I am writing this month’s article from Winterset, Iowa, where my sister and I are attending the annual Covered Bridge Festival.
Winterset is my mother’s hometown. Four generations of my family have lived here since the mid-1800s. My mother died 40 years ago. Coming back here for a long, overdue visit has caused me to reflect on my roots. My mother was a small-town girl with Midwestern values and the older I get the more I appreciate her mark on my life and values.
Over the past few years, since writing my monthly column, I’ve been called a socialist on a couple of occasions. Though I don’t think of myself as socialist, I do lean more toward social cooperation than I do social competitiveness. I firmly believe society is better served when we share our blessings with each other rather than hoard the fruits of our labor only for ourselves.
Looking out for each other is our social responsibility and being back in my mom’s hometown reminds me of the woman who instilled in me this sense of good citizenship.
When I was in third grade, I received an “unsatisfactory” for citizenship on my midterm report card. My mother was not happy with me. As I tried to explain, I said to my mother, “I don’t understand it. I am a good citizen … I talk to everybody.”
Obviously, somewhere down the line, I misunderstood what it meant to be a good citizen. It wasn’t about distracting others by talking to them and disrupting class; it was about respecting their space and supporting an environment for the common good of the class — in this case supporting an environment conducive to learning. I was a child and I still had many lessons to learn.
How soon we forget those lessons from our childhood; lessons that taught us values like fair play, sharing with others, giving a “leg up” to those who are struggling, and the mother of all childhood lessons, doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.
We have a Congress that can’t get past its own personal agendas for the greater good, who can’t release its grip on power long enough to do the business of the people; a Congress that would rather make its point than make peace and move the country forward. The patients have taken over the asylum; insanity has replaced sound judgment.
Small towns like Winterset, Iowa, or for that matter, Idyllwild, Calif., teach us that in order to live together we have to learn to settle our differences and continue to cooperate with each other so that we can function as a community, not as a group of individuals who care only for ourselves and our own well-being. We can’t hide from each other. We live too close to each other, and we can’t just talk but have to learn to listen.
My mother understood it and then explained it to me. Sometimes we have to return to our roots to remind us how we remain securely planted in the ground.