Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Frontier multi-culturalism


Rarely has the first meeting between white folks and Native people been as richly visualized as it is in Terrance Malick's The New World (2005), when, in the middle of a tall-grass field, an Englishman named Capt. John Smith meets the Powhatan princess Pocahontas. Not only did neither know either, neither had ever seen anything quite like either. As foreign as he was to her, she was to him. They each stand and stare in awe at a human being unlike anyone either has ever seen. 

Those first meetings had to have been shocking. Black Elk claims he was ten when he saw his first Washichu. "At first I thought they all looked sick," he says, "and I was afraid they might just begin to fight us any time."

My guess is that love at first sight was impossibly unusual. Black Elk's fear may well be more standard fare.
  
Then again, some Native people didn't think much about fighting. Legend has it that War Eagle, Sioux City's Native patron saint, left his people when it became apparent that question of who would be chief was going to be determined by a fight. He walked away. War Eagle's statue stands high above the confluence of the Missouri and the Big Sioux because from the moment he met white people, he wasn't a war eagle at all.

A thousand immigrant diaries tell similar incredible stories about early meetings between Natives and white folks, neither of whom had a clue about the other. What those reminiscences describe seems utterly impossible today, but they happened and they happened often. Yanktons or Santees or Omahas simply invited themselves into the lives of pioneers, showing up uninvited, totally unaware of the value their new paleface neighbors put on private property, something totally sacred to the whites. Warriors would simply show up in silence and stare blankly through windows or walk right through doors and expect their white hosts to feed them.

Walking into other people's lives was a way of life. They didn't know to knock. 

Thousands of such meetings are written up in pioneer memoirs: a man or a a woman, maybe an entire family looks up from a cup of coffee or pot of soup to see a painted face in the window, someone familiar maybe, but just as often, someone not.

That such moments didn't end in bloodshed seems impossible in our "Stand-your-ground" climate, but very, very few of those moments ever did.

Here's my favorite. In March of 1856, Mrs. E. H. Clark came here when her husband, who'd created a log home for his wife earlier, told his wife the neighborhood was, well, civilized enough for her to live. On the boat from St. Louis she'd lost her gold watch and chain, she says; but she'd brought along an entire set of china dishes. It wasn't as if she were bereft, after all.

Her father, a doctor, came a year later, and, she says proudly, was quite plainly upstanding: "He was the first Sunday school superintendent here," she says in her memoir, "and held that office continually until 1880." Educated, exemplary, and upright.

Her reminiscence of the early days is only a few pages long, but the most memorable incident she remembers is this one. Here's her telling:
At one time I had planned a dinner party and invited all my lady friends. I prepared the best meal possible for those days, with my china set all in place and was very proud to see it all spread, when just ready to invite my guests to the table, a big Indian appeared in the doorway and said, 'Hungry" in broken accents. 
I said, "Yes, I get you some" and started to the stove, but he said, "No," and pointed to the table. I brought a generous helping in a plate but he walked out doors, gave a shrill yell which brought several others of his tribe and they all at once sat down, ate everything in sight, while the guests looked on in fear and trembling."
And then, "Having finished," she says, "they left in great glee."

And that's it. End of story. End of memoir. 

How the ladies composed themselves is not described. What they said once the gleeful Indians were gone isn't told. 

Her entire memoir ends right there, at that moment--"they left in great glee," as if she'd just said everything that needed to be said about those early years. Multi-culturalism right there on the frontier.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Life, on the rack


Look, I'd be dead wrong to ascribe some sinful motive here, some kind of crass materialism to my mother-in-law's decision, once upon a time long ago, to buy her husband this leather jacket. She wasn't trying to keep up with the Jonesmas or the Jansmas. She likely saw that men like the man she married were wearing leather jackets, took a shining to them, and then went out and bought one, brought it home.

My mother-in-law was no shopping-aisle junkie. She liked to get out to Sioux City now and then, but she was as Depression-era as anyone her age. Her father died when she was just a child, when there was no societal safety net, so his death ended her school days and put her to work. Mom knew something about poverty.

I'm sure she never maxed out a credit card or ran up bills that threatened to blow them away. She generally chose not to use the word wholesale. This jacket--a large, which means it's too small for me--was likely expensive, rich black leather, still supple and almost totally unmarked with wear because my father-in-law likely wore it only to church and the Alton Cafe. 

We moved him last week. I'm not sure we're finished yet totally, but we moved him, this time will probably be the last. No matter, we couldn't help thinking how much stuff he still had. First, years ago, there was the farm auction when they moved to town. Then, when Mom's health was failing, to the Home; then, when his was, to assisted care, and now to comprehensive . After all that winnowing, moving still took a couple days, and it's still not over. There's still stuff around.

Like this fine leather jacket, perfectly wonderful. I put it up on local Facebook sites and got nary a nibble, so it's hanging down here with nowhere to go. I can give it away--there's a Goodwill-ish place just up the street. We aren't in hard need of cash, but I'd just love to give it the kind of good home it was purchased to get. 

Besides, it would hurt to find it on a rack with a bunch of old hoodies, a piece of masking tape stuck on the collar with marked with $2, handwritten. It's a cut above that--maybe two or three.

When they moved to the Home, my folks-in-law gave the church the lion's share of their furniture, and the church held an auction right out in the parking lot. It was a perfectly horrible night. The weather was fine, but the crowd was meager and furniture she'd picked out thoughtfully went for a handful of nickles--ten bucks for a gorgeous oak dinner table--with leaves. 

My mother-in-law, who wasn't well, chose not to go at all. Smart. It would have killed her to watch the slaughter.

It's just too easy to stick on a bible verse here about the lillies of the field and how they toil not, neither do they spin, how all of this is meaningless, meaningless. My father-in-law probably wouldn't have kicked up dust if she'd had him dressed like John the Baptist or simply kept him in bibs. Truth be told, this was in all likelihood the only leather jacket she ever bought for him, and she probably didn't invest until she was sure they could afford it. They weren't profligate, and that leather jacket isn't sin.

I suppose it's just the life I can't put away or give away, the clear and painful sense that something real, something vital, something that, once together after the war, gave birth to the woman I love, that life is finally in its very last days.

Once upon a time, my mother-in-law told her husband, early evening probably, after chores, to put on a good shirt after he had a shower because she wanted him to try on a jacket. When he pulled it over his shoulders, she looked at him as if he were in a magazine, likely straightened the shoulders a little, cocked her head sideways a bit, stood straight, and said, "Well, I think it looks good--what do you think?'

