From Journalism and Politics to Political Philosophy: 1957-1969

Part Three of the essay Professor Without Portfolio.

The exception was writing—and it was more a pledge than a practice. About two years into an enrollment at Ohio State that had yet to yield a pattern of progress toward a degree in any subject, and to meet one of the University’s general-education requirements, I signed up for a Journalism class. It was by a wide margin the most enjoyable experience of my academic career. It was experiential rather than theoretic; practical rather than abstract. Suddenly, writing became the noblest profession. The “muckrakers” were my heroes. Heywood Broun’s columns, and later Mike Royko’s, became my favorite reading. The newspapers in Mississippi and Georgia that were pointing out the civil rights inequities in the South became the employers of my dreams.

Almost immediately, my classroom and “field” writing performance seemed to the Ohio State faculty to warrant my designation as campus political and governance reporter and then columnist for the university’s Daily Lantern. (In those days, the Lantern published 15,500 tabloid copies a day, 5-days a week.) I dropped everything else to indulge this new passion.  I ended the year-long run of my dance band, The Bill Vern Quintet, and cancelled its remaining “gigs”; withdrew from the ROTC intercollegiate rifle team;  resigned as “social director” of the Scioto Club, one of a dozen residential units built into the Ohio State Football Stadium “horseshoe”; stopped doing the home work for my other courses and organized what remained of my life around the publishing schedule of The Lantern.


Within a year of almost daily front-page bylines and bi-weekly columns (during which my sympathy was solicited by every one of the conspiratorial revolutionary and reform groups that were vying with each other to lead the University into the ferment of the ‘sixties, the dean of the School of Journalism noticed that I had become “dogmatic” in my published criticism of the University—its Woody Hayes-protected and coddled athletes, the “white bars” in several of its fraternity constitutions, its hesitation to embrace the lunch counter sit-ins that marked the infancy of the civil rights movement, and the refusal of the Fawcett Administration to grant even the least of the petitions made by campus governance in behalf of students.


He was right. The notoriety of my reporting, the interest in my column “Framework”, and the lionization by the cabals had conspired to create of me a self-important ideologue loyal to the ideas of those whose association I cherished. And I knew it—but I could neither confess nor repent of it. As soon as my reports and columns were no longer acceptable to the The Lantern editors,  I sold everything I owned and started my own weekly news magazine, The Spokesman, to publish “alternative” opinions on public life—such as the Castro and Che Guevara insurgency in Cuba, the “fact” (as I saw it then) of American “imperialism” in Latin America and Asia, the “rabid” conservatism of the Republican Party,  etc. I hoped these public “positions” would sustain the standing I had acquired through my Lantern reportage and “Framework”.


Publishing the 8-page magazine—and distributing it after dark without license on the University campus to the applause of those who thought as it did, and the bitter criticism of those who leaned as it did but who preferred a harsher language, an even more radical stance, and—above all!—their own sole proprietorship—exhausted me. Each week of The Spokesman’s 12-week life span consisted of four days of research, composition and design culminating in thirty-six hours of printing, collating, stapling, and circulation and a day and a half of physical and psychic recovery. Topics for upcoming issues were selected willy-nilly. Not enough attention was paid to soliciting advertisements or sponsors, and in three-months The Spokesman was out of money and I was out of anima. I had abandoned the Christian persuasions of my youth upon entering college and had not yet found an alternative philosophy for sustainably rebalancing life and ambition, for reconciling success and failure, and for shrinking the psychic distance between mania and depression. At the end, I was entirely exhausted and utterly alone.

The Future Lost—and Found: 1953-1962

Part Two of the Essay Professor Without Portfolio.

The discovery of capabilities fundamental to a promising life in academe also punctuated—with a semicolon rather than a period—the search beginning in my 15th year for the future that was to replace the one lost in my father’s death. His passing shattered a prospect constructed more by circumstance than imagination. It was to carry me away from the farm after high school to university and return me with knowledge of agriculture superior to my father’s. That would transform our relationship from disappointed father and failed son to competent son and proud father, from master-servant combine to full equity partnership—and to a solid place in a world of my own.   

