Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sarah's Family: A Special Love

Those of us who grew up in suburban America know little about the realities of human life that Sarah Palin learned at an early age . . .

"There is an old photo of young Sarah as a mere toddler, standing in a blue jumper in Skagway yard dangling two shrimp from her tiny hands. Her clothes are soaked, and her pearl skin is filthy, her brown hair tousled. 'That was Sarah for you, [neighbor] Moore said, 'She wasn't your typical little girly-girl.'" (Lorenzo Benet, Trail Blazer: An Intimate Biography of Sarah Palin) I can't recommend the book highly enough.

In fact , this volume is teaching me many new things about the nature of life, and that's rare when someone has been on the earth as long as I. As a young child, Sarah, her parents (Chuck, Sr, and Sally Heath), her brother Chuck, Jr., and her older sister Heather and younger sister Molly grew up in Skagway, Alaska, one hundred miles north of the capital city of Juneau. What was life like there?

A friend and neighbor of Sarah's family puts it this way: "Skagway had no beauty parlor, no barber shop, and if your car broke, you fixed it yourself; if your washer broke, you fixed it.. . . You wore many hats: carpenter, plumber, electrician, and boat mechanic; you did all your own stuff. We had just two grocery stores in town -- there was no fresh milk, and the produce ship came twice a month. Banana skins were yellow, but our kids grew up thinking they were black, so we ate a lot of banana bread."

The Heath neighbor who tells that story was one of 11 children. His family engaged daily in something that could verge on a desperate struggle for survival. The father and mother had to do everything necessary to provide food and shelter for their children.

What if a family didn't hunt and fish? Then, it would not get nearly enough protein. As Sarah's neighbor puts it, "The wild game and fish -- that's food and not just a hobby." In short, it wasn't recreational hunting. It was sustenance hunting, as it still is in much of Alaska.

The way Sarah grew up -- and in fact, the lifestyle she still pursues -- is one that's incomprehensible to the over-socialized, over-suburbanized. over-secularized elites that dominate the media (Katie Couric? Rachel Maddow?) and entertainment worlds (Ashley Judd? David Letterman?). People in those cultures are detached from the basic realities of life in a way that Sarah and her family never have been.
If we want to understand people, it's essential to know where they grew up -- and what lessons their world taught them. In Alaska, people have to construct their own social safety net.
The Benet book on Sarah is really good because she and her family were in Alaska in the 1960s and early 1970s when it was still America's "wild frontier." The early years in Skagway when Sarah was 4-5 years old were a little extreme by our standards, but Alaska still has a lifestyle that was pretty standard for much the world into the 20th century. If people survived, they had to do it pretty much on their own. There was no "going down the mall," because there was no mall. If you wanted meat, you had to go out and shoot something.
Some of the suburban liberals who criticize Sarah believe she's "not like them." In a way, they're right. She's tougher and much closer to life on a fundamental level, one where family and community is very close to one another -- and dependent on neighbors not just for company but for survival.
A lot of modern people -- I'd include myself -- don't have great survival skills. If the grocery closed down and there was no one to reply the washer and dryer, we would be largely helpless. We wouldn't have learned the basic skills that were almost second-nature to our ancestors. Instead, we live on top of support system whose existence is one of which we're hardly aware. We're a lot less self-reliant than Sarah and many of the people around her.

1 comment:

Grace Explosion said...

She's GOT to be our President!! We need her. Thank God for that frontier spirit. I grew up on a farm... and I enjoyed that. Governor Palin is an American icon. She MUST be our President. :)

In fact, since we don't have a Constitutional or legal President at this time (Obama hasn't proven US citizenship - let alone natural born citizenship and is an Indonesian in my understanding - so he's not a legal President).

I may have to think of how to characterize Governor Palin now that we have no legal President. Maybe I can call her the unofficial President due to foreign occupation. lol