The next Sunday, he wore it to church. 

That's the life that's here in this leather jacket, and I can't just put it on a pile with some old nappy blankets and haul it away.

Interested? Just let me know. 


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Morning Thanks--the effects of scarcity




The truth is, and I'm embarrassed to admit it, I was outfitted in blinders, totally unaware. The question, I thought, was legit, the question by which I'd started a dozen interviews, a question about profession.  

"What did you do in Laos?" I asked her. 

A translator took the question to the subject, a fifty-ish woman who'd become a Christian. The interview was about faith. 

But that opening question went pretty much nowhere. I tried to rephrase it, as did the translator. No go. I tried again. Even the translator looked strangely at me. "In Laos, what did you do?"

She never answered the question because my westernized sense of profession, of work, was nothing like hers. She couldn't understand. "What did she do for a living?" had no answer because she's never had a nine-to-five job, was never paid a living wage, never had a boss other than life itself.

What she "did" throughout her days was gather firewood and whatever food she could for her family--yesterday, today, and tomorrow. What she did was make do. What she did was try to live; and that kind of life was, to me, a rich man from the wealthiest country on the globe, was simply unimaginable. Still is. I can't think my way into that level of scarcity, the poverty millions live with every day.

It was utter poverty that created the Ghost Dance, a 19th century religious movement that swept through western tribes with glorious promises that seem, today, perfectly crazy. If you dance, its prophets claimed, the buffalo will return, as will your grandparents. If you dance, they said, white people will be taken up in a gigantic cloud of dust. If you dance, they promised, that's the beatific vision you'll see for yourselves.

So they did. All through the west, Native people in special Ghost Dance dresses and shirts danced themselves into frenzy that created spiritual visions of better day. Call them strange or even crazy, the blessed promises of the Ghost Dance religion were startlingly real for a people who'd lost their way of life and often had no food to eat. 

Well-heeled as I am, I am not one to judge.

Researchers now suggest that scarcity in myriad forms--not having what we need--creates its own mindset. When you're honest-and-truly hungry, when you don't know where your next meal--or that of your children--is coming from, you can't think of anything else because scarcity forces the mind into a channel. As Shankar Vedantim claimed last week on NPR, "Scarcity produces a kind of tunnel vision, and that explains why, when we're in a hole, we often lose sight of long-term priorities and dig ourselves even deeper."

One of the most perplexing things Jesus ever said is that the poor "will be with you always." Some have used that argument to walk away from the war against poverty; after all, the poor will always be around, no matter what. 

But new research makes very clear that scarcity not only makes us physically weak, it also affects our ability to think. "To be clear," Vedantim says, "it's not that poor people focus on immediate needs because that's all they want to think about. It's all they can think about. Scarcity captures the mind. In fact, the tunnel vision produced by scarcity can actually lower how you perform on an IQ test."

Does this scarcity phenomenon reach beyond poverty? Yes, say those same researchers. Unless people who aren't loved understand the deprivation they're in, they may well flail away mindlessly to get the love they can't feel. 

Why would thousands of people dance themselves into mad frenzy about a vision that seems, today, to be insanely far-fetched? What on earth made Native people just west of here believe all those white people streaming into Native land were about to vanish?

Need, new research says--scarcity. Something about that makes sense. Palpable, physical, even emotional needs change not only what we think about but even how we think. 

This morning I'm thankful for researchers who give us a special blessing when what they discover helps us understand ourselves.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Men on Board



You must have seen it, this photo of a couple dozen conservative muck-a-mucks making decisions on women's health. That the entirely-male gathering is determining policy about women is a fact too lathered in irony not to notice. But then, just for the record, the Republicans now in power mowed down lefty opposition in the last election cycle by flaming opposition to Obamacare and a forthright refusal to kowtow to political correctness already laying waste this once-proud nation.
The truth is, they don't mind Trump's talk about women with Billy Bush. Who doesn't talk that way when they're out with the boys? President Donald Trump is not, nor has he ever been p.c. Praise the Lord. All-white, all-male = all-American. This is Steve King's world. He's just off the frame somewhere.

At least they're not p.c., and neither is the photo. That's why a couple of days ago it flashed on screens all over the country. It's just an update on the inside cover of an old box of Dutch Masters, a century or three or later. 

Okay, it's not quite the same. Those bearded Dutchmen are only grading panatellas. 
No matter, because at least that shot up top is not p.c., right? It doesn't get down on its knees for feminists. So there.

It hurts to admit it, but I'm dangerously close to 70 and no longer a virile young buck. I have a pair of gloves in camo, but that's all--wait a minute, and a pajama bottom I got for Christmas from my son. The State of Iowa's bally-hooed flurry of political activity on guns has no effect on me, although I do have three BB guns down here in the basement. The truth is, all of them belong to my grandkids. For the most part, I'm not greatly affected by the President's endless macho swagger either, but it does make me laugh. I think the VP's photo op up top of the page is hilarious.

Think of it reversed. Imagine a room full of formally-attired women, elbows up around a congressional-sized table, all of them seriously discussing a healthy sin tax on Viagra and all other medications designed to end erectile dysfunction. Imagine that. There they sit, two dozen powerful women talking about men's private parts.

It's not pretty. Most men would shrink away at the very thought. Or get mad.
In this morning's New York Times, Jill Filipovic makes the outrageous claim--okay, in the Trump era, nothing is outrageous--that that photo at the top of this page is actually political strategy because Trumpians--both in their male and female varieties--like what they see--MEN, IN CHARGE. After all, Ms. Filipovic says, that picture isn't the first such political photograph. There exists a whole album of impressive shots of white males exercising power. Here's another.


"Mr. Trump promised he would make America great again, a slogan that included the implicit pledge to return white men to their place of historic supremacy," Filipovic writes. "And that is precisely what these photos show. The same kind of men who have been in charge of the United States since its founding, so very proud of themselves for trying to ax the rights that make it possible for women to chart their own futures — and to compete with men."

Me? I don't believe her. I'm just not convinced that the same white men who couldn't pass health care are all that smart. They don't put stock in diversity because what they covet is excellence, not quotas; and excellence generally, as Steven King so strongly maintains, is is most often found in a white face, and a pair of big meaty hands. You know.

