Page 4


England who are not well-educated, people who are not refined, people who are not well-informed, people who are downright tacky. But two days after I returned I read a dreadful screed by Robert Baskin, The Dallas Morning News’ Senior Political Analyst. Baskin informs his readers that “most of the northeastern seaboard” is in the clutches of an “hysterical, emotional and u nreasonable” pessimism, a “gloom-and-doom atmosphere” that has as its chief manifestations these days an inability to see the glorious advance of the United States and an “almost universal hostility toward President Nixon.” He muses that this spiritual infirmity may be a product not only of the influence of professors and the electronic news media \(which he likens to “the Chinese water darkling wood which he imagines blankets the northeast: “We can surmise, of course, without being too provincial, that the wide-open spaces of the Southwest are more conducive to freedom and enlightened thinking than the gloomy forests of the Eastern seaboard.” \(If only Time, Inc., had been around to buy up large tracts of the area, it might not have produced such nattering nabobs of negativism as Ben “Gloom” Franklin and realize that I could never hope to do justice to Yankees’ faults. Q ‘Patrice and I went marketing in 0 Boston, looking for provisions for a dinner we were going to cook. We went to a market where different foods are sold in different stalls. We bought chicken at one, cucumbers at another, cheese at a third. Across a narrow street was Fanueil Hall, where fiery anti-George III speeches used to be made and where, in early December, a re-enactment of the Boston Tea Party turned into an impeach-Nixon rally. On another day we walked through the King’s Chapel graveyard and stopped in front of gravestones that memorialized people who had been born during Queen Elizabeth’s reign, people whose parents might have gone to the Globe Theatre for the opening of a new play by Shakespeare. In New Hampshire we stayed for two nights in a house which had been built around a 200-year-old carriage house. It was the present-ness of the past which most overawed me about New England: here in Texas we experience the past either as a deadweight to be thrown off or as disembodied legends to be recounted. In Boston the past seemed perhaps because so much of it has been so visibly preserved a continuing presence. It was difficult for me to grasp this fact about New England. To New Englanders, not all old things are “antiques,” in the sense that they are collected, displayed, hoarded though, to be sure, the antique business is a thriving sub-economy in itself. 22 The Texas Observer These people, who value age and craftsmanship so much more than, say, Texans do, use the things they value more casually and with less ostentation than we do. The pretension of flouting Mother’s wedding silver simply does not interest people who use antique washbasins for punchbowls. Perhaps this is a class difference, but I think it is just as much a place difference, and I think it accounts for some of Southern Californian Nixon’s inability to understand New Englander Cox: Cox is, by an accident of place, closer to the craftsmanship that went into the Constitution and more able to see it as a functioning part of a whole system. There is an awesomeness about this instinctive ability to live inside of history. I appreciated the fact that I could stand in the window of the old Massachusetts State House in Boston, stand in the same spot where some patriot stood to read the Declaration of Independence almost 200 years ago. I enjoyed stopping in the snow outside the oldest remaining brick building in Boston, just standing in the snow and looking at bricks that had been laid 300-odd years ago. There are place mats at the Night Hawk restaurant in Austin that proclaim “A Texas Tradition Since 1932.” Patrice informs me that I can’t just decide to be `sivilized’ on my own hook, that I would have to grow up again among people who have a tradition of `sivilization.’ It’s not that my place of birth disqualifies me, it’s just that my acquiring the habits and mannerisms of a Bostonian would no more make me a Bostonian than my eating with chopsticks makes me a Zen master. It is the wholeness of that relationship with the past that I lack, and not the incidental inheritance of a few pieces from the China trade. n Soon the man in the brown sport 7 coat realized what our position was. With several more apologies, he began picking his way up out of the tangle of chairs that had drifted into our corner of the car. People all over the car were asking one another, “Are you all right? Are you all right?” The man in the brown sport coat scrabbled away sideways on all fours. When I tried to move, I discovered why: as long as one stood upright, the temptation was to try to take normal steps, which one’s body insisted on taking with relation to the floor. But the floor was inoperative, as it were: it was more appropriate to try walking on the windows. The crazy tilt of the car and the psychological effort it took to adjust to it actually made Patrice feel ill. The club car was one of the first to be emptied. Not only were there fewer people in it, and more room to maneuver, but it was tilted at one of the more reasonable angles. Both the dining car \(a steward had come through the club car to announce the first call for lunch just before we derailed, and Patrice and I had been thinking of giving up on the crossword puzzle and had been knocked almost flat on their sides. The ground was wet, orangey clay; the air was chill and clammy. Here and there people Were emerging from cars. I helped a few people out of cars, unloaded a few chairs and blankets, wrapped a few dazed people in blankets. I asked everyone in sight, “Are you all right?” Up and down the length of the train other people did the same thing. Firemen, policemen, ambulance attendants, workers from the lumberyard across the field did the same thing more expertly. \(Two of the firemen went into the dining car’s kitchen to put out a small fire in the stove. They found the rotund cook pinned against the wall by his steam tables. “You all right?” they asked. “Yeah,” said the cook, “look in the refrigerator and get out my two six-packs of Lone Star.” The firemen were incredulous as they pulled him out from behind the Welcome Aboard Lunch. “You may have to chop your way in,” said the cook. “What are you talking about?” asked a fireman used to dealing with shock cases. The cook threw out his arms and There was not a lot for them to be heroic about, but they worked hard. A policeman and I ran to grab a stretcher from one of the ambulances, ran around one end of the train and up the other side, tripping and stumbling, to help a woman with an injured back. When we got to her, another makeshift crew had already arrived, having run around the other end. While I was looking around to see where else the second stretcher might be needed, the policeman picked it up by himself and ran off. 10 I expected New Englanders to be more `sivilized’ than Texans, and my preconceptions self-fulfilling prophecies, perhaps served me well. I could’ not say when I left exactly what I meant by `sivilized’, and I cannot now. What I found was a gentleness, a certain silence and reflection, in the heart of lives where I expected it not at all. I did not expect the waitress in a Rutland, Vt., diner to discourse on why the Chinese do not like dairy products. I did not expect an Italian grocer in Vermont to talk at length about that state’s bottle law \(which requires that all bottles and cans carry a 54:7 deposit, but is not nearly as well-written or as displaying not only a knowledge of those aspects which affected his livelihood but also a great deal of thought about what was wrong with a law he supported against his own interests. I found none of the self-conscious ruggedness of Texans, which may be nothing but a product of the greater distance New Englanders have come from their pioneering forbears. Then again, their forebears might have had many of the qualities I saw in the people I met. In Texas, the most remembered soldiers of the Civil War are the men of John B. Hood’s brigade,