Comforts and Pleasantness

Category: People

You would think all was wonderful in this sweet land

On November 3, 1946, my grandfather, Lou Hartman, was on a bus from Davis, California, to Berkeley, returning from an apparently blissful weekend with his fiancée and her family. The next morning, he wrote to my grandmother, Blanche:

We drove on through the night. Across the aisle an old gentleman and a soldier changed views on the country here and in Wichita. The old man gave the kid a cigar and you would think all was wonderful in this sweet land. But then they got on the Jewish question, repeating all the old lies about wealth and power, Hitler did one good thing etc. etc. In the past, when such things have happened in public and I was not immediately concerned, I would writhe and suffer—and say nothing. I was lying down on the cross seat and suddenly I was talking. I had never heard my voice like that before. Hard, biting, controlled. The old man, who had started the filthy talk, apologized and later tried to get palsi-walsi with me. The bus heard it, I guess, and he was mightily embarrassed. Not that it changed him, but if everyone would speak out and pass to the attack at moments like this there would be less of it.

My great-grandparents sang adorable leftist propaganda

The Workers Have No Vote In Alabama, sung to the tune of The Monkeys Have No Tails In Zamboanga. Recorded by Alan Lomax in Trussville, Alabama, I think (at their kitchen table, with much bourbon, I was told) in 1937, or thereabouts.

My great-grandmother’s accent is the best thing. (She sounded like that even after she’d lived in California for forty years.)

And to complete the picture, Virginia Durr’s description of them, from her oral history:

But I did go to see Joe Gelders . . . and there he was, tall and thin and I thought he was a good looking fellow and he looked like a Jewish prophet, kind of beautiful blue eyes and with lovely manners. Then, he had this darling wife named Esther Gelders, who was Esther Frank and came from Montgomery. She was very lively and cute and very pretty and a typical kind of southern belle type, chatty and made you feel at home.

Ten years later, they looked like this:


In which I look for strength from my ancestors

My grandmother has not been gone a year. Here I invoke her memory in the face of the election.

The problem with permaculture

To my irritable eye, permaculturists appear to approach the world like a superfancy lego set: once they get all their perfectly modular pieces in place exactly the way the instructions specify, they think the whole thing will light up in rainbows and play cute music. Hah. Plants and soils and streams and bugs are alive, folks, and radically complicated and not at all modular. They don’t care about categorized plant lists or imaginary “guilds.” And I, for one, am glad: a world made out of interchangeable lego bricks sounds like a pretty horrifying place to live.

Jefferson be damned, I don’t believe in the pursuit of happiness.

I’m with Barry Schwarz (quoted here):

“Happiness as a byproduct of living your life is a great thing. . . . But happiness as a goal is a recipe for disaster.”

Jefferson on Morality, Religion, and Travel.

Thomas Jefferson wrote on August 10, 1787 a letter to his nephew Peter Carr containing number of interesting bits of advice regarding the young man’s education, including:

3. Moral Philosophy. . . . The moral sense, or conscience, is as much a part of man as his leg or arm. It is given to all human beings in a stronger or weaker degree, as force of members is given them in a greater or less degree. It may be strengthened by exercise, as may any particular limb of the body. This sense is submitted indeed in some degree to the guidance of reason; but it is a small stock which is required for this: even a less one than what we call common sense. State a moral case to a ploughman & a professor. The former will decide it as well, & often better than the latter, because he has not been led astray by artificial rules.

4. Religion. . . . Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear. . . . Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of it’s consequences. If it ends in a belief that there is no god, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort & pleasantness you feel in it’s exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you.

5. Travelling. This makes men wiser, but less happy. When men of sober age travel, they gather knoledge which they may apply usefully for their country, but they are subject ever after to recollections mixed with regret, their affections are weakened by being extended over more objects, & they learn new habits which cannot be gratified when they return home. Young men who travel are exposed to all these inconveniences in a higher degree, to others still more serious, and do not acquire that wisdom for which a previous foundation is requisite by repeated & just observations at home.