January 24, 2004
Cracker Barrel Culture
Note: this is a post recovered from my old blog, before it died of an insufficient backup. Any comments/trackbacks on it have not been brought over, but can be seen with the original. The date is that of the original posting.\"\;
Today is my birthday, and also that of my second son, Aidan. To celebrate (ok, to put off cleaning the house), we went to Cracker Barrel for brunch. While we ordered the food, the younger two boys were being a bit needy, so after we ordered, I took Griffin around the restaurant, showing him the various implements and portraits on the wall and telling him about them. (He was confused by the stuffed bass, but thought the plow and the gun were really interesting.)
I was thinking, as I ate, about what a hard life the pioneers had - even their children, in the 1920s and 1930s, were impoverished, and led a very rough existence by our standards, or even the standards of the coastal cities of their time. And it occurred to me that a big part of the difference between the culture of the fly-over states and the culture of the coasts is that the coasties, if they ever went to Cracker Barrel, would do so to laugh at the kitsch, or would imagine that we in the fly-over states somehow romanticize the pioneer past; while we in the fly-over states actually tend to look at that time as one where the people undertook almost heroic deeds, performing incredibly hard work without letup and under conditions of real poverty, to ensure that they could be their own masters and their children could have a better future than they themselves.
While I was thinking this, the waitress came up and told us that the couple at the next table, who had left several minutes before, had taken care of our check. For a six-person family, that is not a small amount of money, even at the reasonably-priced Cracker Barrel. I could not that that couple there, so I'd like to do it here. Thank you for your kindness and generosity. You brought a real joy to my family and myself, and we appreciate it deeply. It is a blessing to pass on, not to keep, and you can rest assured that we have already done so.
This event got me thinking of something my father did, when I was young. We had a trailer that converted into a tent that would sleep 6, and kept it in our back yard. We were living in a suburb of Oklahoma City at the time, and my father had a hobby of hunting coins with his metal detector. One day, he came home from the park with a family. The man and woman and their children (two if I remember correctly) had come upon some misfortune, the details of which I don't remember. As a result, they were homeless, and had set up a camp in the park while they tried to work their way out of their problem.
For a couple of weeks, my father housed that family in our tent trailer, had them eat with us, and helped the father of that family look for a job. After he got one, they were able to move out, and become independent again.
I know that there is a very distorted image of America peddled by the LA and NYC elites who largely control the images we see on television and at the movies and in the news. I cannot really blame people who have not been into America's heartland for not understanding the true generosity and character of this land's people. But this is the heart of America, the willingness to give of one's self to help a complete stranger, not necessarily because they need it, but because you can.