The horse's pasture to the East...

Monday, July 4, 2011


Sometimes I just plain, flat out get overwhelmed with life. Too many pots on the stove top...too many irons in the fire, too many things on my to-do list! But the Fourth of July is a place where I always stop to catch my breath and remember. It's in the middle of Summer, the middle of the year and the weather is white hot, slow and breathless.

We've had a whole month of hundred degree days with occasional breaks of "just" 95 with thunderstorms and more tornado warnings than I can count. I can't say that's classic weather, but it is Kansas weather. We're a place of extremes, so every year is different. After more than a few years of it, you just kind of learn to roll with the punches. I did turn on the AC about half way through the month. I usually can make it into July, but this year the heat was exhausting, so we've been cooking some energy, sooner than we'd planned .

I had a lot of profound things to say here, but decided instead to talk about everyday heroes. I'm not much interested in politicians. As a lot, I find nearly all of them very disappointing. And I'm not going to talk about soldiers or war either, or not much anyway. I'm going to acknowledge the quiet hero...the everyday hero that we never hear about.

He's (that's the grammatically correct 'he') the one who pays the bills, goes to work everyday, cleans the bathrooms and sweeps the carpet, mows the lawns and loves his children without complaint. He keeps the world going in a quiet way, behind the scenes, tying shoes and putting bandages on scraped knees, walks the dog and rubs your shoulders when you have a kink in your back.

She's (and that's also the grammatically correct 'she') the one who makes sure the tank is full in the car, the oil is changed on time, the horses are let out early in the morning and the stalls are cleaned everyday. She's the one who makes dinner, stretching the budget and being creative with eggs and spinach at the end of the week while you try to make it to payday. She laughs at the same old stories and calls every weekend to see how your life is going.

They (one more time, always grammatically and every other way correct) bring you bags of organic lettuce and sugar snap peas from their garden to share, pick up your mail for you when you're out of town and check to make sure the doors are still locked and mow the lawn so you can deal with the crisis that needs your attention without the mundane to distract you.

Here's to the everyday American. I salute you. And I thank you for the offer to help in small ways. "Could I carry that for you Mam?" or  "Do you need help? Are you OK?" when I pull off the road to answer my cell phone. Here's to the "people down the road" who never judge me for being a renter instead of an owner...who accept us without reference to our religious or political affiliations, who're just there to be friendly and to help when there's a stray horse in the yard who's owner we're trying to find.

And here's to old red trucks and the old guy that lives up the road that stopped by one evening just to say " I just wanted to tell you how much the Missus and I bin enjoying yor floowrs you got growin' everywhar round here. (shifting his tobacco chaw from one side of his mouth to the other) You got just about the prittiest yard round these parts." and a nice, hard hand shake and off he goes, hand waving backwards out the window of his truck!

Here's to the possibility that things can get better, that the ideals I used to believe in are still possible. Here's to the everyday man in his everyday life. Thank you America! Happy Birthday!

About our beautiful flag :  It's a funeral flag from World War Two, in memory of a young soldier named Matha Dalton. We found it at an antique show years ago in Lawrence. I'd walked around the corner of one booth and saw it laying across a chair with the end falling onto the floor. No matter what country you come from, the flag of any country should never touch the floor. It stands for all the people who've given up their lives to defend the idea of the place they live in.

I bought it from the person who had the booth along with the box it had come in, without the comments I wanted to make to the person who had left it out where it could touch the floor. When we got home, I found under the flap of the box a letter that had been written to the family of Matha Dalton after his death at the end of the War in the Pacific. The address was in Golden, Missouri.

A few weeks later we drove to Golden and stopped by the local library, which was also the local post office and sheriff's office. It was a very small, rural community. I asked if the librarian knew the family of Matha Dalton. I told her about the flag we had, that we wanted to return it if they were still in the area. As all local librarians do, she did know of a living relative. And she made the call too.

We waited for about 45 minutes, walking around the tiny town square and stopping to visit in the local cafe and hardware store. By then the whole town knew why were there and people were beginning to show up to see what would happen when we met with Granny Dalton.

Granny Dalton owned several thousand acres of farm land that she still farmed with the help of her Grandsons and some of the local teenagers. She drove up in a clean but very old and faded Ford Truck, getting out still dressed in her daily overalls and muck boots but with her hair combed and her purse on her arm.

She walked right up to me, introducing herself first to me, then to my husband and, in her blunt Missouri accent, she said "I'm Granny Dalton. I here you've got something of mine. You want to tell me the story of how you came by it?" I liked her right away. She was lean, tough and leathery with big hands and a no nonsense way about her.

We walked over to sit on the bench under a tree in front of the local cafe with a small crowd gathered up around us to hear about why we were there. It was like being inside a Clint Eastwood movie. All we needed was the right kind of music to set the stage.

After I told her how we came to have the flag, I gave her the letter. She carefully opened it up and read it out loud so everyone could hear her. Then she paused, taking a moment to wipe her eyes with her hanky, and turned to me and said " I was supposed to marry Matha when he came back from the War. We fell in love when I was fifteen and he was seventeen. Instead, he died. When they sent us his things along with this flag from the Philippines, all we got were some scorched coins they found next to him. He was burned to death."

She paused here to wipe her eyes again. She was crying and so were most of the rest of us listening. "I married his brother instead. He was a good man and I don't regret any of my life with him. We've had four good sons and two good daughters together. My oldest son was named Matha too."

"My Father in Law died in my arms of a broken heart, out in a corn field, just weeks after we got this letter from the War Department. Neither he or my Mother in Law ever recovered from the grief of loosing Matha that way. "

"You keep that flag. You've got more respect for it than his sister's ever did. They're the ones who sold it in an auction after Mom Dalton died last year. I don't speak to them no more. They sold all of Matha's things...a whole trunk of them, without saying anything to any of the rest of us. If you give it to me, I'll just die and they'll do the same again. All my kids moved away from here. Those sisters would just take it along with what I have before my children could stop 'em."

And here she paused again, looking out towards the place she'd driven from. Everyone around us sighed, waiting to hear the end of her story. Then she turned to me and said " I thank you from the bottom of my heart for caring so much that you drove all this way to bring my memories back to me. I can see you and your husband are good people, that you love each other. Do you have children?" ... an important question to ask when you've grown up in a farming community where large families are still a part of running a farm.

I told her we did, two sons, and that they were the core of our lives. She smiled, gave me a hug (drawing a sigh from the group of people around us. Granny Dalton was not one to express herself openly.), and said " Well, you go home and tell them about us and Matha. You be our memory. And you love those boys every single day like it was the only one you have." And then she got up, tucking her hanky back into her purse,  walked to her truck and left without a backward glance.

Before we left, I asked the Librarian if she knew if the Dalton family was descended from the Dalton Gang, a notorious gang of robbers from the years after the Civil War. She said " Well, we don't talk about that much around here. It's a part of our history we ain't too proud of. " and left it at that.

So I have one more Matha Dalton and all of the young men and women who've given so much  so that the rest of us can hold onto our dreams. Thank you, Matha. And thank you Granny Dalton, for taking the time to tell us about your life.


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