My Stars, Lands Sake!, people used to say when the sky still had stars, people worked the land and didn’t want to take the Lord’s name in vain.
Grandpa might be an old billygoat and Grandma as mad as a wet hen. A four-leaf clover signaled luck, and rainbows had a pot of gold at the end of them, of a sort. Gold was $35 dollars an ounce, incidentally, and the coins in your pocket were known as silver. A cheapskate might nickel and dime you. Stew cost two bits (a quarter) a bowl. Greenbacks were sometimes called frogskins, and a sawbuck was a ten dollar bill because the Latin numeral X on it resembled every man’s sawhorse. A fin was a fiver, if I remember right, and the real Finns confused us by allying with the Nazi’s early in World War II.
The world improves. We walked on the moon nearly half a century ago, and aspirin is no longer used to placate a toothache. Nickel beer, nickel coffee were not unknown, at least in living memory. Dogs ran free, neighborhood to neighborhood, and lots of children, too. And your boss congratulated you with an arm around your shoulders, not a text on a screen. Blue sky was a simile, like good fishing or a straight arrow. Trolley cars, victory gardens, house calls, calling home, putting on one’s thinking cap, knocking radiators, baseball cards, bringing a snake to school or a crab apple fight. Wistful lists lend continuity to the now. We had no electricity once, yet produced Shakespeare, Lincoln and Bach. Despite our myriad gadgets, compared to them, we’ll cry uncle.
Milking time, planting time and harvest time all meant something, and lighting candles or an oil lamp focused the mind. We collaborate bi-coastally instead of shoulder-to-shoulder, scanning a screen instead of body language, and crowd sourcing opinions and ideas. Will it stifle genius and germinate mutations, like our shriveling attention span? We’ll need mutation when nine billion strong, here on the People Planet. Can we feed both gut and soul? Elbow room, another old term, like cheek and jowl, will be newly germane.
Civil War vets like my great-grandfather received 160 Kansas acres as a homestead in return for their service, and there he helped to found a town. So referring to the back-forty, as people did, was reasonable. Even in diminutive Vermont, 50 years ago I bought land for $85 dollars an acre; then drank out of my stream.
Land, water and personal spacing are in flux, with sea rise of course a looming factor. The wheel of fortune turns. Thus, even with its astrological ring, My Stars, as a genteel expletive, should have evolved into My Earth!, in dire concern.
Edward Hoagland is the author of over 20 books and hundreds of essays. He lives in Edgartown.