both what their instruction had meant to us—and learned, in return, that they live in the penumbra of their mutual friendship with each other and with Mom. Neither of us can go home again to Jefferson County. But only there, in interaction with each other and with them, could either of us, ever again, find ourselves.

We encountered many other memories (often with names and date blank) during the reunion visit—at every turn in the road, in every conversation with a school-mate, during each visit to a lost or forgotten home.  What does their recurrence (or partial recurrence) mean?  Do we announce them to demonstrate our acuity? To mark the critical elements that went into the construction of identity? To blaze the trail we took on the way in to avoid getting lost on the way out? Perhaps to mark certain detours and claims as “cold” or “worked out”—so as to save energy for better questions and richer explorations later? Whatever the answer, our nature seems to require a record of the journey, whether faithful or accidental, noteworthy or anonymous, fruitful of learning and growth or wasteful.

And that brings into sudden view a fitting epitaph to our visit: Our mother’s observation that “regret is a sin!”