But Jill Filipovic does offer up an interesting thought, and she may be right: it's a conspiracy of sorts. Photographs like those all-male gatherings telegraph omnipotence. Look at 'em. Nobody here needs Cialis. When they go home on weekends, they all get some good old r-and-r in matching bath tubs with their women.

Trust that guy in the middle there. He knows how to handle women. He's had all kinds of experience.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Morning Thanks--Caregivers


The two of us were asked to speak at the funeral of a mutual friend, to remember him, to eulogize him. I was proud to have been asked. I'm sure he was too.

The funeral was out of town, so we drove together to an old church our mutual friend had started attending when he and his ideas no longer found welcome in the other one, the one where he'd spent many years. 

That funeral was the very first time I suspected the words coming out of this friend of mine weren't quite in a line. He'd been my friend and colleague for years, my teacher before that, a man with the shoulders of a mason, a man who quoted the poetry he loved, reams of it. Several books he wrote are sitting on our shelves.

Something was unglued in what he said that morning, and that scared me. It wasn't what he said, it was how; the ideas jarred, didn't run like they should have, almost left the track.
The man I listened to in that little church that morning wasn't the Mike I knew. Something had gone slightly adrift in those few moments, and I knew it.

We talked all the way up to the church, and then again on the way home. Since we were close, I told him I wanted to see the farm place where he grew up, part of an oversized Iowa farm family I knew from his myriad tales, a family mostly dirt poor--but proud and pious. We drove around on gravel roads to find it, and I heard at least a dozen more stories.

I remember some--the time he and his buddies skipped church and went to a county fair where one of his friends put him up to take on some side-show wrestler who'd give any takers ten bucks if they'd best him. Mike was just a kid, but he got into the ring and walked out ten bucks richer. 

One of the stories I remember had to do with his mother. Her senility was profound, he'd said. It got to the point that she couldn't recognize her own children when they came to visit. Nothing seemed to register, he'd said. But somewhere in that locked-up mind there was music, the old hymns. If her children would sit in her room and start into "Beneath the Cross of Jesus," he said his mother's lips would move because somehow the words were there. Maybe the only remnant of a long and fruitful farm life with a backyard full of kids were a few lines of a couple of hymns she never stopped singing.

There are nearly 3000 posts in this blog. I dare say a search might well turn up variations on that very story a half-dozen times because the story of his mother's singing found a place in my soul.

Yesterday--Sunday--I sat in front of him at a comprehensive care facility in a worship service he slept through, crumpled up in a wheelchair. He's become his mother. After the service I tried to greet him. He didn't look up. I just hoped he'd heard the music.

The man we'd eulogized together--he too was a story-teller. One night he got to talking about this friend of ours and said he'd never, ever forget the day Mike came back from college with a girl, a knock-out, a real dish from back east somewhere all the girls were blonde and beautiful. "I'll never forget that," he said, "because all of us were green jealous because there she sat right beside him in that car, you know--before seat belts--sat right there next to him, that little pony tail just tossing back and forth as they drove down the street."

That story I remember, too.

She was there too yesterday, sitting there with him at the worship service in the Home. She doesn't have a pony tail, but she's still beautiful.

I don't think there are words for all of this really. I don't know how to understand what's there. I know she'd say herself that her Mike is already gone, that the man she knew as a husband and father, and I knew as a friend and colleague, is no longer here. I don't know what to say about an ex-wrestler who can no longer sit straight in a chair, or a poet who's lost the use of language. I don't know how to understand any of that.

But I know the woman sitting beside him, the girl in the pony trail, deserves every square inch of blessed grace the Lord can bestow upon her as she attends a man she once loved and, in a way none of us probably understands, still does. This morning I'm thankful for her--and a million other beloved caregivers who give their lives to men and women they won't and can't stop loving, even when so much of what those loved ones were has already departed.

May the words of those old hymns we sang in that worship service move their lips too.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sunday Morning Meds--"You made them all"



“How many are your works, O LORD! In wisdom you made them all.”

I’d like to think of them as ours, but they aren’t—not really. Bison will be forever associated with the Great Plains, but evidence of their roaming has turned up from Florida to Alaska, from Maine to Mexico. They don’t “belong” to anyone, even to those of us who live here in the wide-open spaces they once loved to roam.

The common North American buffalo stands as high as six feet tall at the shoulder and may well be the best argument for vegetarianism. Strong and powerful, able to withstand extreme temperatures, a bison forages almost exclusively on grasses and sedges. Although their relatively short legs almost immobilize them in deep snow (unlike some cattle and most horses), standard-sized buffalo have pick up dense winter coats that add extra layers of insulation in crucial areas of their bodies.

They change their shape as frequently as Oprah, losing as much as 15 per cent of their body weight during the winter, when they go into a kind of winter funk, roaming less, eating less, living off their fat reserves. When April greens the prairies, they eat like as if they haven’t for years and get truly meaty.

Some say thirty, some fifty, some ninety—but no one will ever know how many millions used to roam the Great Plains. Why no more? Lots of reasons, one of them more important than any other: they were in the way. The American bison was, in a sense, the soul of many Native American tribes; and as the Europeans moved farther and farther west, the buffalo, like those Native people, had to be cleared off, like timber and the tall-grass prairie. Sounds awful—and it was.

There are less horrible reasons. Not long ago I visited the Fur Trade Museum, Chadron, Nebraska, a place that celebrates a way of life long ago vanished on the Plains—the era of the fur trapper, who made his bucks, basically, on beaver.

When beaver hats fell out of style among European muck-a-mucks, buffalo hides became the currency in those wilderness trading posts. Eventually, as everyone knows, buffalo hunters would shoot and kill bison by the hundreds, just for their tongues. When rifles got too hot from successive shooting, the hunters would urinate on the barrels to cool them, then keep pumping lead.

It’s a sad story, but the buffalo is not a passenger pigeon. Numbers are rising these days, and their resurgence is a beautiful thing.

A few years ago, a rutting bull decided, for reasons known only to him, to run beside our tour bus. Just outside the windows, he loped along on the side of the road for a mile or so, ran and ran and ran and ran, seemingly without tiring. But then, a bison’s windpipe is huge. Even though the average bull today weighs as much as 1600 pounds, he’s a cross-country star. Any of a dozen Native peoples knew they’d need extra horses to run those beasts down because the American bison can run marathons. They're fearfully and wonderfully made.

Is that spacious windpipe an illustration of God’s own creative genius, or is it something that developed through thousands of years by the constant warfare we call, since Darwin, “the survival of the fittest”?

