Skip to comments.On the Day I Die
Posted on 12/10/2001 10:27:30 AM PST by Sir Gawain
Deborah Marie Pulaski, mother and freedom fighter, died November 19, 1997, age 54.
This week I learned I'm dying. Of course I've always known, in the everyday, human sense, that I was going to die. But this week I learned I am going to die "soon." In a year or so at most, I won't be on this planet. No more breathing. No more Zinfandel or chocolate cake. No hugs. No sorrows. I won't ever again have to worry whether there's a run in my stocking when I go to a meeting with the boss, or whether I remembered to send a birthday card to my best friend's husband.
It's a peculiar thought, looking at my own death, so close. But you know, it isn't a bad thought, all things considered.
I'm 53 years old. That isn't old. I might have had another 30 years, if one little cell hadn't decided to start mutating out of control a while back. But 53 is old enough to have lived a good life. It's long enough to have become a full person, without all those "who am I's" and "what do I want to do with my life's" that make youth so over-rated.
It's enough time to have loved -- both in the frantic, desperate way of being young, and in the comfortable way of being an adult. That's been an amazing, and a very happy, transition.
But I don't want to talk about love. I want to talk about freedom.
Well, I guess that means I *do* want to talk about love. Because I love freedom more than I love anything. Really, more than I ever loved my husband. Even more than I love my kids -- and I think they'll understand and forgive me for saying so, even though that statement might require a little more explaining for strangers who might be reading this.
I have to say it again. I love freedom more than I love anything. More than I ever loved anything. And that's what makes the thought of dying so bitter, and at the same time, so welcome.
I guess that idea is going to take some explaining, too. Claire, tell them about me. I've never been able to write, or even talk all that well about things that matter to me. So you tell people what kind of person I am. Make them understand.
I've always been a political junky. You know me. Like some women shop, I do politics. No, that isn't putting it right. Not at all. I do politics...I guess I'd better say I used to do politics...because I couldn't stand still and let "them" take away our world. You know, the types who aren't happy unless they're running other people's lives.
When I ran into a neighbor, co-worker or family member like that, I could just say, "Sayonara, Baby" and avoid them. But the people who really got to me were the ones who wanted to make endless rules for the whole country, the whole world, and make everybody else obey them. Just obey, all the time.
I swear, you know, that these people don't even care what the particular rules are. They just like making and enforcing rules "because." For the power. For the control. For their other powerful, controlling friends. So they can all feel important and be in charge.
So I always had to try to stop those people. But there wasn't any stopping them. I found that out.
God, I wish I were a writer like you or a great orator or a wizard about the law or something like that. I wish I could have done something big during my life. But you know me, I was never anything but a little precinct worker, a drone, a little deputy voter registrar, doorbeller, meeting attender, envelope licker. One of those women you see in every campaign and every organization, never getting noticed and never particularly wanting to be. Just wanting to make the world freer -- or at least keep a little bit of the world away from the people who want to make it less free.
It was really kind of stupid, looking back on it, because nearly all of the people who said they believed in freedom turned around and, once they got in office, acted exactly like the other guys. They didn't really want less government and more freedom. They just wanted to be the ones in control. But I just had to try, didn't I? Anyway, I did try. Just about all my life.
God, that expression "just about all my life" has a different ring all of a sudden. It really has been just about "all" my life. Will be just about all my life.
I wanted freedom so much. I wanted it just so that I and my kids could live an ordinary life. Making a living. Paying our way. Doing what we wanted to do, within the bounds of polite behavior to our neighbors. Just to live, without being ordered around, threatened or tangled up in red tape every time we tried to do something. I didn't have any spectacular ambitions. I just wanted to be let alone to live a peaceful life.
I have two daughters, you know. They're both in their early 20s right now. The youngest one, Edyie, was always a dreamer. She had all the ideas and ambitions I didn't dare to have. I remember, as a little kid, she swore she was going to go live on Venus someday. Then, when she learned Venus was really this awful place, she pouted for about two days, then switched to Mars. She figured we could colonize Mars. I don't know whether that's realistic or not, but I always wanted to see Edyie get the chance to try, if that's what she wanted to do. I wanted her to have the chance to try anything her wild little imagination could dream up. Maybe she'd fail. But maybe she'd succeed. And isn't that what keeps the human race moving? Edyie, impossible though she can be at times, is the kind of person who keeps the human race from sitting on its dead butt, getting nowhere.
