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Dear Garrison, You were a

January 30, 2006 |

Dear Garrison,
You were a Boy Scout, right? I'm a 17 year old Scout, and did my Eagle service project this past summer restoring an old neglected cemetery. I realized, talking to the town officials who helped me, that there was a lot more to the small town of 4,000 (which they've known since they were boys) than I had thought. The kind of lore they shared really helped me to appreciate our town, though it's now grown to 12,000, and the historic past less accessible. I'm almost certain that my listening to 'News From Lake Wobegon' ever since I came across the tapes in our basement at 12 helped amplify that appreciation for a hometown with which one can identify- like a personality, familiar, sometimes embarrassing, but reliable and rooted. It's a good connection with my town that I'll carry to college and throughout life.

My question to you is- do you feel that the increasingly urbanized generations ahead will need these hometown roots, or will we be all right without them?

Benjamin Piche
Raynham, MA

I admire your work, Benjamin. Cemeteries are lovely places for people to go to contemplate life and your project gave some people a little space where they could do that. And I admire your letter, which, in addition to being thoughtful and graceful, is grammatical and your spelling is exemplary. (I am teaching a college composition course these days, so I notice this immediately.) As for future generations and whether they will have roots, I'm sure they will. Urbanization doesn't change that. People don't tolerate loneliness very well, and when they leave home and family, they form new families ---- they fasten onto people in their line of work, or neighbors, or people at church, and weave whole new complicated networks. We can't be too sentimental about small towns, Benjamin ----- they're only as good as the people who live in them, and they certainly have been the source of considerable cruelty and bigotry and also boredom. And boredom is the only explanation for the high incidence of alcoholism and drug addiction in rural America. I hear horrible things about drugs in the small-town midwest and it grieves me, good kids who get on crystal meth and their lives go to ruin. Benjamin, I really think that what happens to you before you're 17 sets your life on course ---- that's your root ---- and if kids are subjected to divorce or adult addictions or abuse, it wounds them terribly for decades, and when you're set on the right course, as clearly you were, then you can live in big cities, travel the world, do as you like, and you'll be comfortable with yourself and feel that you belong here. That's a gift that your people give you before you're even aware of it. Thanks so much for your letter and for your good work.

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