On the day after Democratic Presidential Candidate Barack Obama campaigned in Ohio last week, National Public Radio reported: “Later in the day, Obama attended a barbecue across the state. He stood before hay bales and sunflowers doubled over from the heat . . .”
I write public radio commentaries in the voice of an old man, William Jennings Bryan Oleander, from Here, Kansas. In honor of Labor Day, Mr. Oleander felt compelled to hold forth on how he used to know people by the smell of their work. Here he is:
As a Midwesterner, a Kansan, I often hear that others value us for our work ethic. I’m not sure I believe that those of us in Flyover Country are working any harder than anyone else, but I know we value what work ethic we have. Although I’m a college professor (does that make me part of an intellectual elite?) and a writer (does that make me flaky?), I’m happy for how I started my work life, in Topeka, Kansas.
Just the other day, I chased down the last fly in the house. I smashed it against a window pane and put the flyswatter away until spring.As a Kansan, I’m proud to celebrate the centennial of the flyswatter. In 1906, Samuel J. Crumbine, Kansas Secretary of Public Health, published his first “Fly Bulletin.” He exposed the fly as a germ-carrying spreader of diseases. A public nuisance. In his bulletins, he wrote things like: “The fly is the disseminator of the three D’s: Dirt, Diarrhea and Disease; which often result in the three T’s: Typhoid, Tuberculosis and Toxins; and which should teach us to cultivate the three C’s: Care, Caution and Cleanliness.” He even wrote doggerel: “I’m not an orientalist–/ I never wash my feet;/ But every single chance I get/ I walk on what you eat./ Buzz, buzz, busy fly …”
William Jennings Bryan Oleander, my public radio persona, is Honorary Mayor of Here, Kansas. As for spinach and other food contaminations: Folks, this summer at the Co-op in Here, Kansas, we had some heated discussions during our regular vegetable exchanges. Mabel Beemer became angry when Claude Anderson confessed that his bright red tomatoes were earlier and bigger than her tiny green ones because he used huge amounts of “Better-living-through-chemistry” fertilizer.
Now that it’s election season in Kansas, the politicians at the Statehouse in Topeka are talking about one more try at making English the official language of the state. As a commentator for my local public radio station–but in the voice of a retired farmer, William Jennings Bryan Oleander, Honorary Mayor of Here, Kansas–I had to say something about the weakness of a place that fears others so dramatically as we in the United States seem to, with talk of saving our language, culture and borders from incursions by immigrants. Here’s what Mr. Oleander had to say: