I have this good friend with whom I grew up in Chicago from 1931 to 1961. He then left for the Xanadu pleasures of Santa Barbara. Chicago & Santa Barbara — the contrasts couldn’t be sharper. And yet we remain in close touch, tracking the differences between our two venues. While we both agree Southern California is sunnier than Northern Illinois, we’ve also concluded that Chicago stays in your blood!
Just maybe our conclusion is a commentary on today’s America itself.
Look at it this way. Over the last few generations, the country seems to have moved more in the direction of California than Illinois. More in the direction of new country, new frontiers, new physical comforts, and my friend’s new easier pace of living. In the meantime, this part of the country has aged, has lost population, has been labeled the Rust Belt where cities like Cleveland, Detroit and maybe even Chicago settle in to die. However, in the wake of the Great Recession we both remember what our parents learned during the Great Depression.
As kids back then, Will and I watched them struggle in the impoverished streets of Chicago, trying to re-locate that ‘American Dream’ which had brought them here and which had nourished them to success. We watched them try to figure out what went wrong. And we listened with them to President Roosevelt talking about not fearing fear and about doubting our doubts.
The historians can debate the Great Depression, but based on our little Chicago/Santa Barbara dialog, we’ve decided President Roosevelt sang and sold his rallying cry just right. In time our parents and our communities remembered to get back to the basics they had grown up with in this hard-scrabble Midwest. Basics like sweating not sunning, struggling not coasting, doing whatever you did better than anyone else!
Right now the two men who would sit in the same White House as did Roosevelt seem to be struggling, each in their own way, to re-orchestra his same rallying song. Oh, in case you weren’t there, the song was a little gutsy grabber: “Happy Days Are Here Again!”
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