In loving honor of this prospect, rather than embrace of it, mother granted me a year to see if I could manage the farm while keeping up my studies. I couldn’t. Too many school days were spent chasing the beef cows that we had purchased to replace the dairy herd. They were to help finance my sister’s and my schooling, but the cost of containing, feeding, and doctoring the Herefords made them a liability rather than an asset. They simply strode through fences that had by their very appearance restrained the docile Holsteins.

Bill Frame and his sister Polly near their childhood home.

Within a year of Dad’s death, Mom sold the farm, thus administering the coup de grace to my family-farming prospect. We moved into the second floor of the principal mortuary in the half-dozen towns within 20 or so miles of the farm. The house had been the natal residence of a leading family in Amsterdam, already at 1,500 a town half its traditional size, retracting along with the Bituminous coal mining and iron ore smelting that had given it birth. It was offered to us because a new regulation stipulated that cadavers awaiting interment could not be left unattended. Restoring the mortuary as a residence met the letter of the law and produced an hospitable offer to the Widow Frame just when the three of us needed it most.

The Frame Farmhouse which was home until after the death of Bill’s father.

The new home gave me and sister Polly, two years my junior, immediate distinction. We embellished it with tales of bumping into cadaver-laden gurneys when returning home after late dates or fetching new business in the mortuary’s big Cadillac hearses from the morgue in Steubenville, 30 miles away. When we went off to college with no more than a handful of classmates from our shrinking classes of 50-60 each, we carried an inventory of stories from our life in the mortuary—playing hide-and-seek in the casket showroom, for example, or being denied the use of our bathroom during “viewings” by the steady stream of rustics that had never known anything other than a two or three “holer” out back and a galvanized bath tub in the kitchen.


(Even now, I enjoy telling of soliciting the help of a local bully to help me retrieve from the hospital morgue the body of a very large neighbor. As we lifted the sagging body from the “slab”, the bully at his shoulders and I at his feet, the air compressed in the lungs by the maneuver made the corpse moan. The bully dropped (threw down?) his burden well short of the gurney and fled the morgue, bug-eyed and white-faced. He “thumbed” his way back to Amsterdam, refusing to come into the hearse or even to apply for his pay. Thereafter, he exempted me entirely from his bullying—and the funeral home from his list of acceptable employment.)


Mom lived in the Funeral Home for 40 years, became a pillar of her new church in her new community, taught for three years at The American School, Tangier, Morocco, and spent the last 10 years of her 98-year life in a nearby retirement center arranging the weekly programs of its education fora.


And I went off in search of a place in the world which I could call my own—a place, as I increasingly imagined it. in which morality and ethics, faith and reason, my private and the public interest were compatible if not fully reconciled. Obviously, the cataclysm of my father’s death destroyed the graphic prospect of a commercially viable and communal family farm, and forced me to cast the search for its replacement in abstract and generic terms. Until the McIlwain Experience, I had in mind a dozen such replacement prospects, each of which required post-graduate education—in theology, music, journalism, among others. With one exception, I turned away from each of them after a brief dabble.

Professor Without Portfolio

Most of my life has been spent in universities and colleges—and for a moment just short of retirement, in a seminary. I have often wondered what I was doing in such places. Was I there to learn? To teach? To supervise? Perhaps to worship?

The truth is that I have come to regard such places as fundamentally unmanageable, increasingly difficult to teach in, all but impossible to worship either God or mammon in, and—worst of all—inimical to learning. All this makes mysterious my lifetime association with the academy.

In writing this “chapter” and the next, I have been trying to solve this mystery for my children, my friends and my self. I’ve had some success in the pages just ahead, as I hope you agree—but the investigation remains “open”.

Professor Without Portfolio is a seven part essay. What follows below is the introduction. If this blog post is your starting point, the links below will take you to the reminder of the essay.

