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Monday, August 17, 2009

John Fredrick's Son (From 2007)

I found this picture in the Library of Congress. The caption is what caught my eye at first, although of course the picture itself is very compelling. The caption reads:

John Fredrick's son: "Some day we're goin' ta have a new house too, an a car like you all." Saint Mary's County, Maryland


The picture was taken in 1941. That is a very moving, mundane thing to read. That boy's father is outside the shack with people helping him to dig a new privy hole and drill a new well far enough apart so that one does not foul the other.

People used to instinctively understand that owning a house that could become a home could in turn could become a catalyst for, or a safeguard of, the only really important institution devised by man: The family.

People often assume I am consumed with nostalgia and am backward looking. I don't think so. I see people retreating towards barbarism and calling themselves progressive. That's all. In a very real way, I am living right at the edge of what society and technology allows. And I like it here.

I see the idea of a home that has meaning in and of itself slipping away at all price points. It's just a rubber box to sleep in and hold the satellite dish for an increasing number of people, and I find that disturbing for cultural reasons as much as aesthetic ones. I hear of people who pay their credit cards and abandon their homes because the homes hold no equity and hence have no intrinsic value, but their credit cards are valuable. But my home, and the home of many others who share my worldview, if perhaps only subconsciously, have intrinsic value that stand alone outside of commerce. It would be a big deal for me to lose my home. It's not just a box I live in.

That little boy in the picture understood that the way he understood the stove is hot. He did not require a white paper referencing Le Corbusier, Bruno Zevi, Christopher Alexander and Martin Luther King to figure it out.

He knew about the car, too. People used to understand viscerally what it meant, what it really represented. Even a serf knew when he was no longer tied to the land, unable to leave. You are free to go if you must, or you will-- but especially if you can.

The desire and ability to stay in one place backed up with the freedom to go if you so desire, or must. The vast majority of us take all of that for granted; or worse, a very vocal minority are actively opposed to it for reasons that boil down to, in a dark unguarded moment: I've already got mine, to hell with the rabble.

Resist the assault on all of it, lest your children find themselves in a hellish shack, wishing they had it all back.

I hope you got them, John Fredrick's son.

5 comments:

Ricky Raccoon said...

Hear, hear.
I remember reading something John Adam's wrote. He was repeating advice he had been given by his father. Went something like, "I never knew a piece of land to break or run-off.."
Thanks for this repost, which I've never read. We just spent a great deal of the last 10 years fixing-up our fixer-upper. Our first home we built ourselves. This one...it was not going to be worth anything to the next owners after another 20 years, if it would stand that long, unless someone like me and my wife was willing to do something about it.

Apis Melliflora said...

Home sweet home.
Home is where the heart is.
There's no place like home.
100% agreed, cliche and all.

We're moving into my hubby's childhood home this week. He
can't wait to say: "I'm home."

Golden West said...

I agree 100%.

teresa said...

Judging from the bright eyes of that kid, I'll bet he got them, too.

You defined the hope that brought millions to these shores.

Unfortunately, along with the loss of the habit of thanking God for his gifts to us, we forgot how to be thankful for them at all.

The Queen Vee said...

I hope that Jon Fredrik's son got his wish of home and transport too. I must confess though, that my impressions and love of home are somewhat different than those shared in this post.

For the first 21 years of my life I lived in two houses. The first was on a street with all my cousins as neighbors and then at the age of nine we moved to a new house six miles away. I spent the next 10 years of my life missing that first home.

Then I married the hubby, whose chosen profession was the mitlitary. In the army they say "Home is where the Army sends you". Eighteen moves later and eighteen extremely different houses later I have found that home is not a building or a structure. For me home is a place comprised of people I love most with a few cherished posessions throw in for good measure.

How sweet it is to have grown and beloved children walk through our latest door and say "I'm Home" even though the structure that we call home is not one they have ever lived in.

I agree with you completely on the only really important institution "The Family". I believe though, that it was devised by God and that man is doing a pretty good job at trying to destroy it.

Thank you Mr Sippican for your always well written and well thought out prospective and for letting me share mine.

P.S. My oldest son works in that fabulous home for books and other treasures, The Library of Congress. On his first day of work there he called me and said, "I'm working in the most beautiful building in America", I think he felt completely at home.