But Edyie isn't going to have the chance, unless something comes out of the blue to turn things around. Edyie's never going to get to Mars. Heck, she isn't even going to get a chance to build a little earthbound business because she's too independent to jump through all the hoops the government requires. Yeah, I can just see my Edyie filling out forms in triplicate, collecting taxes from her employees and begging for government licenses -- NOT! She isn't going to get a chance to make many personal choices -- beyond what brand of soap or TV to buy -- because our choices are being limited day by day, and everywhere you turn, you run into something illegal. Maybe even something that was legal yesterday, but is illegal today, thanks to some regulation nobody ever heard of. She just won't put up with that -- but I don't know what she'll do instead.
I used to dream, as I worked on all those campaigns, that someday I'd win back the right for Edyie to have the risky, but hope-filled future she craved. When I thought about dying, someday, it was with regret that I might not live to see Edyie go to Mars or to accomplish whatever other big thing she wanted to do.
But now I don't have any of those regrets, because it isn't going to happen.
Even three years ago, I wouldn't have said that. I'd still have said, "Darnit, there's hope. Freedom is just common sense. We'll win." But some of the things that have happened in the last couple of years make that all different. No, don't say "things that have happened." They didn't just *happen*. People in government did them to us. On purpose.
In the last couple of years, they finally did what they'd been moving toward for a long time. They passed the laws that just plain make us slaves.
They did it, and hardly anybody's even talking about it. That's what amazes me. For one thing, they passed a law that makes our driver's licenses into national ID cards. They're doing it right now, while we sit here talking. A year or two after I'm gone, all you people who are left are all going to have to carry around cards with all your numbers and fingerprints and retinal scans and "personal data" coded on them. The law says so. You won't be able to cash a check or get a passport without supplying your "biometric data" to the government or the bank. I thought it was some big conspiracy story when I first heard it. But it's true and it's happening. And where are all the people screaming to stop it?
And they've now got this database that everybody who gets a job gets put into. Some national database in some big stone building in Washington where they'll know where everybody works, all the time. They said it was to track "deadbeat dads." Yeah. Then why are they going to put Edyie and my other daughter Pat and everybody else into it? Since when are they, or you, or I "deadbeat dads"?
Along these same lines, they've even got what they call "pilot programs" to make people get permission from the federal government *before* they can get jobs. Employers in these "pilot programs" have to get scanners to let the federal government check people's Social Security numbers before they can hire anybody. Isn't that just great? Some bureaucrat in the Social Security Administration or someplace gets to decide whether you can work or not.
And this other database. All your medical records are going to go into some other big, stone building in Washington. That's going to be on line about the time I go, too. Any old bureaucrat who wants to look at them can see them. You can't, of course. But they can.
All this stuff is real. It's not in some novel about the future or in some right-wingy pamphlet. It's in the law. It's in America. Right now. They did it all in the last couple of years. Mostly by sneaking a paragraph or a page into bigger laws when nobody was looking.
And what's all this about? Is it really to help "welfare moms" or to keep illegal immigrants from taking other people's jobs? Oh, c'mon! This is about one thing. It's about slavery.
They give you a citizen registration number shortly after birth. As soon as you get old enough to start moving around, doing things and making decisions on your own, they make sure that they're in a position to know every move you make, to record every transaction, to examine your whole life's record any time some bureaucrat gets curious. They not only want to know where you are at any given moment -- where you're working and living and banking -- but to make sure you can't work someplace if they don't want you to.
And they even want to be able to check up on your health. That one seems especially silly. I mean, why should some bureaucrat in Washington give a hoot about how some woman's pregnancy is going, or whether some man is boozing it up a bit more than he should? Or whether a middle-aged lady is dying of cancer or not? What business is it of theirs, and why should they even want to bother? But it makes sense when you realize what they're really doing. After all, if you own animals, of course you want to make sure your property has got all its vaccinations, is producing healthy offspring, and isn't being overfed or something.