I'll let others fight that one out? What we all know is this—we white Europeans almost killed them all; but, praise the Lord, they’re making a comeback, they’re rallying, even though their old world is now drawn and quartered by fences.

“How many are your works, O Lord; in wisdom, you made them all.”

Friday, March 24, 2017

My Saturday Speech--ii



(Continued from yesterday.) 
If you think Representative Steve King is wrong about "somebody else's babies" and you're in the area, please stop by at the Sioux County Courthouse, Orange City, 10 a.m., on Saturday, March 25th, for a rally that will include several speakers from the area.
________________________ 
But you didn’t have to be German to suffer discrimination back then. Even the Dutch were persecuted. In central Iowa, a bomb beneath the parsonage of the Reformed Church, set there by patriotic American terrorists, failed to ignite; but flag-flying vigilantes succeeded in burning down the New Sharon Reformed Church by vigilantes so muddle-headed they assumed "Dutch" meant Deutsch.

A Christian school in Peoria, Iowa, went up in flames for the same reason. Right-thinking, patriotic loyalist Americans looked upon German-Americans and Dutch-Americans—and just about anyone who spoke a foreign language as the Kaiser’s hellish brood.

We have a wide-ranging history of prejudice that includes almost all of the people here gathered.

Let me tell you a story:

Ten, maybe fifteen years ago, I was in line at a grocery store, behind two Hispanic men checking out. The clerk—just a girl—was having trouble communicating because those two customers' limited skill with the English language was, to her, an annoying distraction. Her frustration was evident.

When the Hispanic men walked away, she muttered something to us—the white folks in line—words meant more clearly for us but spoken loud enough for them. “Learn the language,” she growled. “When you come here to this country, learn the language!”

She was a kid, high school age.

I wasn’t next in line, I was second; but I heard the words clearly.

I wrote up that incident, sent the note to the Sioux Center News as a letter to the editor, and I mentioned that, almost assuredly, her grandparents or great-grandparents would have needed help buying flour or sugar from any store in LeMars or Rock Rapids because they wouldn't have had to learn English. As late as the 1950’s, men and women on the streets of Orange City or Sioux Center still used the Dutch language, forty years after immigration from Holland came to a halt for the First World War.

Just a couple of generations later, annoyance bred intolerance in that girl, something made her forget where and what she came from herself. She was Dutch-American, not Ioway.

But the story doesn’t end there, and the poison that Representative Steve King offered all of us last week about immigration and Muslims doesn’t have to end with his repulsive prejudice either.

The manager from one of Sioux Center’s two grocery stores called me—eight in the morning, the next day. She identified herself, then said, “Jim, I need to know who that check-out was. I have to know."

That call was a blessing.

We have a history of prejudice, a history we’ve created and perpetuated ourselves--and  we've suffered; but like that grocery store manager, we don’t have to tolerate it. We can fight it. We can call it ugly, call it wrong, call it evil when it is.

And that’s why we’re here, and that’s why our Representative, Steve King, a man we elected with 80% of our votes, has not only to listen but also to stanch the poison he creates.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

My Saturday speech (1)




Some have asked me to speak at a rally on Saturday, a gathering of people who oppose the bigoted sentiments that Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, let loose last week. This is what I'm going to say.
_____________________________

I find it passing strange that the Native people who gave Iowa its name are long gone from our borders. Today, the Ioway Tribe is headquartered in Kansas and Oklahoma, where many tribal members live, even though the state of Iowa owes its name to them. You might think the Ioways would be revered citizens here; but 180 years ago we legislated their bands out of sight and out of mind when we determined this rich land was worth a whole lot more than they were.

You see, we have a history of prejudice.
The Yankton Sioux had a spacious and wondrous homeland created by governmental treaty. They occupied a triangle whose southern point began where the Big Sioux River flows into the Missouri and generally followed the Big Muddy on its course west and then north through a place that later became the state of South Dakota. All that land just across the river from Hawarden was Yankton territory before it was South Dakota.

But white folks from a dozen or more European countries—and Yankees—determined all of that land was just too blessed wonderful to leave to savage Yanktons. So we took it from them, plain-and-simple. To make our crime legal, we created treaties we never lived by.

I remember being stunned by a Navajo friend of mine who shook his head and giggled when people talked about undocumented workers. “People like me--,” he said, “we know more about illegal immigration than you ever will.” Then he laughed—at us.

Because we wanted what the Ioways had, they're long gone. All they left was their name, which we've simply made ours--like their land.

We have a history of prejudice.

But there’s more to remember from our history, because during World War I, Iowa was the only state in the union to wield a language law.

Elderly women in Scott County were jailed for speaking German over the telephone. A Lutheran pastor was jailed for preaching part of a funeral service for a soldier killed in the war in Swedish because the young man's grandparents did not speak English.

Ninety-nine years ago, Iowa Governor William Harding legitimized prejudice across the state and inflamed the fanaticism that going to war creates by issuing what came to be called “The Babel Proclamation,” the only language law in the United States, prohibiting the use of any foreign language in places where the public gathers.

Even though Harding had been elected by gathering a majority of the German-American vote in the state, he found it impossible to believe that German-speaking Iowans could turn their backs on their own ethnic background. Once upon a time, American business interests recruited German immigrants because those German folks carried with them a propensity for hard work and decent living. But when America’s involvement in World War I began, those same people often were hated, especially when they continued to use the only language some of them knew—German.

In November of 1917, German teachers in Iowa public schools were fired and German-language textbooks were burned. We have a history of prejudice.

A year later, on November 11, 1918, the day that marked the end of World War I, a celebration in Lowden, Iowa, turned nasty, when an angry mob grabbed a local preacher. Here’s the way a woman who witnessed the events described them when she wrote a letter to her sister:

People acted like savages. They came in mobs from towns from miles around and one mob got a minister and made him march through town carrying a flag. They made him stand on a coffin and kiss the flag while a band from a nearby town played “The Star-Spangled Banner.” On the coffin was written “The Kaiser—now ruler of Hell.” Then he was ordered out of town.
The Rev. John Reichardt, who served the Zion Evangelical Reformed Church of Lowden, Iowa, did not as required show sufficient hatred of his German heritage. He’d refused to abandon “the language of the enemy.” He was a criminal because he spoke German.

We have a history of prejudice.
______________________ 
Tomorrow, the end.

