Sunday, September 6, 2009

Within the Cauldron of Tradition: The Price of Progress

So, the other day I am spending time chatting on Twitter with a friend, @rainwriterjones, who blogs at more chitlins, i presume, but she abruptly breaks off the conversation because she is canning and must tend to her pots. We were engaged in a good conversation, so I hated to see her go, but the very mention of canning brought a smile to my face and caused me to think back on those communal traditions from my youth that somehow fell to the wayside in the name of progress.

You know, fall is my favorite time of the year. And the images I most associate with fall are those from my early youth. At the time, my mother taught at Lane College, a small HBCU in Jackson, Tennessee, run by the CME church. We lived a short distance from the college on Hayes Avenue, and I spent a great deal of time on that campus. And my time spent on that campus contributes greatly to my images of fall.

When I think of fall, I think of the crisp autumn breeze in the air. I think of ancient red brick buildings festooned with plaques commemorating this person or that person and a campus covered with fallen leaves of every color. I think of raucous crowds at football games and dancing bands and fraternity and sorority pledges running fitfully and fearfully from one place to another and undergraduate students walking about cheerfully chatting while wearing letterman and fraternity and sorority sweaters and jackets, confident in the opportunities for progress implied by higher education.

But mostly my mind wanders down the road a few miles to the rural, bucolic community of Bemis, Tennessee, where my mother grew up and where I spent a great deal of my youth. In my early youth, a rural, bucolic, farming community would have been a more apt description.

And right now would have been the beginning of the of the harvest season. During the harvest season, the whole community came together to gather the crops in from the field. Everybody contributed labor, whether man, woman, or child. And once the crops were in, the women retreated indoors and began canning the surfeit, putting something aside for the lean months ahead. The men began the process of slaughtering the animals and curing and storing the meat in smokehouses for later consumption.

This harvest tradition brought the whole community together in a spirit of cooperation and underlined the interdependence inherent in community. In stark juxtaposition, just a few miles up the road, the college seemed to prepare students for a lifetime of competition amongst each other as it pitted one college against another on the gridiron, one band against another, one fraternity or sorority against another, one student against another, all in the name of progress.

And perhaps I should not look a gift horse in the mouth because I benefited greatly from both traditions; the values and work ethic taught me in that rural, bucolic, farming community informed my worldview and propelled me forward when finally my turn came to enter the academy. And I realize that we must progress, we must move forward; any entity, any system to include social systems, that does not progress, that does not evolve, quickly begins to entropy before finally disappearing altogether.

I just only wish, I only desire, that as we progress, as we move forward as we must do, we can again realize the spirit of cooperation, the interdependence inherent in community, in family, and move forward together and not as individuals. I only wish, I only desire, that once again we can return to and nourish ourselves from that great cauldron of tradition.

Do you remember any traditions from your youth that have fallen by the wayside? What traditions would you like to bring back? What traditions would you have liked to maintain?

2 comments:

RiPPa said...

Sorry, I know nothing of such traditions. I'm sure it did have an impact on the man that you are.

It may also explain why I'm the lazt fat bastard that I am.

LOL

Toya said...

I really miss just the sense of community period. The times when the whole neighborhood was out in the yard and we visited each others houses. My grandmother had a big peach tree and we would sit around snapping peas and helping her can peaches. Back then we knew we could call on our neighbor when we needed them. Borrowing a cup of sugar or an egg (My grandmother would do that) then baking a cake that would be shared with the neighborhood kids.

But progress has made everything seem like more of a competition than the comm(unity) efforts of days gone by.

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