It's just like a modern-day farmer, keeping track of his cows or pigs on his computer. You want to know they're healthy and whether they're producing as much as they can for you. So you track them. Track everything about them. They belong to you, after all. If you're a kindly, efficient farmer, of course you want to watch over your livestock.
There've been a lot of bad laws passed in my lifetime, Claire. Sometimes I thought, "This is just the worst, the worst. It can't get any more horrible than this." But these laws, that authorized all this tracking, are really the final thing. They're the declaration that the people in Washington own us. That's all. They're plain and simply saying we're their property.
There are going to be a lot more bad laws, yeah. Really bad ones that will follow these and will be possible because of these. But before this, the bad laws were passed against free people. After this, the laws are passed to control slaves.
Neither of my girls has children yet. Like every mother, I always wanted them to get going and do it, you know. I wanted my grandbabies! Now! Believe me, I had to bite my lip a lot to keep from nagging them about it, like some mothers do.
But to be absolutely honest, now I wish neither one of them would have children. I don't think Edyie will. We've talked about this. She's a lot like me in some ways, and I think she won't bring a child into a country like this one is becoming.
Now my other daughter -- we always called her Practical Patty -- probably will have children someday. I've kind of given Patty short shrift in talking about all this. She was the sort of daughter who never gave any trouble and was more interested in doing well in band and glee club than in thinking about all the *heavy* things. Her big dreams were just of having a nice little job someday, then getting married to a decent sort of guy, having a nice house and, yeah, children. So all this won't affect Patty as much as it will Edyie, or as much as it would have affected me if I'd have lived to see it all come to fruition. To Patty's mind, it isn't "sensible" to worry about things like this.
So Patty will have children, and I can only hope that at least their lives will be comfortable, if they can't be free. Maybe they'll be well-fed, well-cared-for little citizens. And maybe I should hope they turn out to be the kind of people who don't think or question too much. Because if they're the other kind -- like me or Edyie -- their lives will be miserable.
The next step, you know, after getting ownership of your slaves or cows is to punish or cull out the ones that don't fit the mold...that make trouble, or that don't produce the way you want them to. If you aren't "nice," the Social Security Administration can just "lose" your records, or the health care people can just diddle your medical history around so you look like a mental case. Then they can "help" you to death. So I guess for that reason, I should hope those grandbabies I won't live to see are quiet, obedient sheep.
But damnit, if there are grandbabies, I hope they'll be as stubborn and freethinking as their Aunt Edyie, and that they'll find a better way of fighting for freedom than their Grandma Deb ever could. Let their lives be worth something deep and true, not just the "worth" of good livestock or laborers. If they fight, maybe they won't live happily or long. But if they have to live at all, I hope those little kids live bravely, in spite of all the odds against them. The poor souls.
Do you remember the hymn, "The Old Rugged Cross"? It's been on my mind a lot since I got the verdict. When I was little, I thought it was such a beautiful song. I knew it was partly about dying, and about being at peace in dying because of the singer's beliefs, but I didn't completely understand it.
There was this line, "Till my trophies at last I lay down." I knew it meant "when I die." But since I didn't have any "trophies" and couldn't figure out what giving up awards had to do with dying, I put my own little girl interpretation on it. I figured the word had to be "trophis," and that it was some fancy, adult word meaning "body." Well, Claire, I'll tell you. In a year or so, when I lay this middle-aged "trophis" down for the last time, I won't have any regrets for myself. On the day I die, I'll be able to say I've done all I could. I tried, even though most of what I did turned out to be misguided and ineffective. And even though I'd try something different -- and a lot less "nice" -- if I could do it over again, I won't regret leaving the world the politicians just created. I don't want to see it. I don't want to live in it.
But my grandbabies will be born as slaves. And oh God, I regret that. And I regret not being around to protect them.
© 1997 Deborah Marie Pulaski and Claire Wolfe. This article may be reprinted for non-commercial purposes, as long as it is reprinted in full with no content changes whatsoever, and is accompanied by this credit line. The article may not be re-titled, edited or excerpted (beyond the limits of the fair use doctrine) without the written permission of the author. For-profit publications will be expected to pay a nominal reprint fee.
