Thursday 21 May 2020

Dawn in Indiana

Alas, our discussion of Integralism, Chapter 8, "Forms of Polity" will have to be deferred until tomorrow because I have been sitting with the book since 8 AM and am only on page 150. It's not the book: it's me. My mind is distracted by many thoughts, overwhelmingly about the young Welsh farming family forced to sell their prize-winning herd of cattle to settle their late father's ex-wife's claims to his estate.

Wendell Berry's On Farming and Food arrived this week, so I am thinking about farming again. The Prince of Wales has also appealed to the country to take up work as farmhands to bring in the crops.  I love the idea of city folk sailing out to the countryside to rescue the harvest like the "little ships" to Dunkirk to rescue the British Army. I even had a look at the relevant webpage to volunteer to work weekends, but that doesn't appear to be an option.

I have also been thinking about the concept of understanding the United States of America, the subject having been raised in the combox.

Paradoxically, I first visited the United States before I was old enough to understand anything except hunger, satiety, discomfort and amusement. At the time, I had rather more family there than I have now. I am not sure which state that was, but it was probably Indiana or Illinois. I have stayed in Indiana and Illinois more often than in any other American state, if we don't include my two years in Massachusetts. Usually I travelled in the back of a car through New York or Michigan to get the midwest, so it is just possible I have been more often in upstate New York than in Indiana.

Driving through Detroit in the late 1970s and early 1980s was rather thrilling. ("Kids, lock your doors!")

Multiculturalism was strongly enforced in my elementary school, but oddly American ancestry, like Newfoundland or other Maritime province ancestry didn't "count." A difficulty is that Canada tends to define itself as "Not American" and has never forgotten the Fenian raids of the 1860s, let alone the War of 1812. Canada also felt rather uncomfortable sitting between the Soviet Union and the USA during the Cold War, and watching American invasions of other neighbours was a mixed blessing for the adults. I noticed that in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century cartoons Canada no longer existed, and we learned about Manifest Destiny at school.

Most Canadians are not fans of the Manifest Destiny concept.

My family watched American news over both Canadian and American TV channels and read it in American magazines, like Time. We also took Scientific American and National Geographic. We read Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Trixie Belden. We watched "Wonderful World of Disney" on Sunday nights, "The Flintstones" if we came home from school for lunch, at "Batman" at friends' houses, as we weren't allowed to watch it at home. We studied American History in Grade 8 before an exciting trip south along the eastern seaboard to Washington DC, and I studied American History once again in Grade 12.

The availability of American periodicals, music, films, television, food and all kinds of other things originating in the USA in Canada may be why newcomers have difficulty discerning the differences between the two countries at first. A newcomer would have to be told that 35% of all music played on the radio has to be Canadian and to see the big banners in Indigo to identify our authors. We don't provide guides to constitutional monarchy in the airports, and our various unsuccessful rebellions weren't as bloody or exciting as either the American Revolutionary or Civil wars.

However, I am running out of free time so I will trot out my most recent memory of Indiana.

In short, I was travelling from Buffalo to Minneapolis-St. Paul by train and, joy of joys, had a berth in a sleeper car. But it was summer, and at some time rather early in the morning I woke up. I looked out the window, and I thought I must be imagining things because the city we were passing through looked very familiar. I may have actually pinched myself. I looked and wondered, recognised and doubted, and then the name of the city appeared on a sign.

It was my grandmother's city.

How's that for a coincidence? I hadn't been there in 15 years.

At any rate, I don't know if I understand the United States as well as a non-American who, like the British Tim Stanley, has made a special study of it. But my relations fought in the War of Independence, the Civil War and the War in the Pacific all the same, and because of this I retain a fondness for the place. As a reaction to a crisis in my then-young life, I fled to Chicago, and whenever I now go to USA on business, I tell B.A. not to bother having me shipped east or north if I should perish but to put me with my people in the friendly earth of Illinois.


  1. ...And my parents left their home in a large, well-known metropolitan region of East Coast and lived in New York state by the Canadian border for over four years. I grew up hearing about those times. As an adult, I went to Canada and “re-traced” their footsteps, and visited a few places they missed. I still do not feel that I have any right to comment on Canada. I will say that I am very glad that they went back to the urban East Coast of the US. Also, I thank God (along with Italian, Polish, and Czech friends) for Ronald Reagan and his strength during the Cold War. I remember liberal papers (US and foreign) being highly critical of him at the time, but many of us had great confidence in his handling of the situation.

    1. I think you have the advantage of me, as I don't know who you are.

  2. Anon why do you feel that you do not have the right to comment on Canada?