If you're from Siouxland, consider joining us at 10 a.m., Saturday, March 25, at the Sioux County Courthouse in Orange City. Let Steve King know you know what's right.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Morning Thanks--literature


There we sat, totally silent over the last few lines of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's Gulag Archipelago, a passage where that long-bearded writer and prophet goes on and on about the near sacramental character of his prison experience, thanking the Lord for piling on the burden of suffering which, miraculously, brought him to faith that pulled him through. 

There we sat in an old classroom--after all, it wasn't yet outfitted in expensive, cutting edge technology, one of the few that isn't. There we sat in a fine enough clothes for suitably dressed middle-class kids and their profs. There we sat, each of us having just eaten lunch, replete with choices. There we sat, each of our expensive books opened on each of our desks.

There we sat--me too--in silence before an idea that's been arising so often these days that I'm starting to wonder myself whether I'm good with God. After all, I haven't, like Solzhenitsyn, been unjustly imprisoned for eight years, suffered the horrors of the Gulag, watched those who weren't strong enough die. I've had it pretty good, really; never suffered through a Dust Bowl or a Pearl Harbor, never engaged in a firefight in Khe Sanh or out in some desert plain in Afghanistan, never stalked the countryside for daily bread or walked a mile for a cup of water.

Writers who are believers--and I'm thinking especially of some I've read recently, like Solzhenitsyn, like Gina Ochsner, like Andre Dubus--hold that theme in common. Each of them in their own fictive worlds like to nudge the reader along to an acknowledgement that's very much in the air these days before Easter, the notion suffering can well be sacramental, a blessing, that makes us vastly more resilient against the darkness in the valley of the shadow.


But it's not easy to talk about in 21st century America. What do you say about it to 20-year-old kids who are worried about jobs and relationships and identity? Must we all suffer sometime like Solzhenitsyn? Is getting knocked down a prerequisite to growing up? Must some old man die so the new man rises? Really? Is all of that true?--and if it is, how do we then live?

There we sat in silence.

Literature--my chosen field for the last forty years--pulls us into questions that have no easy answers. That's what the Gulag does. The story doesn't stay on the pages of that expensive book but leaps, agile as a deer, into our hearts, into our minds, into our souls. Even though I've never been to Russia, know very little of the old Soviet system, and nothing about Siberia or work camps, when I read some thing like the Gulag, it begs me in to make it my own. I'm led to think not just about what the writer says but to think even more about what the writer says means to me. That's where the process begins, in fact.
Literature does its best work when it asks questions, I think. It's not particularly good at answering them; if it were, it would be preaching. Lit makes us think about what it is we believe, how it is we act, how it is we form our lives. 

And there we sat in the kind of prickly silence that Solzhenitsyn spread over us. Maybe that's right where he wanted us, right where we should have been. 


This morning, once more, I'm thankful for literature, even though, like life, it sometimes leads us to places we'd rather not have been.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Morning Thanks--Fellowship Singers


I'm not at all sure what he was picking up yesterday on his guided tour of the new comprehensive care facility that will likely be his abode quite soon, and his last one. The land he worked as a farmer for all those years will always be home in this world, but by the end of the week in all likelihood he'll have a new residence, this one smaller than the last. 

It's not a change he's giddy about, but then being giddy about anything is tough when you're 97 years old.

But I was taken. The place has a dog and three cats--almost worth the price of admission all by themselves. Like all residents of the place, he'll get a measure of TLC beyond anything he knows. "My hearing aid isn't working," he'll call these days to tell his only daughter. By the time she gets there, it's working and he's almost forgotten. 

No more. He'll now have a hostess at his beck-and-call. If he wants a malt at three in the afternoon or a beer at seven, she'll get it. I'm not sure he'll ever exercise such opportunities. He's steeply "depression-era," and he doesn't want someone to have to go out of the way for him. You know.

I think this new place is grand. Still, as he admitted to the director, he doesn't have a choice. It's time. 

The tour was an hour long, led by an administrator who did her darnedest to sell him. But I don't know what went in--except cost, and about that he was flummoxed; but he is, after all, depression-era. 

So when it was over we sat for twenty minutes at a little outdoor eatery near the front door, a place where you can grab a tray of popcorn and a glass of lemonade or half-cup of coffee. The three of us sat and looked around and not at each other because getting flummoxed isn't hard for him anymore. Happens a lot. His world is very small, and every molehill is a mountain--he says it himself. He knows he's on a road to a place we all go eventually, but it's just taking far more time for him to get there. Simply stated--pets and hostesses and chocolate malts aside, if he had a choice he'd rather be gone.

A crowd of residents started to form around us from a parade of wheelchairs and walkers massing towards the door of the little concert hall/church (if you open the sliding doors, stained glass and a pulpit appear). The afternoon's activity was the Fellowship Singers, a half hour of hymns so old no self-respecting church would touch them anymore. 

When one of the singers came by, I stopped him. I had no idea he was part of the entertainment until I saw the hymnbook. "Sing with us!" he said, fanning through the pages. "We sing ten hymns, one after another." He pointed at the open page. "Next month, the next ten."

"I can't," I told him. "I didn't practice."

"Neither did we," he says. "Come on."

I had to giggle. 

We talked Dad into staying, which wasn't easy. He hasn't been to church much as of late--it's too hard to get in-and-out. If he hears the sermon at all, I'm not sure he gets it; and the music isn't what plays in a memory that's probably more active than his consciousness. 

So we wheeled him in to a room so crowded the blessed hostess had to scramble for chairs--SRO almost, although a goodly portion of the crowd were wheeled in and thus brought their own. 

There the Fellowship Singers stood, up front, about a dozen grandpas themselves, singing their hearts out through a whole gaggle of the museum-quality hymns people like my father-in-law grew up with, once--and now again--the very language of their worship.

I've been to gorgeous concerts in the last few years--international artists of stunning virtuosity, concerts in which my own granddaughter sang with choirs that had me holding back tears. I sat in sheer awe at a concert by Cantus, maybe the best vocal ensemble in America. But those Fellowship Singers--yesterday they were a blessing like none other. 

I don't know how they played in my father-in-law's mind just then. Chances are, what he heard barely made it over the confusion running through the empty corridors of his consciousness. But what he heard was language and melody utterly familiar. 

I don't mind saying that the moment was its own kind of revelation to me because I couldn't help but witness a transaction one rarely sees in life: ordinary people being an abundant blessing in such a charmingly simple way.