I love Claire Wolfe. I buy anything she writes.
Seriously, folks, if you haven't read the highly unconventional, "101 Things to Do Before the Revolution", I highly recommend it.
Even if you're just an old granny, even.
This woman, and this woman here, is just TOPS.
I hope I can find a woman like her for me some day...
I posted it before here at FR and it was disapointing how little response it got...
Brought a tear to my eye.
Wow, what a great article.
This 53-year old mom agrees! I picked up a protest sign for the first time to attend the MFJ because I don't want MY children to be slaves either!
Only one? I can barely see my keyboard.
My government outlawed that "for the children".
FIGHT THE POWER
There's the suspicion that some of us have, those who try to be "nice" most of the time, that we'll get forced into some final "not nice" acts. Some just aren't the type that will turn the other cheek, since our first experience with that didn't work.
And those "Politicians" know it.
Wow, what a great article!
She lost me right there.
These threads have an impact. Believe me.
Trust me ... folks have lived -- and triumphed -- under far worse conditions. This is merely a perfecting of the same old tyranny.
It's a Kinder, Gentler, Clean Hands sort of totalitarianism with plenty of down and dirty animal fun and sating of passions to make the inmates feel like they're living.
And most will. With enough Prozac or other drugs churned out in earnest to quell the death of their soul ... they'll proudly defend their atheism, their atomism, their righteous and bold staring with hopeful anticipation into the void wherein someday will live eternally in perfect health and intellection stimulation the Uber-Men.
And with all emphasis on protecting the really essential choices -- like whether to kill your child or pull the plug on your parents or get someone to help you off yourself -- most will also feel they've more "freedom" than ever.
For they don't understand that restraint is the better part of freedom and they fail to notice somehow that the primary targets of population control is -- quite literally -- PREVENTING the birth of a new soul. Every prevented life, every destroyed life is a VICTORY for those who would control our every move.
Back in my youth, I actually told my third sister upon her wedding that I hoped -- if she felt she HAD to have children -- that she would please limit herself to two. She now has three kids and, judging from the bliss that is their childhood and the substantive heart and conscience she's instilling in each -- they shall be heat-seeking stealth missiles of the highest order ... men and women who stand for what's right, refuse to back down, exercise true human charity and spark the souls of others.
In 1977 Robert McNamara, as head of the World Bank, saw in population growth the "gravest issue" short of nuclear war and in a particularly prophetic statement lamented that the decisions that had led to this growth were "not in the exclusive control of a few governments but rather in the literally hundreds of millions of individual parents who will determine the outcome."
This is not to say that population control has made no headway in Asia. Pushed incessantly by figures like the World Bank's McNamara, the idea that nations could become rich only if they moved to control their population rates became an article of faith among Western and Western- educated intellectuals in Asia-a faith backed up by aid dollars linked to the willingness of recipient countries to develop control measures. In the Philippines, for example, the U.S. Agency for International Development obtained a provision in the Marcos-era constitution granting the state authority over population levels. The Western missionary fervor once directed at Christianizing Asia has been channeled, in the second half of the twentieth century, into proselytizing for fewer Asians. -Population and the Wealth of Nations
Of course, the World Bank is not technically a US government office. But before joining the World Bank, this fellow was none other than Robert S. MacNamara, US Secretary of Defense.
I think it's a grave defeat of hope to think for a moment the unborn are better off dead than alive ... regardless how some of us -- citizens of the most blessed and spoiled populace the planet's ever seen -- are feeling the pinch of the Police State that most citizens are cheering with all due enthusiasm.
I always wanted to be "queen for a day" and with just my "common sense" straighten up the school system, get rid of the NEArts, boot the liars out of our gov't . . . do all the common sense things that the so-called "experts", those who are more educated than I, have screwed up for the rest of us.
Great article. Thanks for posting it.
You know, if I found out I was dying in a few months, I would make some sort of last farewell smack in the face to those who would enslave us all... read into that what you will.
