The temperature was ninety degrees in the shade as we waited for a shuttle to the George W. Bush rally on Hillsboro Road in Nashville. A close friend encouraged us to attend and make a donation to the Republican Party in 2004.
My wife and I wanted to see the President close up. I was equally curious to see my fellow citizens who were either rich enough or dumb enough to contribute that much money for a ten second encounter or photo opportunity with George W. Bush.
Burns Kemp, Ben Howell, Frank Layhew, Kemp Briggs & Bill Pendergrass
Detroit City depicts a period of each of their stories.
- Burns delivered a friend’s Harley Davidson motorcycle from Nashville to Detroit and stayed on to work in an automobile plant.
- Ben fled from a little town in Florida to avoid prosecution. He went to work in an automobile plant and stayed on.
- Frank went to visit a friend who was working for Chrysler and took a job in the automobile plant also.
- Kemp followed his older brother to Detroit and accepted a job at the Dodge Main Auto Assembly Plant in Hamtramck, Michigan.
- Bill Pendergrass took a job in Detroit in an Automobile plant. In late October he concluded that he had to buy a heavy coat or go to a warmer climate. He put the money for a winter coat into a bus fare to California, where he met a nurse and was married.
Detroit City is a composite of each of these homesick guys. Let’s call him Burns Bridges to be consistent with his story.
The usual Saturday morning crowd was gathered when Peyton Smith planted the seed for the idea that would change Old Jefferson forever.
“You know time doesn’t seem to have any identity. You can’t see it or hear it as it passes. We carry a pocket watch or have a clock that ticks as if time were not silent. A time piece reminds us of time but it is not time. It is really events that mark the passing of time. ie: We are born, cut our first teeth, start to school, break a bone, get a job, get married, have kids, etc. All these are events which mark time for us.
Now that we are in what is being called an economic depression this will be an event which marks time for all of us for years to come.
We can already see how this “depression” has changed lives. We all have to get by on less. Some of us were rich and are now poor. Some are depressed, others have begun to fight and steal from their neighbors. Children are often beaten for no reason, wives are battered, couples have divorced, and a few of our women have turned to prostitution. A few men have begun to make “moonshine” and sell it to their neighbors who have become drunkards.
I have an idea: this depression is not going to last more than a few more years. Why don’t we put our heads and hearts together and see if we can’t come up with a plan to survive without falling apart (as we have been doing). What would happen if we think of our whole community as one family? If some of us have more than we need and our neighbor’s children are hungry and barefoot, it is in the best interest of all of us that we do something before it’s too late.”
The others gathered at the store soberly agreed something needed to be done.
Everyone was silent for what seemed like several minutes. Finally Ben Ward broke the silence. “Peyton, you seem to have done some thinking about this thing. You see the people who come into your store. All of us try to put on our best appearance, but when a family runs out of money their grocer is the first to know. Tell us more of your idea on how to help all of us endure without hitting bottom or turning against one another.”
This is a poem that I remembered from the 8th grade:
One ship drives East,
And another West
With the self-same winds that blow;
Tis the set of the sail
And not the gale,
Which decides the way we go.
Like the winds of the sea
Are the ways of fate;
As the voyage along through life;
Tis the set of the soul
That decides its goal,
And not the calm or the strife.
– Ella Wheeler Wilcox
Creative Commons image courtesy of kulicki
One of our forefathers coined the phrase “right and left wings” as it relates to politics. In this excellent expression of visual imagery, he helped us place a very complex concept into a working reality.
There seems to be a natural phenomenon related to people when they form into groups, regardless of the purpose. Within a certain sampling, whether it’s hundreds or thousands, a group will always divide into moderate, conservative, and liberal. Thus a group will always form into center and left and right wings.