The sheer delight of grace is its almost comedic surprise, as it was yesterday at a place I hope my father-in-law will soon learn to think of as his on his trip home. This morning I'm thankful for a bunch of saints, the old guys with the hymnals up front.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Morning Thanks--what's out there, out back


This, yesterday at around five in the afternoon, was our back yard. Past tense, was, because although the photo (hardly a showstopper) stops time on a dime, what's out there this morning right now in the darkness, isn't the same. Nor what will be out there around five in the afternoon today. Yesterday, temps soared. Mid-seventies. It was gorgeous.

Last weekend, out west in South Dakota, it was January, temps below zero, cars covered with snow. All winter long our Buick hadn't coughed. Finally, in March ye olde engine told me how angry it was to be left out in the cold.

One Sunday later it's May. What a joy. 

What's in the picture is not all our backyard. On a clear day from the deck, we can see two or three miles west to east. What's ours is one sweet acre, front to back where most of the long, dead field grass stretches, and west to east about as wide as a photo allows. Those four snaking paths through the grass I cut last year so our grandkids had a track for the four-wheeler.

And so that I could walk through our little kingdom and supervise the wildflowers coming back where once there was nothing but alfalfa--to which I added two sprawling pumpkin plants I planted when my grandson suggested that a couple of pumpkins out back would be cool. 

There's a bare spot out there to the just west of the yellowed field grass, a rectangle of open space. See it? 

The idea of that space--I've never been mistaken for Johnny Appleseed or Old McDonald--is that it become, some sweet day, a field of native flowers in profuse and almost sinful abundance. Last year, I "plowed-the-field-and scattered/the good seed of the land" (some childhood song just came back there--sorry) with the help of a friend who's not only helpful but blessedly adept at renewing native prairie and setting the world ablaze in wildflowers. 

It felt like an almost biblical undertaking, mixing a few precious seeds in with what amounted to a cover crop of sawdust, mixing it up in a big tub which created a ritual brotherhood that brought me back to that early scene in Moby Dick when the Queequeg and Ishmael have their hands in a pot of richness from a sperm whale.

Okay, that's overdoing it. But the whole process seemed ancient ritual, even more so when we walked through that chunk of plowed ground scattering handfuls of seed and sawdust.

Last year, I mowed the piece weekly. You've got to give the newly planted wildflowers a chance to take root without simply getting crowded out by weeds, I was told. So that little plot out back looked clean but crappy last summer. The lawn mower kept it from getting shaggy, but a Wordsworthian field of daffodills it wasn't, nor, I'm told, will it be this summer. 

Yesterday, for the first time since last fall, I walked through the backyard, front to back, side to side, including that richly sewn chunk of last year's nothingness. I don't have to tell you--in all that Sabbath warmth, things were popping. From the deck, what's out there looks like it's wearing its own dirty winter coat. But up close, there's green galore.

I haven't a clue whether that spotty emerald is friend or foe, but I couldn't help smile at what's emerging because just last weekend it was dreadful winter, but yesterday it was almost June.  

Once upon a time it bothered me that the derivation of the word easter is significantly pagan. But just because its origins have nothing to do with an empty tomb doesn't mean it has nothing to do with resurrection. What's happening right now in that barren-looking little stretch of ground in our backyard is flat out beautiful, even if what's there is still weeds. It's a promise.

For those intermittent splashes of green in that little piece of our backyard that I couldn't help notice yesterday, I'm thankful this morning. 

Easter is still a month away, but it's a joy to know that what's coming up just can't wait.  



Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sunday Morning Meds--Sabbath



Then man goes out to his work, to his labor until evening.” Psalm 104

I was born and reared in an ethnic and religious tribe which practiced Sabbitarianism religiously—sometimes self-righteously. I have no doubt that what we did or did not do on Sunday became, for those of us with bona fide Dutch surnames, a means by which to hold on to some identifying feature in the fierce boil of the American melting pot.

Last Sunday, my wife and I didn’t go to church. Instead, we hiked up Spirit Mound, where, 200+ years ago, Native people told Lewis and Clark they’d find little 18-inch devils,l little miniature people. It was a beautiful late summer afternoon, and the updraft rolling up the mound kept a dozen swallows more than happy. Watching them play in that wind just beneath us, was a joy. But there were no devils, no little people.

It must have been devilishly hot 200 years ago. Seaman, the huge, black Newfoundland Lewis bought for twenty bucks before he left, got himself overheated, so hot they sent him back to the Missouri River, about ten miles south.

Not so last Sunday. It was beautiful, and we were alone, overlooking land where Lewis and Clark first spotted buffalo herds. For a half hour or so, we just sat up there, in silence, the swallows swooping around us.

I’m tempted to say that our being there was kind of worship, but I won’t, even though it was. I’m so steeped in religious tradition that skipping church takes some doing, and I won’t deny that my justifying a Sabbath on Spirit Mound is, in great part, a means by which I can assuage plain old guilt: The fact is, I didn’t go to church.

Sabbitarianism, practiced faithfully when I was a boy, has left a mark on me, for better or for worse—that’s what I’m saying. Years ago, on a trip to the Netherlands, I realized that it has left a mark there, too, even though few Dutch-Americans consider the Netherlands a “Christian nation,” as so many them are proud of asserting about this country. On a Sunday, shops were closed, not because everyone was in church, but because not going to work kept families together—or so a Dutch historian told us. An interesting idea—laws created for families, not businesses.

And I’m thinking all of this this morning—it’s still dark outside—because my son fully believes, as I do, that part of the cause of his depression years ago was a year’s night shift at a local factory. He barely ever saw the sun. Spurgeon’s commentary on Psalm 104: 23, minces no words: “Night work,” he says, “should be avoided as much as possible.” I understand why Spurgeon says that—maybe better than he did himself. Then again, maybe not.

What’s clear in this verse, however, is the Bible’s arduous work ethic. Finally, 23 verses into this panorama of a psalm, man makes a cameo appearance, and what’s he doing? —backpacking among the mountain goats and coneys? worshiping? No, he’s working, doing his nine-to-five.

All of which reminds me of Weber’s argument about cause and effect between Calvinism and capitalism. It makes me think of night shifts in local factories, and what we might have lost in this country, making the Sabbath into any other work day—how easy it is, even for Christian believers, to believe in the godliness of work, and, as we have elsewhere, to shape virtue into self-righteousness.