And that's the opinion I have about Deborah Marie Pulaski after reading this article. In her own words, she laments: "I've done all I could. I tried, even though most of what I did turned out to be misguided and ineffective." How sad to see a 53 year old woman with only one year to live living in a fantasy world. She talks incessantly about freedom, yet seems intent on wasting her final days lamenting the possible loss of freedom at some unknowable future date, instead of appreciating and taking advantage of the freedom she has to do what she wants and to be what she wants to be. She has divided the world into THEY and US. THEY are the invisible monsters working to enslave people on a daily basis. THEY are the ones who make so many rules that prevent her and her immature daughter from having a better job, a better house or a better life. Life is so miserable because of THEM.
She talks about freedom, but fails to understand that the one freedom she doesn't have is the freedom from her neuroses. All of us hold the ultimate key to freedom that people like Deb Pulaski cannot achieve. That is to say, the freedom from emotions, such as bitterness, fear, greed, resentment, jealousy, envy, anger, selfishness and negativity. These emotions are the chains that bind us to the wheel of slavery; they are the prisons we choose to live inside, in the words of Doris Lessing.
Deb Pulaski's world is a world of shadowy conspiracies in which THEY -- the faceless, nameless enemies of freedom -- live solely for the pleasure of taking away freedom from Deb, her wannabe Martian daughter and the rest of us poor souls for whom life isn't worth living. After all, we are being groomed for slavery, as she says: "And what's all this about? Is it really to help "welfare moms" or to keep illegal immigrants from taking other people's jobs? Oh, c'mon! This is about one thing. It's about slavery."
She looks down on politicians and "powerful" people who enjoy making and enforcing rules " . . . for the power. For the control. For their other powerful, controlling friends. So they can all feel important and be in charge." She equates power with the ability and desire to rob others of freedom, yet she laments her own lack of power: "God, I wish I were a writer like you or a great orator or a wizard about the law or something like that. I wish I could have done something big during my life. But you know me, I was never anything but a little precinct worker, a drone, a little deputy voter registrar, doorbeller, meeting attender, envelope licker."
Passages like these are quite revealing. She despises those who "feel important and in charge," yet thinks of herself as "little" because she didn't feel important and in charge. She congratulates herself for her altruistic and modest ambitions: "Just wanting to make the world freer - or at least keep a little bit of the world away from the people who want to make it less free." But she feels cheated because she didn't have the power to achieve even her small goals.
As I read her mournful account of her unfulfilled life in which she craves not for love but for freedom, I was struck by her superficial understanding of what it means to be truly free. "I wanted her to have the chance to try anything her wild little imagination could dream up. Maybe she'd fail. But maybe she'd succeed." For Deb and her daughter Edyie, freedom means the ability to do anything they want to do, including the ability to live on Mars. Last time I checked, the illusive THEY and THEIR rules weren't stopping them from going to Mars, unless she expects THEY are obligated to build the rocket ships and transform the Martian environment into a livable habitat . . . just because Edyie wants to live there. THEY "hate freedom"
For Deb, getting married, having children and a good job are shallow, mundane things that are not even worth talking about. Her daughter Pat wants these things and Deb has nothing but contempt for her and her dreams. She respects her daughter Edyie's dreams of going to Mars and presumably shares her resentment towards THEM who did nothing to make her dreams a reality. She is proud that "she [Edyie] won't bring a child into a country like this one is becoming." But Pat will have children and oh my God! Let's hope they are at least like their aunt Edyie please Lord, don't let them be like their mother. ". . . I hope they'll be as stubborn and freethinking as their Aunt Edyie. Let their lives be worth something deep and true, not just the 'worth' of good livestock or laborers."
Yes, working for a living amounts to slavery. Such shallow life, how sad indeed!
