David and His Violin

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Meadow

The decision is made! The drive to move on in search of a new horizon will happen.   New land with predictable contours, for plowing, planting and cultivating, will be had.  The last winter in Wisconsin had settled in for the Garland’s. On a visit to Grandad McClintock’s, in the dead of winter, where family gathers round the fire and the romantic Uncle David plays the violin with his Celtic fervor, and mother sings along, dissent is heard by the news that the Garland family will be settling in Winneshiek on the edge of Looking Glass Prairie. Going to Iowa!

Grandpa McClintock doesn’t want to see his daughter go. He says, to Mr. Garland,

Ye’d better stick to the old coulee, ‘…a touch of sadness in his voice.’  Ye’ll find no better here. …ye belong here. It’s the curse of our country, -this constant moving, moving. I’d have been better off had I stayed in Ohio, though this valley seemed very beautiful to me the first time I saw it.

The conflict between staying and leaving continues, as the mother in singing, “O’er the Hills in Legions Boy,” is subdued by the prospects of separation, and her husband, the ‘explorer, pioneer’ can only see the opportunities ahead, in a new land. Hamlin says, “life is a struggle, love a torment,” as the mind set for preparations is formed.  Even Grandpa  knows deep down the heart wrenching feeling of leaving your loved ones behind.

Hamlin’s autobiography is beautifully rendered in a poetic language, imbued with contrasting tones of light and dark, reminiscent of the true romantic spirit of the author and the times.   His descriptions of the land, and the mood they cast are indelibly etched in his memory. It is in his darkest poetic thoughts, where true meaning is found.

The reader is constantly reminded of the perspective of the author of “A Son of a Middle Border,” looking back in time. Remembering the bittersweet experience of being torn from the land of his blood, and his undying search of his childhood roots.

It all lies in the unchanging realm of the past-this land of my childhood. Its charm, its strange dominion cannot return save in the poet’s reminiscent dream. No money, no railway train can take us back to it. It did not in truth exist-it was a magical world, born of moaning winds-a union which can never come again to you or me, father, uncle, brother, till the coulee meadows bloom again unscarred of spade or plow.

Isn’t it what we all yearn for, to return to the ‘impossible past’ and relive the sweet magical scent of the fragile dreams that never really were?

Last Threshing in the Coulee

Hamlin looks back with appreciation for the life they led in the Coulee.  The hard work was never drudgery for him as he enjoyed being witness and participating in the shared camaraderie with his cousins, uncles, father, and mother.  They all worked for the common good.

He was old enough however to understand that his father was no longer interested in staying on this Wisconsin farm, that he was going to sell out, and move further West. Hamlin was emotionally devastated and feared the impact this uprootedness would have on his mother, and subsequently on him, for when his mother was unhappy, so was he.

Hamlin intuitively understands the change a move away from family can have on the female spirit, and expresses it in this way with regards to his mother.

I fear it did not solace my mother as she contemplated the loss of home and kindred.  She was not by nature an emigrant, – few women are…most of her brothers and sisters still lived just across the ridge in the valley of the Neshonoc, and the thought of leaving them for a wild and unknown region was not pleasant.

To my father, on the contrary, change was alluring. Iowa was now the place of the rainbow and the pot of gold.

The family would enjoy one more threshing and one more Thanksgiving, but by the first of the year, father said he would be off searching for new land.

As if writing his memoir, Hamlin lamentably looks back in time:

Oh those blessed days, those entrancing nights!  How fine they were then, and how mellow they are now, for the slow-paced years have dropped nearly fifty other golden mists upon that far-off valley. From this distance I cannot understand how my father brought himself to leave that lovely farm and those good and noble friends.

There seemed to be no way the family could sway Hamlin’s father differently.  The only choice was to look forward to a new life on the Prairie.

From A Son of Middle Border

By Hamlin Garland