Author Note:

“I’ve been thinking about what I want to write about for quite a while. The nice thing about writing my posts is I write when I want and the content is what I want to write about. All the well-respected bloggers will tell you exactly how to get more followers and share all kinds of best practices and tips for a successful blog.

When I write what I think people want to hear it never comes from my heart. If its from my head maybe its not bad, but it just isn’t worth me taking your time to read it or my time to write. Either way I don’t have my self-identity completely wrapped up in whether I’m a well-read blogger/poster/writer of heart things. It has to be that way. So, here I go with something that’s been on my mind for a while and its time to get it out. It may make sense, confuse you, inspire or piss you off. Any one of those is just fine with me.”

A World of Fewer Hyphens

I was born the last of 4 kids of tenant farmers in Black Hawk County, Iowa. My growing up years were pretty typical for a farm kid…in Iowa, in the 60’s, and a boy. The main concern I had was getting chores done, playing baseball, having fun at 4H County Fair, getting through Sunday church without getting spanked for misbehaving, and eating ice cream. Life was so simple I just didn’t worry about things much.

I didn’t grow up in the inner-city. All I really knew was my Rural-America farm home. I had city-cousins, but they lived in the city and I lived on a farm. I wasn’t from a special sect or privilege. Well it was somewhat privileged because my city-cousins didn’t have to get up to milk cows 365 days of the year. Again, I only know what I know and I didn’t get a chance to impact who I was going to be born to and where that would take place.

We traveled on trips a lot as a family and that was quite extraordinary for farmers…with milk cows. At least once a year my parents would pack us up and we would go on a trip. It involved traveling the US for historic sights and seeing distant and close relatives I never knew existed. Family was important and we looked them all up. We often camped with a pop-up camper. Some of my happiest memories are from these trips with family. Many neighbors wouldn’t leave the farm ever or get someone to take care of their livestock. My parents made it a priority. I owe them for that decision…my life is richer from these vacations.

Our family is stronger and closer for having lived in a pop-up camper a few weeks of the year. Fried bologna can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for several days. And we have a lot of funny stories about each other to tell now that we are older (Funnier now that we are older any way). My mom navigated and my dad drove pretty much an entire trip. They argued about shortcuts and so we often ended up seeing a road we wanted to be on, but not able to get to it. Or on roads that eventually diminished to a little better than a cow path (Arkansas story I could tell, but you had to be there at the time or have been in Arkansas).

In contrast to my wholesome-like upbringing as a farm kid, the world was growing more conflicted. My siblings went to college in the 60’s and the nation’s battles with Civil Rights and Viet Nam war were quite a contrast from my little morning and evening chores world. Unrest to me was hard to comprehend. What is the problem? I’m not sure my parents understood it either…they had both grown up very poor and life was about taking care of your root cellar and having meat for the winter. My dad talked about eating rabbit and squirrel a lot growing up. I mean poor and they were just doing their best to make a life for all of us.

I was not aware that we could have been in a category of working-poor. We were farmers (tenant farmers) and nobody had much money. We did have food to eat and clothes (hand me downs from family and cousins). AND we looked out for each other. Our neighbors would help each other finish up harvest and if a storm ravaged a farmstead we helped them clean up. It was not a competition, it was a neighborhood. Sure there were folks that didn’t get along, but nobody confronted them…we just got along. We let the crazy people be crazy…as long as they didn’t chase you with a gun. However, we did have party lines on our phones and people gossiped, but in retrospect it was inane stupid stuff.

I don’t long for those old naive days, but I cherish and honor them. It was the gift of hard work and sacrifice that many folks understand. I thought we had a corner on hard work as farmers, but then as a young man I worked construction. Try plodding on concrete for 85 hours a week in work boots and see if that doesn’t age you fast. I worked hard along side people of different backgrounds, educations, and skin colors. We were made equal in our shared labor and lunchtimes. We weren’t German-American, African-American, or Irish-American. We were Construction Working-Americans.

You learn quickly when you get out of your little world that it’s a tough life for a lot of people and we all have our own stories to tell. Let’s listen to each other and make space for others to tell us what they have lived. We need to honor each other’s story without making them some “hyphenated” noun. Every time we label each other we skip the greater meaning and detail of their uniqueness. Everyone has a story and it is powerful when we listen to each other. Rather than adding some inane defining label ahead of words like American, Let’s build a shared story with each other and see where it takes us together.

We don’t need some well-contrived or over-complicated policies or laws to make us treat each other as neighbors. Our power is in our own choice to be kind, to care, and to listen. NO political party or religion can claim ownership to kindness. How could any other human being act in your place? Each individual has the power within them to create something new in every interaction…every day. A simple smile, pleasant hello, and a entrance door opened to let someone ahead of you is the simple act that changes our world. Any small change starts to change our hyphenated world into a seamless and shared approach to respect for each and everyone.

UPDATE: I have had this draft for 6 months and I finally decided to send it out. I would really love to get your comments on my ramblings. It helps me learn more about how others think and feel.