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Postcard from the End of America: Don Hensley in Huntingburg, Indiana

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Still from 'Huntingburg, Indiana: A City Like No Other'
(Image by City of Huntingburg, Indiana)
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I've prowled around Gary, relaxed in New Harmony and explored downtown Indianapolis after midnight. There is a bronze statue of John Wooden. Kneeling and suited, the basketball coach is surrounded by five young pairs of male legs, their bodies disappearing above the pelvis. It is very creepy and gay. One of these days, I must barge into the dismal looking Whistle Stop, just across the street from Indianapolis' Greyhound station. I need to see more of Indiana, that's for sure.

In New Harmony, I ate a brain sandwich at the Yellow Tavern, then gave a talk about utopia at the opera house. Out of towners and locals were equally receptive. I concluded, "Why this fear of the unmediated experience, the direct experience? Maybe we can't stand how beautiful life really is. I think the way to move forward is to say no to these interruptions, to these barriers. It might not be utopia but it's better than what we have right now."

The one friend I have in Indiana, I haven't met in person. On July 31st, 2015, 62-year-old Don Hensley emailed to say he appreciated my articles. Then, "Our family farm is gone and I'm the last from the old homestead. Dad made me and my twin brother promise to find any other job but farming. He used to joke that the only certain way he knew to become a millionaire farming was to start out with $10M... You've made me shed a tear more than once, but I'm left feeling that I've met people I never would have. Home, a job, family and food on the table is really all most of us hope for out of life."

Our subsequent email conversation has revealed a world I know so little about, being a city dweller for most of my life. With automation, fewer farm hands are needed than ever, and most of those who are still bent over under the sun are fresh arrivals from Latin America, Jamaica and even Thailand. Indoctrinated into the semantics of cement and asphalt, most Americans are entirely divorced from animal logics, fresh manure and plant husbandry. Even growing tomatoes has become a mystery, much less plucking and gutting a chicken.

Don is retired and lives with his wife, Deb, in Huntingburg, six miles from Dale, where he was born. His remembrances are too interesting not to share. With a pair of dollar store scissors and Elmer's glue, I've cut and pasted them into this configuration:

"Some of my fondest memories are of the little tin-roofed log cabin Dad let us build back in the woods. We built a small sandstone fireplace outside, the pot-bellied stove was just for cold weather.

No honor could be bestowed on me to compete with the feeling of sitting in my favorite spot with beans & franks simmering near the fire while reading a book and listening to the baby squirrels run up and down the tree at my back while a mama rabbit and her little ones watched from just a few feet away.

I've never been in any religious institution that felt more hallowed than that little woods during a heavy snow. :)

Heavy lifting for me started at the age of 10. During the winter Dad kept the cattle's access to the water trough penned off. That was so that they wouldn't get hurt in the frozen muck around it (that's what you have kids for) so that meant we had to water them at night when we got home from school (Dad worked swing shift at ALCOA). At that age I only weighed about 70lbs. A 5 gallon bucket of water is about 40lbs so that meant that each trip I was carrying about my body weight to the barn through about 12"-16" of a mixture of slush/mud/cowsh*t that wanted to pull your boot off with each step. Dad always kept around 100 head of cattle, that's a lot of thirsty animals when they've gone all day without water. Since my brother was the 'chosen twin,' you can imagine who pretty well always made the most trips.

Picking up hay, I was on the wagon handling every bale while my brother walked along with the guys from town grabbing every 6th or 7th. Back at the barn it was the same. I fed the elevator while Danny was in the loft. On a 100 degree day the peak of a hayloft is about 7 degrees hotter than H*ll!

Every time I ever brought up getting any kind of pay, I always got the same smart-*ss remark, 'You ate breakfast this morning, didn't you?'

I've lost track of how many malignant skin tumors I've had removed, as well as two basal cell carcinomas and three squamous cell carcinomas on my scalp and face from all the years in the sun.

My nose was broken three times before I started the first grade at 5 years old. Dad had told me early in life that I wasn't welcome when he and Danny left for the day to go to farm sales and auctions. That left me at home with a psychopathic b*tch many times my size that always said that if I wasn't going with my father and brother, I d*mned sure wasn't sitting on my lazy *ss.

Mom used to stand behind me as I washed dishes and critique every piece before it was allowed to go into the strainer. A fleck of food between the teeth of a fork or on the back of a plate got me a mixing spoon or whatever was handy.

It's taken me many years to come to grips with it. Knowing that you are messed up is one thing, knowing why is another... I really AM a spiritual person, so when people heavily into the Bible want to give me words of encouragement, I accept them because of the intent in which they're given...

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Linh Dinh's Postcards from the End of America has just been published by Seven Stories Press. Tracking our deteriorating socialscape, he maintains a photo blog.


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