Jewish World Review June 29, 1999 /15 Tamuz 5759
Clinton S. Thomas, the first of nine children born to B&O Railroad boilermaker Warren and homemaker Ada Thomas, was delivered on Jan. 10, 1908. Things were cheap then, but life was valuable. Now, life is cheap and things are valuable. A loaf of bread cost about 4 cents, a gallon of gas 9 cents. Milk, when it didn't come directly from the cow, could be purchased for 34 cents a gallon. Average annual income was about $1,100.
Hard work, discipline and a family that stayed together produced character and, yes, virtue. At Washington High School the wonderfully named Hamlet Allen was employed to teach the Bible. Boys and girls weren't all saints then, but they exhibited fewer of the problems we universally deplore today. What did they know that we've forgotten?
At our first family reunion in 25 years, my children discover something that surprises them: friendly people. Fast-food employees are kind. An antique dealer opens early for us when he sees me looking in the window and leaves us alone while he goes outside to tend to his truck. There are no visible security cameras or alarms.
I turn on the television once, see a presidential news conference and immediately turn it off. Why allow the artificiality of that other Washington to intrude on the authentic? It is peculiar how the things that seem so important at home seem insignificant here. It's not that folks don't care. It's just not a high priority.
In that other Washington it's a big deal to have your name in certain newspapers and your face on certain networks. Here, a gas station welcomes me to town by putting my name in lights. Who needs the Pulitzer prize after that?
I am asked to speak at my father's high school, where the gymnasium seats more than 7,000 for basketball. In Washington, D.C., it's politics first and everything else a distant second. In Washington, Ind., basketball and families are first, and there isn't much time for anything else.
I tell the crowd of relatives, local officials and a few activists that while it can be dangerous to live in the past, when something of value falls out of your vehicle, it is wise to stop, turn around and pick it up before heading on. It is a metaphor for our hurry-up age that has lost something from our past but refuses to reverse direction and reclaim it.
No one needs to wait for politicians to make our families better. Each of us has the power to do that ourselves. If we are estranged, we can at least attempt reconciliation. If we have been out of touch, new technology, old-fashioned letters and the telephone can enable us to renew contact. If there are grudges, we have the power to forgive, especially if we are the wronged party.
In my father's 1927 yearbook, given to me by Bill Quilliam, a local newspaper columnist and the son of one of Dad's classmates, there is no hint of the coming Depression or of the Second World War that lay ahead and would draft Dad and four of his five brothers into the military. But there is a clue to the source of their integrity -- a quote in Dad's "annual'' from someone identified only as "South,'' possibly the 17th-century English preacher, Robert South: "Our knowledge is our power and God our strength.''
That is what has been lost. We need to retrieve it, first in our own families. Only then will our
nation reflect "values'' from that other Washington. But that Washington can never impose
them on a people intent on devaluing their own history and the lessons that even now might
be learned from
06/25/99: Remembering Eric Liddell