A staple of American self-esteem is that we Yanks are brave, free, independent, self-reliant, ruggedly individual, and disinclined to accept abuse from anyone. This was largely true in, say, 1930. People lived, a great many of them, on farms where they planted their own crops, built their own barns, repaired their own trucks, and protected their own property. They were literate but not educated, knew little of the world beyond the local, but in their homes and fields they were supreme.
If they wanted to swim buck nekkid in the creek, they swam buck nekkid. If whistle pigs were eating the corn, the family teenager would get his rifle and solve the problem. Government left them alone.
Even in the early Sixties, in rural King George County, Virginia, where I grew up, it was still mostly true. The country people built their own boats to crab in the Potomac, converted junked car engines to marine, made their own crab pots, planted corn and such, and hunted deer. There was very little contact with the government. One state trooper was the law, and he had precious little to do.
I say the following not as an old codger painting his youth in roseate hues that never were, but as serious sociology: We kids could get up on a summer morning, grab the .22 or .410, put it over our shoulder and go into the country store for ammunition, and no one looked twice. We could go by night to the dump to snap-shoot rats, and no one cared. We could get our fishing poles—I preferred a spinning reel and bait-casting tackle—and fish anywhere we pleased on Machodoc Creek or the Potomac. We could drive unwisely but joyously on winding wooded roads late at night and nobody cared.
Call it “freedom.” We were free, and so were the country folk on their farms and with their crabbing rigs. Because we were free, we felt free. It was a distinct psychology, though we didn’t know it.
Things then changed.
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