You get to college and you find out everything is bullshit. I don’t know why they wait until then to tell you. Maybe it’s because that’s the first time they don’t have to answer to your parents, make the story pretty the way your parents want it to be. I don’t know why they care so much. You don’t have to look around very hard to see how screwed up stuff is. People always want to make it seem like the people are charge are why things have turned out, and how the people in charge must be extra-great people. Talk to a few old guys, you get the story. I know a lot of kids in high school don’t want to talk to any old people. You sort of put up with talking to your grandparents when you have to every once in awhile, or your weird old uncles at Thanksgiving. But mostly nobody wants to hear from anybody older, partly because you think everything is different from how it was when they were your age. And partly because they don’t tell you the truth.
When I was ten years old it was the town’s centennial. The chamber of commerce put together this big book, about Jericho and all of the county. There was a whole bunch of stuff in there about my dad, about the tractor plant, about how the tractor plant was so great because it gave so many people jobs. And then a story about my dad and about how he must be so great because he was the man running it. They had a photograph of all of in it, and I remember my sister hated that thing because she had braces on and everybody’s family had one of these big fat Jericho history books on the table in their living rooms and they would all have a picture of her being ugly in braces. And I said, “Cynthia, nobody that you know is going to be reading that book, especially not an article about the guy who runs the factory.”
It also had some stories and pictures from when the town was founded. Later, when I was a little older, I was wondering about the town history, and I remember opening that book and reading a little. It talked about when Mr. Hanson and Mr. Johnson walked all the way over from Winnipeg to claim some land. I guess the border wasn’t such a big deal then as now, people went back and forth all the time and didn’t worry about it. Probably nobody even knew where the line was. So Mr. Johnson built a lumberyard and Mr. Hanson started a bank and a hotel and a store all in one and claimed a homestead. And then the railroad came through and they built a station and then they platted the town and it really grew. And weren’t those guys smart and wonderful, the Hansons and the Johnsons. Just like my father in that story, Mr. Important Man, making jobs for everyone.
I remember when we had to do some North Dakota history in 11th grade, I said something about it to my history teacher, Mr. Morstad. By that time I was kind of sick of getting little bits of crap about my dad all the time, since a lot of people’s moms and dads worked at the plant. Everybody figured we must have it easy or something. Or else they just resented me because my father was their dad’s boss. Anyway, I said something like, “We talk about these pioneers like they’re heroes, but maybe they’re just the guys who hogged all the money or grabbed all the opportunities.” He told me that when Mr. Hanson came into town, after he had his claim staked, he walked for a week to get to Grand Forks to register his claim and to lobby someone he knew for the postmaster’s job for the town that didn’t even exist. And he was also the magistrate or the sheriff, something like that, and also some kind of agent for the state. Basically there wasn’t any cash in the entire county, but what little there was was flowing into his hands, and he was loaning it out to people farming and pretty soon a lot of the original homesteaders were his tenants, and after the railroad came in and took up half the town’s land, he got rich renting out or selling lots in the town. Maybe that’s your idea of civic-minded, but it isn’t the kind of helping and sharing you’d see your typical farmer doing around here. Everyone else would help each other out in hard times, but that wasn’t the way you’d make your money around here, or become one of the city fathers, or get your name written up in that fancy book that’s on everyone’s coffee table. This town never would have survived if it weren’t for all the people who carried each other in tough times, but it’s like we forget all of that as soon as we sit down to write the story of how this place came to be here.