Okay, maybe I’m still trying to justify not going to church. But one way or another, I really do believe my wife and I need more Sabbath rest, more silence, up on a hill, in the solitary presence of just a few playful swallows, nary a devil to be found.


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Broken Chain--a story (conclusion)


The neighbor told John's parents his side of the story. Now his mother and father have to choose who to believe. 
_____________________

No one mentioned his walking away from Henry DeRegt's cornfield until after Sunday dinner several days later. DeRegt and his wife had stopped for coffee after morning service, as was their custom, but John stayed away from the table and the conversation, as he normally did. It would have to be said--what happened that week would have to come up, he knew.

After lunch, Peter left the table quickly, but rather than begin to clean up the dishes, John's mother sat waiting for what was to come.

"I thought it was a good sermon this morning," his father said. "I think I like this new dominie." 

John understood that, oddly enough, his father's observation was intended to prompt a reply.

"And what do you think, John?"

"Ja, it was good." His father rarely spoke of the sermon to him. Even thought it wasn't at all strange for him to talk about the sermon, often enough it was simply a kind of recitation of what the minister had said at the morning service.

"You believe what he said?" It was a pointed question for which he had no answer. He hadn't been thinking at all about what the dominie said that morning from the pulpit. "A good sermon--sure," he said. 

"Didn't disagree with a thing, I guess?"

John pushed his chair back from the table as if to make to leave. "No, I was good with it--all the way through, you know?" He was caught, and he knew it. 

"All about the Lord's control over all things, yeah?"

John nodded.

"His hand is ever over us," he said, pointing to imaginary spots on the table "In all we do, he is behind us, beside us, before us, huh?"

"Always there," John said, "even when we forget."

"Even when we wish he weren't," his father said. But there was a smile on his face. He was being playful somehow, which wasn't like him exactly.

He stopped, lifted his cup to his lips, took a long sip, kept the cup there, kept nodding, first toward John and then at Ma. "So we spoke to Henry today ... about you, about what happened." He looked up. "He said you worked hard. He said you were a good worker. He couldn't expect more, really. He had high praise, John."

"I did--I worked hard," he told them. "I was angry with him, and I worked very hard--maybe even because I was so mad."

"He said you were very angry all right." He stopped, shook his head a bit, and continued. "He said that's why he fired you."

"He fired me?" John said. "He fired me?--he said that? for what?"

"For being so angry about the chain, and for swearing at him."

"Swearing?"

"He says you took the name of the Lord in vain," his father said.

When John tried to look into his mother's eyes, she turned away. "I said no such thing, Pa," he told them. "I never did. I didn't cuss him out."

"Henry DeRegt claims that you said, 'Goddammit, Henry--fix the damn chain,' and right then he fired you because he couldn't have someone so shameful on his land. That's what he told us. 

"He's lying," John said, slowly, as slowly as he could. "I never said such a thing."

"Are you sure, Johannes?" His mother waited.

"When he didn't fix the chain--I told him the night before that he had to fix the chain and when it wasn't, when he looked at me as if to say that he was boss here and that was all there was to it, that's when I walked away. I turned around, Mother, and I walked home. It all happened like I said."

There were tears, but he wasn't sure whether they were flushed from her belief in the story he'd told or her unbelief.

"I didn't cuss him out." He turned to his father. "I said no such thing. I didn't. You have to believe me."

His father laid out his hand on the table, as if John were a child, as if he were still a little boy who wanted to hold it. So he put his own there, his left hand into his father's right, a hand stained by shadowy grease from the garage downtown. 

"I didn't say those things," John said again. "I never did."

His father squeezed it like a long handshake. "I believe you," he said in a voice that was steady and convincing. "I believe you and I don't believe him," he said quietly. "Henry DeRegt wasn't telling the truth, I'm sure of it. I don't know what you said exactly, but I think Henry lied to me just like he lied to you." He reached over to his wife to try to steady her short and uneven breaths.

She looked up at her son, stood up from the table, walked over and kissed him lightly on the forehead, then smiled and left the room. 

He turned to his father. "But she doesn't believe me, does she?" he said.

"She believes you, too," he said, taking his hand away.

"Then how come the tears?"

He grimaced, as if what he was about to say was causing him pain too. "You still have things to learn--trust me. Those tears she's carrying are for Henry and for his wife and for his family." His father stood from the table. 

"Time to get ready for afternoon church, Peter," he said to John's brother who was busily engaged with something in the front room. 

"And you?" his father said. "You'll be coming with us?"

Not once in his life had his father ever asked him a question like that. 

He turned to the stairs, looked back once more at his father and nodded, then climbed the stairs to his room.
_______________________

In part, I thought it a marvelous story because my wife's grandfather thought it was. He was, without a doubt, proud of his father back then, somewhere south and west of Ireton, Iowa.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Broken Chain--a story (vii)


John's parents try to get to the bottom of what happened between their son and their neighbor, Henry DeRegt.
__________________________ 

"When the Lord sent the hail--not to the south or north of us," his father said, "not even to DeRegt's fields, was that fair, John?" He reached across the table and grabbed John's arm, held it as if he wasn't supposed to move. "Was that fair of God almighty to wipe us out? Did I say to Him, 'Well, Father in heaven, I'm sorry, but I won't work if you're not fair'?"

John looked away. He hated the man, kept remembering that broken chain.


"When Verburg pays me two dollars for a job that he makes twenty on," his father said, "do I throw down my wrench and go home? Do I quit and zannik about how it's not fair?"

His mother came in from the kitchen, untied her apron, and sat down at the table. She reached out to John too as she spoke. "Things in life are not always fair. The Christian knows that we must learn to live with it, humbly and prayerfully. We live as servants here in this world."


"Not as slaves!" John said. "You're no slave, Pa, and neither am I." He looked into his mother's eyes. "I can get another job. McCrory asked me too, you know. Just last week."

"McCrory is not a church man, John," his mother said.

"But he's a good man, Ma." John pulled himself back from the table, sitting straight in the chair. "I'd rather work for Ben McCrory than Henry De Regt any day. Anybody would."

"You shouldn't talk that way about a brother in Christ," his father said.

There was more to Henry DeRegt than his father had yet seen, much more. He was sure that his father had never seen the cheating in the man's eyes. "Henry De Regt is no brother of mine," he said. "A man who will cheat you openly, then lie on top of it?--that man is my brother?"

