Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Literary Detour

August 19, 2010
We are on our way to New Castle, Indiana and Cincinnati to visit nine grandchildren before all but baby Annie head back to school within the next few days.

We no longer seem to be able to get from home to our destination without a stop at an unexpected point of interest along the way, and this trip is no exception.

As I was checking our progress in the road atlas, I noticed the words “Carl Sandberg Home” written in red near the tiny town of Flat Rock, North Carolina. We were ready for a break, so we detoured off the highway to check out what ended up to be a very interesting National Historic Site.

Although Carl Sandberg moved to his Flat Rock home when he was 67 years old, he still had a lot of writing left in him—over a third of his works were published during the 22 years he lived here. His wife Lilian actually found the property—a 240 acre farm called Connemara. It provided Lilian with the acreage she needed to expand her champion dairy goat breeding operation, and it provided Carl with the solitude he needed to write.

We were just in time for the last house tour of the day, at 4:30 pm. Lilian donated the house and all its contents to the National Park Service shortly after Carl died in 1967, and the Park Service kept everything intact. Carl’s 13,000 books remain in the bookshelves that line the walls of just about every room in the house, except the kitchen. Up in his garret office, Carl’s typewriter sits atop a milk crate he used as a portable desk, and a clutter of notes and books surrounds his work space. The reading light is still clipped on the headboard of Lilian’s bed, and a yellowing box of Kleenex is on her nightstand. The furniture and d├ęcor throughout the house are very simple—the Sandbergs were Socialists from way back, and they lived out their values.

We learned a lot of interesting facts about Carl Sandberg’s life, but found his spotty scholastic history the most intriguing. He dropped out of school after the eighth grade, spent some time as a hobo hopping freight trains and working fields in the Midwest, joined the army, was recommended to attend West Point, but flunked the grammar section of the entrance exam, and attended Lombard College instead, but never graduated. Nonetheless, he went on to become the “poet of the people,” to write a four volume treatise on Abraham Lincoln that earned the 1940 Pulitzer Prize for History, and later to earn a Pulitzer Prize for Literature, as well.

We visited the resident goats--descendents of Lilian’s prize winning herd, strolled the grounds, and were on our way north once again.

We had to drive until 10:30 to get to Kentucky, which is where we figured we had to be in order to get up tomorrow and drive to New Castle by 1:30 p.m. Although we really don’t like to still be on the road so late at night, it was worth our little detour back in literary history.

This is probably Carl Sandberg’s most well-know poem. Do you remember when you learned it?

The fog comes
on little cat feet

It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

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