David L. Robbins
Novelist, Educator, Playwright, Essayist
Native Son #11
by David L. Robbins on May 19th, 2014

Ten years ago, to research a novel, I spent December covering the back roads between small towns in Normandy. On one gray afternoon, I followed a tarmac road that narrowed to gravel, then dirt, then petered out to grass in the ancient Roman apple fields called the bocage. The sun had set, a thin snow had blown up. I’d followed this disappearing path long enough, so turned around. My front-wheel drive Peugeot quickly settled onto its axels, slipping on the wet grass.

I donned my trench coat, put my luggage in the trunk, and set out in my tire tracks. I wore clogs with no socks, and these I lost several times, sucked into cold, unseen cow-pies. The snow grew heavier, I saw no electric light anywhere, and I had driven miles deep into the bocage.
I said aloud, “I can’t wait to see how I get out of this.”

After an hour-long, humorously miserable stroll, including one farmhouse where the matron informed me in gestures that I could not borrow her half-blind, deaf and mute old husband because he would be no good to me, I came across a dairy farmer with the biggest tractor and German shepherd I have ever seen. Either could have towed my car out. The tractor did.

As a writer of fiction, I’ve learned to stay patient when the plot thickens. That’s the job, you see, to create a character trapped, surrounded by bad luck and poor options with no allies at hand, just his own pluck and a task. I say aloud all the time when I’m writing, I can’t wait to see how he gets out of this.

That’s the way our entire generation sees things. Confidently. Our parents gave us this trait, they called it Can-do. They didn’t even know they had it themselves, too busy with a Depression, a dust bowl, war, a job and family, to rock back and think, “Well dang, that was tough. But I did it.” They simply followed the quiet, humble blueprint of their own ancestry who themselves had a plow, a railroad, a leather grip and an ocean journey, a new language, a war or two, a family.

I wonder if maybe we’ve been cheated by inheriting our American self-esteem, accepting it from our forebears’ rough hands instead of earning it like they did with picks, shovels, horses, bayonets, and a handshake. I think we’ve squandered a lot of our can-do heritage, undervaluing the cost and quality of struggle. We fought a few unnecessary wars because we figured, “Hell, our folks won one. So can we.” Then we didn’t. We’ve endangered our environment because we felt the resources were better spent making our wealth and comfort.

We figured, “Aw, we’ll fix it.” And we’re not. We’ve created the most divisive atmosphere in the history of U.S. politics because each side is so unshakably convinced they’re right. And no one side is. We grow less charitable because we fault those on hard times for being culpable in their own circumstances. “Come on, pal, pick yourself up,” is a deceptive, tempting lie when spoken by someone who was born picked up. We are soft but we don’t believe it because we’re the first American generation to be that way. The generation behind us is even softer because we haven’t challenged them and shown them the honor of sacrifice. The hands that fed us were at least calloused; ours have the age spots surgically removed.

Economically, culturally, environmentally, security-wise, there’s a lot of brinks ahead. But I believe in my American heart we will, in our 21st century way, come out okay. We’ll be clever instead of tough. Blood will be spilled by others and elsewhere. The struggle that will define us will not scar us. We’ll come together without sacrificing our individuality. We’ll forge a community long enough to deal, then retreat to our enclaves.

No one who came before, who we knew well and loved, could stand to live in this comfortable century. No work for a roughened hand and an eye narrowed to the job. Is this progress? Yes it is. And as always, I can’t wait to see how we’ll get out of it.

Posted in Boomer Mag, Boomer Articles    Tagged with boomer magazine, native son, richmond, travel, france, normandy, omaha beach, ww2, wwii, d-day


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