Part One: Introduction to Professor Without Portfolio

Part Two: The Future Lost–and Found: 1953-1962

Part Three: From Journalism and Politics to Political Philosophy: 1957-1969

Part Four: Marriage as Antidote to a Life Too Public

Part Five: From Politics to Political Philosophy: 1966-1980

Part Six: Developing a Self to Contend with the World

Part Seven: Seeking Asylum in the World: 1980-1993


I entered upon graduate academic life as a young father without prospects—other than the meagre Teaching Fellowship offered me by the University of Hawaii’s Department of Political Science. I had just graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from that department, and gratefully accepted the fellowship to bring to bare adequacy the income I was receiving then from a miscellany of dead-end jobs. I came to the academy for a license, not for learning—but I have come since to embrace the axiom that that the only reason to be anywhere freely for any length of time is to learn.

Bill Frame as a young father and graduate student in Hawaii.

And when I first came into the academy, I did learn! I found folk there who had learned the fine art of close reading, and others who practiced the matching art of disciplined deliberation. The most joyous incidents in my life have been discoveries that have exploded into view like a Ruffed Grouse from an Ohio thicket as I went hunting through the pages of a great book with the help of careful conversation in classroom, office or living room.


The stage for these joyous incidents had not yet been set when the Registrar of the University of Hawaii in Honolulu looked up in the spring of 1962 from his audit of my mottled 6-year transcript of general and professional courses and announced that I had, in fact, earned a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Chinese Studies. The mottled record began (and was quickly interrupted) at Westminster College, New Wilmington, PA, resumed at the Ohio State University, and culminated in the degree at Hawaii (and the fellowship)—by which point I was husband, father, and, among other things, Night Manager of a big service station between the Ala Moana shopping center in Honolulu and Waikiki Beach. Although it came two years late by the standards of the day, the degree was at least weak evidence that the academy was the right place for me. I took the money and stayed on; I got back on the horse that had thrown but not trampled me.


The decision was vindicated almost immediately. In my first graduate course, I was “asked” to summarize Charles McIlwain’s Constitutionalism: Ancient and Modern by a quiet, young professor of American Politics who, fortunately, thought the origins of the agreement at Philadelphia in 1787 lay, as did Montesquieu (of the whole of English law and culture!),  in the shadows of the Saxon forests. I spent a frantic week reading and re-reading McIlwain’s little book, and delivered myself of what the prof declared as “mastery” of the argument that the jurisprudential fundamentals of constitutionalism took form in English, even European, feudalism. Ever since that experience, I have longed to repeat it—to emerge from the close reading of a rewarding book with a little new light in at least one eye that allows me to see such connections as, in this case, between feudalism and Federalism (or, in the case of books written in restrictive and censoring cultures, to find the secret of construction that reveals the author’s true teaching). And though I continue to undertake long, slow close readings, I have emerged from every one of them so far with new understanding. Thus have I come to believe that recognizing generative connections between superficially disparate eras, people, events (and generic contrasts in superficially similar phenomena) are collateral gifts of the open minded, the constantly curious, and the frequently surprised.


I was so thrilled by the McIlwain achievement that I immediately presumed that I had somehow earned the gifts with which I accomplished it–that I merited them individually. This arrogance (quite momentary, as it turned out) reflected my extensive but failed effort to reverse my father’s disappointment in me, and to overcome the self doubt that it had largely engendered. The sudden burst of arrogance was a great, albeit tarnished gift; it allowed me to confront for the first time and begin the defeat of my deepest-dwelling demon—the failure of my father’s tests of me and of his own fatherhood. He died in my 15th year, and I never won from him as much praise for all the assignments that I fulfilled as the amount of disappointment he expressed in my failing even one of them. From the moment that I found the discipline and discovered the ability to comprehend an argument the size and complexity of McIlwain’s book, I stopped trying to satisfy him and began trying to understand how he and I had gotten into such an unholy tangle. It took a long time, but eventually “we” straightened it out—in the broad hall of careful recollection, attentive observation, and my own eventual realization that forgiveness both is and yearns for love. That realization welled up only after I was well into my career in the academy. It transformed my ambition from reversing my father’s disappointment of me into finding and following a moral code that I could defend before him as well as the best of my teachers. That transformed ambition has supplied drive enough for a lifetime—a demiurge altogether as challenging as quarreling with “the child inside” but far more satisfying.

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!”