The TSA lady at Nashville airport said, “Thank you, sweetheart” as she handed back my ticket and driver’s license – which sort of amazed me. Up north where I’m from, a woman would not say that to a strange man unless at gunpoint and then only reluctantly. It made me feel good. It is very seldom that a federal officer expresses affection to me. I’m sure the TSA did not train her to do that but her upbringing did. Her mother told her to Be Sweet and she was.
Not to make too much of a nicety, but Nashville is a welcoming city, and maybe economists can’t measure sweetness but I say it’s one reason its economy is booming. Outsiders don’t feel there are all sorts of secret handshakes to learn before you’re accepted. If not for the humidity, even I could be happy there.
Not to make even more of it, but Tennessee joined the Confederacy reluctantly, the last state aboard, and Nashville was a divided city through the war, with Union sympathizers, Confederate draft dodgers, escaped slaves, northern businessmen moving freely about. Talk about diversity – elsewhere men were slaughtering each other and those in this city were avoiding the subject, sticking to business, biting their tongues. They came because there was money here. The city boomed during the war, thanks to good rail and river transportation. When it fell to the Union Army in 1864, life went on. The businessmen simply switched accounts. It was a city unwilling to die for a lost cause, preferring to adapt.
There ought to be a national holiday when we celebrate the willingness to back down, compromise, tolerate difference, hush your mouth, be sweet. Maybe April 12, in honor of Henry Clay, who agitated for the War of 1812 and then negotiated the peace, the man who worked out a compromise between slave states and free and died when the nation needed him most, before the Civil War.
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I grew up among hardshell fundamentalists who held to revealed Scriptural truth, so don’t tell me about principle, I’ve been there, I saw the wreckage. Now I go to a church where we recite the Nicene Creed but look around and you’ll see some lips aren’t moving. That’s quite all right.
I have some principles. I disapprove of wearing baseball caps backward if you are older than 11, of big tattoos, of people who are like “he was like” instead of “he said” and they’re like “What?” if I am like “That sounds so stupid.” I despair of those who get news from Twitter.
But I keep my mouth shut. Long ago, we in Mrs. Moehlenbrock’s fourth-grade class sang, “Oh the E-ri-e was a- risin’ and the gin was a-gettin’ low, and I scarcely think we’ll get a drink til we come to Buffalo” and we also sang “Frankie and Johnny” with the wonderful verse, “The first time she shot him he staggered, the second time she shot him he fell. The third time there was a southwest wind from the northeast corner of hell.” We knew it was wrong for 10-year-olds to sing about gin and homicide, and nowadays Mrs. Moehlenbrock would be hauled in for inflicting emotional distress and we kids would go straight into therapy, but we didn’t rat on her. We liked her, wrong as it was to encourage children to drink gin. As it says in Ecclesiastes, there is a time to keep silence and a time to speak.
Clay Day will be about reconciliation, buttercup. Anger is poison. Meet hostility with courtesy. Don’t spit into the wind. We’ve got to live with each other, angel cakes. Be sweet.
Garrison Keillor hosts “A Prairie Home Companion.” Charles Krauthammer is off this week and will return next Saturday.