"If we don’t believe in freedom of expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all." ~ Virginia Woolf
What I Have Learned from Dandelions, Part I
Exclusive to STR
May 16, 2007
The First Dandelion
Simple and fresh and fair from winter's close emerging,
As if no artifice of fashion, business, politics, had ever been,
Forth from its sunny nook of shelter'd grass--innocent, golden, calm as the dawn,
The spring's first dandelion shows its trustful face.
From "Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman
When I was 15 years old in a suburb of Minneapolis , I had to do a report on World War I. We were to use as many visual aids as possible and make them as a display for others to see. At that time I had a neighbor, a Mr. Wilson, who was a WWI veteran. He graciously allowed me to borrow his WWI memorabilia for my project. They consisted of a scrapbook of the foreign places he had visited and fought, a gas mask and filter canister that still worked, various medals, a still polished 'doughboy' helmet with a chinstrap, captured German flag, uniform shirt, and an unloaded Enfield rifle with a carrying strap and detachable bayonet. On the morning of my project, I gathered my books and Mr. Wilson's WWI mementos into the various baskets on my unlicensed, red metal flake, biomechanical, single speed, balloon tired, bi-wheeled transportation system also used for newsprint delivery. With the bayonet clipped to my belt, the rifle slung across my back, and doughboy helmet on my head, I traveled the mile or so to my public education center along the road full of commuters, school buses and others. No policeman, pedestrian or other traveler on the roadway accosted me. When I arrived at school, I parked my bike and went inside the building. A teacher greeting the students at the door only asked me if the gun was loaded. 'Of course not,' I replied. I then went to my schoolroom, set up my display and went on with my day. My project was a success and I was the envy of my chums for having access to such 'cool' stuff! I did that without a school ID, metal detectors, see-through book bag, bicycle license, or firearms owner identification permit. Later in the day after dinner at home with the family, I would go out with my friends to hang out. If it was a weekend, or unless my parents had set a curfew, I wouldn't come home until after midnight . No city curfew then. Have a 15 year-old try that today.
When my father was 15 years old, in Florida on the family farm after his pre- and post-dawn chores were done, he was asked to go into town and pick up some items from the general store. He went out to the driveway to the Model T truck. After setting the ignition, he gave the front crank a few good turns, watching out for the kick back until the motor started. He then drove into town down the main street and parked in front of the store. He went into the store with the silver dollars that his mother--my grandmother--had given him. He then proceeded to purchase the items that my grandmother wanted, which included 12 gauge shotgun shells, .22-caliber rifle shells, rat poison, lye for soap, cigarettes for my grandfather, snuff for Grandma, and while he was there he got himself a cold beer to drink before he headed home in the hot Florida sun. He had no problems purchasing these items from the store. No one bothered him while he was traveling on the road without a driver's license, carrying tobacco, alcohol, 'dangerous chemicals' and a firearm with ammunition. Have a 15 year-old try that today, even in rural America .
When my grandfather was 15 years old, he would get up before sunrise and do his farm chores before he went off to the citrus grove to work in the juice cannery. He had passed the eighth grade, and that was as far as his formal school education would go. He was a picker and a hauler, driving the wagons with the oranges to the squeezer. He rode with a shotgun, as there was still the occasional bobcat, or worse a rattlesnake around looking for rats in the citrus trimmings. One day while he was feeding the squeezer, he put his hand too close and it grabbed his left index finger. It was crushed up to the second knuckle. The cannery doctor then gave him a glass of homemade fermented orange and rum blend. Grandpa always said that he needed at least a three finger high glass because he was raised on good old farm white lightning and was afraid that just a shot of the fancy stuff wouldn't dull the pain. The good doctor then used a clean pair of shears and cut off the mangled finger at the second knuckle, leaving a flap of skin to fold over and stitch closed. (Later in life, he would have great fun watching we 'young'uns' try to imitate Grandpa sticking a finger up the nose to the second knuckle.) Two years later at 17, he eloped with a 15 year old girl who he had fallen madly in love with, and brought her back to the farm. He built her a house, raised a family, started a grounds keeping business, moved to town and was married for over 55 years to her. They never had a marriage license, driver's license, building permit, business license (a man's word and handshake was his bond), or Social Security numbers until after WWII. Have a 15-year-old try that today. (Well of course not the finger part, duh.)
So, what does this have to do with dandelions? Have you ever waited until a dandelion has gone to seed and blown on the puffball, watching the seeds float off into the wind to be carried wherever? Of course you have. Kids love it and lawn keepers hate it because it is impossible to recover those seeds once they are on the wind. Ideas are like that. Good ideas like individual liberty or bad ideas like 'the State is master.' Young people are the fertile fields of the future. What kind of crop they produce is determined by what seeds have been planted and nurtured.
America has changed. Some things for the better, and some things for the worse. What hasn't changed is the potential impact that a 15 year old can have on his society. All famous and infamous people were 15 years old at one time. Who and what they become is greatly influenced by someone's or something's influence on them.
Today, a 15 year old is probably at least a freshman in high school. If they are in public school, they are getting only a very rudimentary understanding of the reasons that America came to exist. What they are learning by covert and overt methods is that the State is supreme. Their schools are becoming self-contained police states where the student is learning to accept authoritarianism as the norm in society.
In three years, the 15 year old will be 18. Eligible to vote, serve in the military, contract and smoke.
In 10 years, the 15 year old will be 25 and may have graduated from college, have a career and maybe even started a family. Or be one of the National Guardsmen or SWAT team members who are battering down your door because you didn't pay a parking ticket. That 15 year old who is now 25 could also be your 'congresscritter' voting to raise your taxes and/or reduce your freedoms.
In 15 years, that 15 year old will be 30 and eligible to be elected to the US Senate. What view of history will that Senator hold? Will he believe in the principles of liberty or that 'you owe a debt to society?'
In 20 years after being 15, this young person is eligible to be elected to the presidency. Again, who and what will shape the values and beliefs that will influence those future presidential decisions?