"When I converse with the freest of my neighbors, I perceive that, whatever they may say about the magnitude and seriousness of the question, and their regard for the public tranquillity, the long and the short of the matter is, that they cannot spare the protection of the existing government, and they dread the consequences to their property and families of disobedience to it. For my own part, I should not like to think that I ever rely on the protection of the State. But, if I deny the authority of the State when it presents its tax bill, it will soon take and waste all my property, and so harass me and my children without end. This is hard. This makes it impossible for a man to live honestly, and at the same time comfortably, in outward respects. It will not be worth the while to accumulate property; that would be sure to go again. You must hire or squat somewhere, and raise but a small crop, and eat that soon. You must live within yourself, and depend upon yourself always tucked up and ready for a start, and not have many affairs. A man may grow rich in Turkey even, if he will be in all respects a good subject of the Turkish government. Confucius said: "If a state is governed by the principles of reason, poverty and misery are subjects of shame; if a state is not governed by the principles of reason, riches and honors are subjects of shame." No: until I want the protection of Massachusetts to be extended to me in some distant Southern port, where my liberty is endangered, or until I am bent solely on building up an estate at home by peaceful enterprise, I can afford to refuse allegiance to Massachusetts, and her right to my property and life. It costs me less in every sense to incur the penalty of disobedience to the State than it would to obey. I should feel as if I were worth less in that case.
"Some years ago, the State met me in behalf of the Church, and commanded me to pay a certain sum toward the support of a clergyman whose preaching my father attended, but never I myself. "Pay," it said, "or be locked up in the jail." I declined to pay. But, unfortunately, another man saw fit to pay it. I did not see why the schoolmaster should be taxed to support the priest, and not the priest the schoolmaster; for I was not the State's schoolmaster, but I supported myself by voluntary subscription. I did not see why the lyceum should not present its tax bill, and have the State to back its demand, as well as the Church. However, as the request of the selectmen, I condescended to make some such statement as this in writing: "Know all men by these presents, that I, Henry Thoreau, do not wish to be regarded as a member of any society which I have not joined." This I gave to the town clerk; and he has it. The State, having thus learned that I did not wish to be regarded as a member of that church, has never made a like demand on me since; though it said that it must adhere to its original presumption that time. If I had known how to name them, I should then have signed off in detail from all the societies which I never signed on to; but I did not know where to find such a complete list.
"I have paid no poll tax for six years. I was put into a jail once on this account, for one night; and, as I stood considering the walls of solid stone, two or three feet thick, the door of wood and iron, a foot thick, and the iron grating which strained the light, I could not help being struck with the foolishness of that institution which treated my as if I were mere flesh and blood and bones, to be locked up. I wondered that it should have concluded at length that this was the best use it could put me to, and had never thought to avail itself of my services in some way. I saw that, if there was a wall of stone between me and my townsmen, there was a still more difficult one to climb or break through before they could get to be as free as I was. I did nor for a moment feel confined, and the walls seemed a great waste of stone and mortar. I felt as if I alone of all my townsmen had paid my tax. They plainly did not know how to treat me, but behaved like persons who are underbred. In every threat and in every compliment there was a blunder; for they thought that my chief desire was to stand the other side of that stone wall. I could not but smile to see how industriously they locked the door on my meditations, which followed them out again without let or hindrance, and they were really all that was dangerous. As they could not reach me, they had resolved to punish my body; just as boys, if they cannot come at some person against whom they have a spite, will abuse his dog. I saw that the State was half-witted, that it was timid as a lone woman with her silver spoons, and that it did not know its friends from its foes, and I lost all my remaining respect for it, and pitied it.
"Thus the state never intentionally confronts a man's sense, intellectual or moral, but only his body, his senses. It is not armed with superior with or honesty, but with superior physical strength. I was not born to be forced. I will breathe after my own fashion. Let us see who is the strongest. What force has a multitude? They only can force me who obey a higher law than I. They force me to become like themselves. I do not hear of men being forced to live this way or that by masses of men. What sort of life were that to live? When I meet a government which says to me, "Your money our your life," why should I be in haste to give it my money? It may be in a great strait, and not know what to do: I cannot help that. It must help itself; do as I do. It is not worth the while to snivel about it. I am not responsible for the successful working of the machinery of society. I am not the son of the engineer. I perceive that, when an acorn and a chestnut fall side by side, the one does not remain inert to make way for the other, but both obey their own laws, and spring and grow and flourish as best they can, till one, perchance, overshadows and destroys the other. If a plant cannot live according to nature, it dies; and so a man.