His mother was growing angry. "I'm sure he didn't--"

"If he didn't mean it, then why didn't he fix the chain?" John said. "Three times I asked him--three times. He could have gone back to the barn and got another."

His father tried to temper things, spoke with care to John's mother. "I won't answer for Henry," he said. "He will have to answer for himself." Then he turned back. "But 
'Blessed are the meek,' John. You know that? 'They shall inherit .. .' He didn't have to continue. "If everything you say is true--if he lied and cheated as you say, then tell me this--can you forgive him?"

It was a ridiculous question. "He should ask my forgiveness, Pa," he answered, pointing at his own chest. He had never spoken that way to his parents before.

His mother looked across the table. "Maybe John should go back tomorrow morning, don't you think, Pa? Maybe Henry will let him fix that chain himself."

"I won't," he told them. "I will not be treated like that. I will not work for Henry De Regt again."


His father's stubborn silence wasn't thoughtful, not something to be feared. He kept looking at Ma, John thought, but not seeing her either, thinking maybe about DeRegt, about how he could talk to him after what had happened. It would be easiest for him to say that John had to go back tomorrow, make John do the hard work. But if that what's his father would say, he told himself it wouldn't matter because he wouldn't go. He wouldn't. 

"We need the money," his mother said.

'l can get other jobs," he told her. 
''I'll go see Ben Mc­Crory tomorrow--at lunch,'' he said.

Silence returned. His father nodded slowly. "The boy is right," he told his mother. "Tomorrow John can pick our corn again in the morning, then look for another job." He spread both his hands out on the table. "But remember what your mother and I have said--we sometimes have to accept the Lord's will humbly and graciously, even when it is hard. Sometimes you can't just walk away."

John stood, waited for a moment as if to excuse himself, then, in silence, went upstairs. 


Through the heating vent he heard his mother sniffing just enough to make him think there were tears amid the resonant voice of his father. 

He lay awake for a long time, something fearful still shaking in his hands, stuttering his breath. It was like nothing before down there at the dinner. He'd never to them like that, never tried. But he wouldn't go back. He'd not given in, just as he hadn't with DeRegt. He'd been stubborn and strong. He'd told them exactly what he'd thought, but something in him shook with a different kind of fear because there was something new and scary now between him and his ma and pa.
____________________ 

Tomorrow: conclusion.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Broken Chain--a story (vi)


His father's corn was not as easy to pick as DeRegt's. It had matured earlier, and the strong fall winds had taken a toll amid the rows. But John worked hard, even harder than yesterday, determined to get as much as he could in, despite his late start. His little brother Peter helped, but Peter was a boy and inexperienced and required lots of help with the inside row.


But none of that mattered. That he was doing their own corn, and that he'd done the right thing--of that he was convinced--pushed him along with a grace and a fervor that he recognized only when he looked back at the distances he was covering.

His father appeared late in the afternoon, but said nothing of the incident. That con­versation, he knew, would follow later at the supper table, once the younger kids were off. The three of them picked until a good deal after the setting sun made the ears difficult to locate. John drove the wagon back to the crib and unloaded, while his father did the chores.

It was the children who did all the talking that night. Something of that wasn't unusual, but it was impossible, he thought, not to feel tension because he knew that the whole DeRegt story wasn't over exactly either. His mother seemed angry about it, his father pensive, although his father talked about a trip to LeMars that day to set up a self-binding reaper. He'd stopped at some cousins of his, and his face brightened when he talked about what had looked like a healthy crop all up and down the road.

Only when the Bible had been read and prayers offered, the children had up and gone in­to the front room did the story return.

"What is this all about, this business between you and Henry De Regt?" his father said. Both of them were sipping hot coffee.

"He chain was broken. I saw it in the morning already," John told him. "I mentioned it--that it needed to be fixed. I told him, and he said he'd do it--and he never did." 


His father didn't look at him. He sat there, elbows up on the table, stirring his coffee with his right hand. 

"I asked him to--I didn't tell him he had to, but I said I thought it should be fixed, and he agreed, but he didn't--he wouldn't." All of that came back in rush of emotion. He could feel the nervousness in his hands, his fingers. "He deliberately left it broken all day, and I picked more  than two loads." 

"That's all?" his father said.

'The chain was broken," he repeated. 


"I heard as much," his father answered. "But that's all?"

"Yes," he said. "He was cheating me." He started to lift his cup, but saw it shake in his hand.

His father stared away into the kitchen, where both of them knew John's mother was listening. Seeing nothing of his own frustration in his father's face made him even more angry. There was no sense of outrage. 


"When you work for someone like DeRegt, the machinery is his business," he looked up in a way that made John feel as if he was a child, as if this was Sunday School. "You work for the man, and he pays you, and  he takes care of the wagon--it's his, not yours."

"He didn't--"

"Did you give him time?"

"When I came back in the morning, I said it again. I told him I wouldn't work until it was fixed--"

"And he said what?"

"He said--" John tried to remember the words exactly. "He said something like you did--that I couldn't make him do anything because he was boss and there were lots of boys who would be happy to pick his corn." Something in his father's cold callousness scared him, something was retreating. "He made me fill the wagon, Pa, fill it to overflowing. Twice the wagon was heaped up full--twice! Overflowing, way more than 30 bushels. A lot more. And I asked him to fix it--I didn't demand it. I didn't yell, didn't say it rough. I asked him."

"And how much did he pay you?" 


"He didn't."

"Then how did you know he cheated you?"

"He told me I picked 75 bushels." He hit the table with his fist, not hard, then pointed into the surface. "I know there was more. The wagon held 35 at least, probably 40. I know, Pa, I've picked before. I picked a hundred bushels at least--not 75."

"Don't have to get sassy. I know what you've done. You're my son."

The steady chime of dirty dishes and glass ware interrupted the silence. His mother was working, but listening closely, he knew.

"So you walked away from him because it wasn't fair?" 
His father scratched his temples. "Did you think of his side?" 


"More than once I asked him--"

"He has to get his crop in alone now." 


"He says he can get someone else easy."

"About that, he's right, you know. Someone else will make that money now." 


He'd seen what Henry DeRegt was doing, the way he was chiseling him--he'd seen it in the man's eyes. It was there in the broken chain, but it was there in the way he deliberately didn't mind what John had said. "You would not have worked for him either, Pa, if you knew he was cheating you. You wouldn't. It wasn't fair."
_______________________

Tomorrow: The confrontation at the supper table continues.