Toward the end of World War II, the American Dream, so evasive during the Depression years, was suddenly a burgeoning reality.
We had been a rural society. Farming was an intimate part of most people's experience and it was hard to imagine that it would ever change. But bulldozers and backhoes began to erase the family farm. Acre on acre was suffocated by asphalt. Orchards were slaughtered like outdated armies. We lived through it all, not feeling threatened, and in fact, somewhat solaced by a constant supply of Klennexes, TV dinners and two-car garages.We abandoned the old farm patterns with a certain sense of nostalgia. Eighty-foot frontages and inside plumbing weren't quite as secure. We had been used to fresh carrots from the garden and cow's milk from a bovine goddess chained on the ditchbank. Or, if not from our own cow, milk could always be purchased from neighbors who sold it in odd-shaped gallon bottles with a thick layer of cream on top, a phenomenon that most contemporary kids have never seen.
But the universal family farm was impossible to keep in a changing world. A job at the plant, taken on until things got a little better, before we knew it became a critical support system. Millions moved to the city, where industry and technology were offering opportunity too good to pass by.
But old worlds die slowly, and fragments of rural experience struggle on, kept alive by diehards who own tractors in suburbia.
For some, just having a tractor parked by the side of the house gives a sense of security. If worlds were to collide, you could grade out a garden plot in 20 minutes - but then, with the size of your lot it would take 130 shifts from forward to reverse to do it. So you just grade a place for a sand pile for the kids, and when the first heavy snowfall comes you are a genuine hero of the neighborhood when you (modestly) clean out everybody's driveway within a three-block area.
But the satellite dish draws in an uninterrupted vision of the future. In the '50s, the signals were snowy and sporadic, often cutting off Jimmy Durante in mid-punchline. Now they come in clear and colored, spilling into a corner of your living room with pinpoint accuracy from a man-made star.
Commercials reveal a deluge of products and packaging unfathomable 30 years ago. Cup of soup, microwave mini-servings, low-cal marvels. Ten years ago it was impossible to imagine a calculator for 5 bucks that would do much more than you ever learned in high school math, yet now it comes in a size smaller and thinner than an uncreamed half of an Oreo.
We are in the midst of tremendous, history-making transitions - new relationships between men and women, human rights, global perspectives of the human community - all of it throwing us into new and unpredicted experiences. And at lightning pace. The possibilities are both exciting and stressful. We hang onto the moment and struggle toward a personal resiliency that we hope will allow us to ride out the storm.
I often contemplate what will replace the tractor in that vision of the future:
What objects will we hold fast to then as symbols of what is now our passing passion for security? Will it be the snowmobile? The motorhome? Or maybe the riding lawnmower? And will we be forced to park it on the crowded balcony of a lawnless condo?