16 October 2007

Rambler #1 (1914)

This blog is a prequel. The idea of the Chatham Rabbit hatched as a way to connect the backstory of Chatham County, North Carolina to its doozy of an emerging narrative. In the current story, a fable for our troubled times, a sleepy little backwater county wakes up at the turn of the 20th Century to find an array of powerful and not-so-powerful interests contending for its soul. As the place's landscape, populace and social life transform under intense growth pressure, its core story follows, like it or not (and some do and some don't) the expanding course of residential development. The blog does a small mammal's mite to save some fragments of memory before that flood.

Now, when one takes on such a project, and heads to the library and into the field to do some research, all kinds of stuff can turn up worth writing about. In this space we've shared nuggets harvested from a range of sources, particularly the county's long-running newspaper, the Chatham RECORD (est. 1877). The Rabbit has relayed stories of love and marriage, community life, and the lore of the rabbit. Fellow traveler tommy yum has written of High Strangeness. We cast a wide net here, it's all wholly within scope, and we think it's all worth knowing, for while this document is about land and its use, it's also about place. Furthermore, rabbits love stories, plain and simple, and find it impossible to resist their trails arrayed like so many cabbage rows across the gardens.

But with all the dallying in the ways of lovers and horse-traders and blockaders, it's well-nigh time to take up in earnest the story we originally set out to tell, the one where the land acts as a character. Debates over land use are nothing new to this space that has been a county for 226 years, and so the Rabbit will feature some of those discussions as they appeared in the Chatham RECORD and elsewhere a century or so ago. I'll begin with the series of pseudonymous columns penned by a self-styled "Rambler" in the RECORD beginning in January of 1914.

I'm not sure who the Rambler was, and if any readers can provide information regarding the person's identity, please contact me at precept6@yahoo.com. So far in my research Rambler's trail goes cold after five columns, but those five provide a departure point for an analysis of views of land use in the early modern age. They also keenly express a vision for Pittsboro that some will find interesting to read.

I'll reprint all five of the Rambler's columns over the next week or so. In the first column, the author lays out what we might call a moral basis for development. It's something we all do, and as Exhibit A I offer the Rambler, whose own moral the reader will discern from the first of the series, from January 7, 1914.
No. 1.

Editor of The Record

Old man Malaga Grapes is dead. Malaga is not his correct name. Neither is grapes, but it answers all purposes. But Malaga is dead and buried. Over in the cemetery where MaLaga's body is lying there are several othet bodies nearby. Over on the left is a grave that contains a pauper. The pauper is dead, too, else they would not have buried him. Over to the right is the grave of a woman. This female was a great talker. She talked about her neighbors until they shunned her; she talked about her church members until she was turned out of church. When she had nothing else to talk about she talked about the cat. This woman was a tale-bearer, the worst of all women. So one day she died because her breath gave out and she could not work up enough wind to start her to talking again. So she was buried quite near Malaga Grapes' grave.

In another grave a thief lay. Other graves around Malaga's grave contained different kinds of people -- some good, some bad, others worse. Malaga did not care because he was dead too.

Malaga had worked hard all his life; had saved his money, stinted himself, eat half enough, and the coat he wore to town was the coat he wore year-before-last and-year-before-that-year's-coat; it would do for him, he said, for next year and year after. It was too good to throw away. And he kept on wearing that coat every day and Sunday too.

Malaga had money. He was worth half a million dollars. He had land, stock -- everything to make a sensible man happy. With all his money, with all his land, with all his stock -- he was dead and buried -- surrounded by a thief, a pauper and tale-bearing woman.

Malaga had nothing now. Neither did those other three. All were equal.

Malaga's wife died years ago, probably from starvation or a broken heart, but he kept on working and hoarding and saving until he reached the half a million goal. Then he died.

What became of all of Malaga's money, cattle and land? His only son fell heir to it and today he is living a profligate's life; smoking high priced cigars, drinking $5 bottles of champagne and wearing fine clothes.

What a different tale could have been told if old Malaga Grapes had taken $100,000 of that money, come to Pitssboro and put it into a cotton mill. He would have given work to hundreds of people; he would have helped to build up the town; he would have been looked upon as a good man. The worker would have spent his money with the merchant; the merchant would have improved his store and stock; the churches, the town and the county generally would have been benefited.

But, no. Malaga Grapes, like many other men with money and lands, did not see it in that light and hoarded his money and starved himself so others might reap the benefit.

You can save and pile up your riches but old Father Time will get you in the end and, so far as your money is concerned, the old shacks you leave will remain old shacks; the idle land will continue idle, and you are dead, having passed through this world not benefitting yourself or mankind.

If you have money put it into something that will help humanity. Take lessons from the Cones; take lessons from other philanthropic men and do likewise.

Remember only six feet of earth belongs to you and you can not take your money with you.


1 comment:

tommy yum said...

How strange to find out that people hated America even then.