The People, Yes

My mother’s father was a Swede from Illinois, born there in a town called Woodhull in 1878, had his jaw busted by a kicking horse, might or might not have known the poet Carl Sandburg who was born that same year, though some family members claimed they were related. Sandburg wrote a poem called The People, Yes. In one part of it he said, “The people will live on. The learning and blundering people will live on. They will be tricked and sold and again sold and go back to the nourishing earth for rootholds.” Sandburg was big on the people, thought big poetic American thoughts that led him to worship Abraham Lincoln in a way that would occupy a huge amount of his time, and which might have embarrassed the great dead president.

My grandfather was one of the people. I don’t know how many times he was tricked and sold, but he was along for the ride during several famous wars and the Great Depression, moved West with his family when he was ten, learned to farm grapes in Central California near the white-ash river town of Kingsburg, loved his vineyard but couldn’t afford to keep his land, moved a few miles east to Dinuba, and was hired by the Alta Irrigation District, where he worked for years as a ditch tender.

This grandfather of mine was very popular with the farmers on his route, and had no trouble holding up his end of a conversation. He had lost his farm, but was still in his natural element. On his way home every afternoon, he stopped at Dad’s Smokehouse on Main Street in Dinuba to drink beer and catch up on the local gossip, which was seldom dramatic and for the most part entertaining. He never drank at home — chopped wood instead, smoked his pipe, listened to his four girls chatter while they combed each other’s hair, sat in his rocking chair by the radio, and ate whatever was put in front of him, all with a stable sense of pride and purpose that proved he was one of the people, yes, who had found a roothold in the nourishing earth.

I never knew my mother’s father. He was early, or I was late, by just two years. We never sat on a ditch bank and talked. I never saw him whittle or heard him sing — don’t know how he walked, or what he looked like when he dozed off in his chair. I would have loved to have watched him chew, and to have heard him blow his nose in the morning, and to have seen him after a bath wearing a fresh work shirt and the same old pair of pants held up by suspenders.

My grandfather slept on the porch during hot summer nights. He listened to the frogs and crickets, the shuffling of opossums and other nocturnal creatures, was enchanted by his neighbors’ soft lament. He remembered Woodhull, Kingsburg, his old vineyard, the sound of his mother’s and father’s voices, the train ride West, and a thousand other things he carried away with him at the end. Chances are, he never once thought of Carl Sandburg. He was too busy being one of the people, too busy knowing what he wished he didn’t know and being grateful for the privilege.

March 30, 2005

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Also by William Michaelian

Winter Poems

ISBN: 978-0-9796599-0-4
52 pages. Paper.
Another Song I Know
ISBN: 978-0-9796599-1-1
80 pages. Paper.
Cosmopsis Books
San Francisco

Signed copies available

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