27 Years Ago

About 27 years ago I bought a used and battered book for “recreational” reading. It was called “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men”. It was written in 1936, by James Agee, the photographs in it were taken by Walker Evans. Agee was sent by Fortune magazine, in New York, to prepare an article on cotton tenantry in the United States, and Evans was on loan from the Federal Government. The resulting material was rejected by Fortune magazine, which was not surprising. It was expanded from the original form, and published by Houghton Mifflin in 1941. The book was highly criticized by media critics, and sold only 600 copies in the first year after it’s publication. In 1960 Houghton Mifflin published a new edition of the work, and it received some praise: “the New York Herald Tribune called it “the most famous unknown book in contemporary letters”. The paperback edition that I am reading was published by Houghton Mifflin in 1969.

25 years ago I had little free time to indulge in “recreational” reading, so the I only managed to read the forward to the book, “James Agee in 1936, by Walker Evans”. Today, arising before dawn, I plucked the book from my bookshelf, settled into my easy chair, turned on the lamp, and began to read.

Personally, I wonder that this book was not required reading for every American child during their secondary education. It represents, to my mind, an intellectual bridge between presented media realities, and the lived experiences of American citizens. Today America’s homeless citizens lead lives much more austere than the 1936 Depression era lives represented in this book. The intellectual bridge, once built in a child’s mind, might allow free passage to respect, tolerance and compassion for the experiences of all people. That bridge might allow the child’s mind to expand beyond the confines of omnipresent strategic media realities. In my opinion this is just what the United States of America needs to promote. I am an outsider, an observer, and a well wisher.

The American people have greatness amongst them.

Now back to the teeny tiny world at Mist Cottage.

Attila updated the garage roof several years ago. The garage needed more work, which is now being tackled. Along the side of the garage, where the rain falls from the garage roof, there are serious issues. In several places the bottom foot or so of the studs has completely rotted away. The siding boards were rotting at the bottom of the wall. Attila has dug up along the foundation of the entire wall, and installed a moisture barrier. The studs along the bottom of the wall were water damaged, the bottom two feet of several studs had rotted away entirely. So, Attila removed the rotting bottom two feet of siding all the way along the wall, he removed the rotting studs and sill plate, the mouse nests, and the affected insulation. He has replaced the siding with sheets of pressure treated plywood, which will be painted. Today he is just finishing installing the last of the plywood sheeting. To repair the sill plate and studs, he will have to work from inside the garage, which will, as every project here does, require that a lot of stuff is moved out of the way. Tomorrow he will paint, and then begin the work inside the garage.

The new plywood sheathing on the bottom of the garage wall. Tomorrow it will be painted the same colour as the siding. If finances ever allow, Attila will put aluminum siding on the wall.

It is fortunate that the garden and the garage project are primarily outdoor activities, because Attila’s health issue is such that the fresh air does him no end of good, and is facilitating his recovery.

It is harvest season in Ontario. Every autumn, for ever since I can remember, the grocery stores have offered Ontario grown Beets, Carrots, Onions, Rutabagas, and Potatoes in 10 pound bags, for a price much reduced from the regular prices charged for such produce. Last week the flyer notified us that the store had these items or sale, $1.97 for 10 pounds of Carrots, Onions, or Potatoes. We tried to order online, and were so disappointed that these items were not available to online shoppers. We rather depend on being able to purchase these items seasonally, to stay within our food budget.

I have been checking the online shopping site every day, in hopes that the desired vegetables, in the desired quantities, at the desired price, would miraculously appear. Yesterday they suddenly appeared! We immediately ordered our vegetables, which were picked up this morning; two bags each of Carrots, Onions, and Potatoes. That is 20 pounds of each of Carrots, Onions, and Potatoes. We have our garden Beets in sufficient quantity for the winter, and we do not want to preserve Rutabagas. If they sold Kohlrabi in this quantity, we would have bought a 10 pound bag; as it is they don’t sell Kohlrabi at all.

The variety of carrots they sell spoil very quickly, so it is imperative to immediately begin to preserve them. To that end a 10 pound bag of carrots was washed, peeled, then sliced into medallions with the Mandolin. The first bag is now spread out on trays, and noisily drying in the dehydrator, on the dining room table. They will need at least ten hours of drying, perhaps more. When they are completely dry, they will be vacuum sealed in bags for shelf storage. The bags will be opened as needed, and the contents kept in a mason jar for daily use.

This evening I will be preparing more Tomato Sauce for canning. The tomatoes continue to be harvested in small batches, not quite ripe. As they ripen, Attila sorts through them, selecting those that are ready for processing. Watching Attila sort through his Tomatoes is like watching the King in his counting house, “counting out his money”. Garden produce is our gold.

We have had three episodes of overnight frost. Each time there has been a frost warning, and Attila has spent hours covering the garden with sheets of plastic. His precautions are partially successful, as any plant material touching the plastic during the frost has died, but the rest of the plant still thrives. Frost is expected tonight, so he will be out there with his plastic sheets again. Some plants are not adversely affected by light frosts, although many die if left unprotected. Our Giant Marigolds (below) aren’t bothered by the frost, not one bit!

Worldly

Weather

6°C
Date: 8:00 AM EDT Monday 21 September 2020
Condition: Partly Cloudy
Pressure: 103.7 kPa
Tendency: Rising
Temperature: 6.2°C
Dew point: 4.8°C
Humidity: 90%
Wind: NE 5 km/h
Visibility: 24 km

Quote

“It seems to me curious, not to say obscene and thoroughly terrifying, that it could occur to an association of human beings drawn together through need and chance and profit into a company, an organ of journalism, to pry intimately into the lives of an undefended and appallingly damaged group of human beings, an ignorant and helpless rural family, for the purpose of parading the nakedness, disadvantage and humiliation of these lives before another group of human beings, in the name of science, of “honest journalism” (whatever that paradox may mean), of humanity, of social fearlessness, for money, and for a reputation for crusading and for unbias which, when skillfully enough qualified, is exchangeable at any bank for money…”

James Agee
l909 – 1955
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

2 Comments

  1. Sandy

    I had a copy of “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” many years ago. I don’t remember reading the book, but I was mesmerized by the Walker Evans’ photographs. Do you remember why there was criticism of the book? Was it the reality of the poverty and working conditions?

    Your marigolds are still beautiful!

  2. Sandy, the criticisms were in 1941, before my memory, and I’ve only read descriptions of the books original reception. My guess is that the prose is unique, and the stance of the writing is that the description of the tenant farmer’s lives is respectful, deeply resepectful of them as humans, not objects of pity. The prose aims its pity not at the reality of the poverty, but at the systemic greed that is the context of these people’s lives and circumstances, which I assume was not what the media critics valued. Posthumous praise is easy for those who support systemic imabalances, because they have already reaped their profits, and the past can be relegated to “that was then, this is now”, so very little danger of loss or repurcussions. ut these are just my speculations, I don’t know. When it was replublished in the 60s it was highly praised.
    The Marigolds keep on going, they are such a joy to see as I gaze out from the back porch, and I have some cut and in a vase beside my easy chair. So cheerful!
    Stay safe dear friend!

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