"The night in prison was novel and interesting enough. The prisoners in their shirtsleeves were enjoying a chat and the evening air in the doorway, when I entered. But the jailer said, "Come, boys, it is time to lock up"; and so they dispersed, and I heard the sound of their steps returning into the hollow apartments. My room-mate was introduced to me by the jailer as "a first-rate fellow and clever man." When the door was locked, he showed me where to hang my hat, and how he managed matters there. The rooms were whitewashed once a month; and this one, at least, was the whitest, most simply furnished, and probably neatest apartment in town. He naturally wanted to know where I came from, and what brought me there; and, when I had told him, I asked him in my turn how he came there, presuming him to be an honest an, of course; and as the world goes, I believe he was. "Why," said he, "they accuse me of burning a barn; but I never did it." As near as I could discover, he had probably gone to bed in a barn when drunk, and smoked his pipe there; and so a barn was burnt. He had the reputation of being a clever man, had been there some three months waiting for his trial to come on, and would have to wait as much longer; but he was quite domesticated and contented, since he got his board for nothing, and thought that he was well treated.
"He occupied one window, and I the other; and I saw that if one stayed there long, his principal business would be to look out the window. I had soon read all the tracts that were left there, and examined where former prisoners had broken out, and where a grate had been sawed off, and heard the history of the various occupants of that room; for I found that even there there was a history and a gossip which never circulated beyond the walls of the jail. Probably this is the only house in the town where verses are composed, which are afterward printed in a circular form, but not published. I was shown quite a long list of young men who had been detected in an attempt to escape, who avenged themselves by singing them.
"I pumped my fellow-prisoner as dry as I could, for fear I should never see him again; but at length he showed me which was my bed, and left me to blow out the lamp.
"It was like travelling into a far country, such as I had never expected to behold, to lie there for one night. It seemed to me that I never had heard the town clock strike before, not the evening sounds of the village; for we slept with the windows open, which were inside the grating. It was to see my native village in the light of the Middle Ages, and our Concord was turned into a Rhine stream, and visions of knights and castles passed before me. They were the voices of old burghers that I heard in the streets. I was an involuntary spectator and auditor of whatever was done and said in the kitchen of the adjacent village inn--a wholly new and rare experience to me. It was a closer view of my native town. I was fairly inside of it. I never had seen its institutions before. This is one of its peculiar institutions; for it is a shire town. I began to comprehend what its inhabitants were about.
"In the morning, our breakfasts were put through the hole in the door, in small oblong-square tin pans, made to fit, and holding a pint of chocolate, with brown bread, and an iron spoon. When they called for the vessels again, I was green enough to return what bread I had left, but my comrade seized it, and said that I should lay that up for lunch or dinner. Soon after he was let out to work at haying in a neighboring field, whither he went every day, and would not be back till noon; so he bade me good day, saying that he doubted if he should see me again.
"When I came out of prison--for some one interfered, and paid that tax--I did not perceive that great changes had taken place on the common, such as he observed who went in a youth and emerged a gray-headed man; and yet a change had come to my eyes come over the scene--the town, and State, and country, greater than any that mere time could effect. I saw yet more distinctly the State in which I lived. I saw to what extent the people among whom I lived could be trusted as good neighbors and friends; that their friendship was for summer weather only; that they did not greatly propose to do right; that they were a distinct race from me by their prejudices and superstitions, as the Chinamen and Malays are that in their sacrifices to humanity they ran no risks, not even to their property; that after all they were not so noble but they treated the thief as he had treated them, and hoped, by a certain outward observance and a few prayers, and by walking in a particular straight through useless path from time to time, to save their souls. This may be to judge my neighbors harshly; for I believe that many of them are not aware that they have such an institution as the jail in their village.
"It was formerly the custom in our village, when a poor debtor came out of jail, for his acquaintances to salute him, looking through their fingers, which were crossed to represent the jail window, "How do ye do?" My neighbors did not this salute me, but first looked at me, and then at one another, as if I had returned from a long journey. I was put into jail as I was going to the shoemaker's to get a shoe which was mender. When I was let out the next morning, I proceeded to finish my errand, and, having put on my mended show, joined a huckleberry party, who were impatient to put themselves under my conduct; and in half an hour--for the horse was soon tackled--was in the midst of a huckleberry field, on one of our highest hills, two miles off, and then the State was nowhere to be seen.