Column: Same classic oldies and small-town memoriesWORTHINGTON — Do you recognize these lyrics — “… Every night my honey lamb and I sit alone and talk and watch a hawk making lazy circles in the sky …” The words are from “Oklahoma!” the Rodgers-Hammerstein musical that will be 70 years old in March.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Do you recognize these lyrics —
“… Every night my honey lamb and I sit alone and talk and watch a hawk making lazy circles in the sky …”
The words are from “Oklahoma!” the Rodgers-Hammerstein musical that will be 70 years old in March.
If you don’t know those lyrics, you may have guessed one thing:
It’s a song from somewhere in the countryside. A guy and his honey lamb don’t sit in New York City or San Francisco watching a hawk making lazy circles in the sky.
There is another song even older — it has a 72nd anniversary just ahead:
“The stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas …”
I guess no one ever knew exactly where is the heart of Texas. It is not Dallas or Houston because the stars at night are never big and bright amid the buildings and trees and lights of a big city.
There are a lot of those lonely songs from open spaces, but you must go back three-quarters of century to find them — Sons of the Pioneers singing, “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.” Gene Autry singing, “Back in the Saddle Again.”
Now here is an irony:
These were songs recorded in a time when there were many Americans living in the countryside. No one writes songs of lonely country roads today because “no one” lives in the empty country. Through the passing of three-quarters of a century, we have watched America become a different land.
My word — Kasson, Minn., still does not have 6,000 residents. Sixty-one years ago (1952) Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the White House nominee of the Republican party, traveled to a farm festival at Kasson to make a speech. Later that day Gov. Adlai Stevenson, White House nominee of the Democratic party, traveled to Kasson to make a speech.
This was a time when presidential candidates had to propose some kind of farm program; when there was a Farm Bloc in the U.S. Congress, Democrats and Republicans together, to make sure laws were favorable to country folk; when lawmakers owed their offices to votes from farmers.
All this has changed because “no one” lives in the American countryside any longer. You look around and you might say Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District is “as rural as they get.” You can scarcely drive one mile without seeing a farm. Ah, but: citizens by the tens of thousands in this country district now live in Rochester, Mankato, Winona, Austin, Owatonna, Albert Lea, New Ulm, Fairmont, Worthington.
Back to Ike and Adlai and Kasson.
It is hard now for Worthington residents to recall those mid-20th century Turkey Day celebrations when Vice President Richard Nixon was in town, when Sen. Robert Kennedy attracted a crowd estimated at 50,000 onlookers. Those were the Turkey Days of Lyndon Johnson, Jesse Jackson, Nelson Rockefeller, Winthrop Rockefeller, Estes Kefauver, Averell Harriman, two (maybe three) U.S. Secretaries of Agriculture. Hubert Humphrey, of course, again and again, but one time as U.S. Vice President. National politicians were bidding for the farm votes, and Turkey Day had become one of America’s premier farm celebrations.
This kind of Turkey Day doesn’t happen any longer, not because Turkey Day committees don’t try to lure Joe Biden to the speaker’s stand but because politicians don’t cultivate a farm vote any longer. There just are not enough people in the countryside to make a difference in a nation of 311 million people.
Think of this. With the November 2012 elections looming, Congress did not debate or vote on a farm bill. There still has been no congressional action. No matter what they say, most politicians don’t concern themselves with farm votes any longer.
These thoughts were provoked by those recently-released U.S. census figures that report farm numbers slipped from 20 percent of the population in 1980 to 16 percent in 2011.
I don’t know that any of this makes a great deal of difference but, more than at any time in the last 75 years, those of us who live here will be able to sit and talk and watch a hawk making lazy circles in the sky.
The remarkable thing is our ‘brave little band” is providing food for much of the world.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.