‘I love Old October so
I can’t bear to see her go’
So rhymed the once beloved Hoosier Poet James Whitcomb Riley, he of ‘the frost is on the punkin’ fame, though that fame has been as fleeting as the autumnal frost here in upstate New York. Public recitation of a Riley verse today is an act of unhipness on the order of singing REO Speedwagon karaoke at Olive Garden.
I don’t care: we read the punkin’ poem every October.
Riley was a good friend of Eugene V. Debs, the valiant Socialist Party leader, faithful patriot of Terre Haute, Indiana, and martyr to freedom of speech, who served 32 months in prison for violating Woodrow Wilson’s Espionage and Sedition Acts. In 1918 Debs told a crowd in Canton, Ohio, that ‘The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles.’ Gosh, things have really changed over the past century, haven’t they?
But oh, for the days when the American Left stood against censorship and for free speech, anti-militarism, good relations with Russia, and respect for Americans who lack college degrees.
Is principled Debsian socialism poised for a comeback?
Quoth the raven in another October-read poem….Nevermore!
Among the rituals of October is a stroll through the Alexander, New York Gun Show with my octogenarian dad. I have walked these aisles in this volunteer firemen’s hall since I was a boy, when I bypassed the Winchesters and Remingtons and spelunked through old cigar boxes for political campaign buttons.
Merely hearing the words gun show is enough to cause Dianne Feinstein to sodden her Depends. But these are, in practice, rural swap meets, with guns, ammo, weaponry books, knives, fishing tackle, and military patches for sale or trade. Gun shows are as American as Huck and Tom – and therefore wholly inscrutable to our ruling class.
A compliant corporate media has adopted the devilish lexicon of anti-Bill of Rights lobbyists and now advertises gun-control proposals under the anodyne euphemism ‘gun safety’. Among the ‘safety’ measures enacted by the New York City solons who dominate our state legislature was the closing of the dreaded gun show loophole — gasp! – which once permitted men of the sort who are chaffing and bargaining at Alexander to engage in voluntary exchanges without the express permission of Big Brother.
Now, if I want to buy a 1918 Baker Black Beauty, I have to pay $20 to someone with a federal firearms license who will run a National Instant Criminal Background Check on me: a requirement that is at once a tax, an invasion of privacy, and a nettling inconvenience, inserting as it does the grubby hand of the administrative state between citizens.
The upper-middle class white activists who comprise damn near the entirety of the gun-control lobby paint a dark picture of gun shows as arms bazaars at which gangs and terrorists build their arsenals. But if there has ever been a Blood, a Crip, an MS-13, or an ISIS recruit in the house I sure haven’t seen him.
The gun show haunts the lurid rustiphobic imaginations of those despisers of the rural working-class who pretty much own the 21st century Democratic Party lock, stock, and barrel, if you will excuse the expression. I exclude from this anathema Bernie Sanders and the class-based Old Left; the Appalachian Democracy of West Virginia, eastern Ohio, and Pennsyltucky; and the vast majority of Democrats I know at the local level, who have little in common with a national party in which Jefferson-Jackson Days are out and Alyssa Milano is regarded as a tough cookie.
I’m guessing that Trump voters outnumbered Hillary voters at the gun show by 100-1, though the only yard signs I saw on the 15-mile drive down to Alexander promoted the gubernatorial candidacy of Libertarian Larry Sharpe, who is, incidentally, and inconveniently for The Narrative, African-American.
Driving 15 miles in the other direction a day or two later, my wife and I paid our respects to Marvin V. Frey, who is often credited with the composition of ‘Kum ba yah’, though authorship of that campfire anthem of hand-holding Protestantism is hotly disputed, and the vocal Frey supporter may incite folkies to put up their dukes.
Reverend Frey reposes in the West Barre Cemetery, about as pacific a spot as one can find, especially in this loveliest of months, and apposite given his (relatively undisputed) authorship of ‘Peace Like a River’.
The gentle ‘Kum ba yah’ — probably a corruption of ‘Come By Here’ – has become a joke, suggestive of cloying, smarmy, jelly-spined milquetoastery… as if there’s something funny about peace, love, and understanding. I’d like to think the Lord still comes by here. But I’d hate for Him to turn on the TV or click on nytimes.com. Because it’d send Him straight to the gun show, and that background check would be a doozy.
Bill Kauffman is the author of 11 books, among them Dispatches from the Muckdog Gazette (Henry Holt) and Ain’t My America (Metropolitan).