Shared Culture by the Lake

Making apple cider vinegar.

When we moved to Big Grove Township we had expectations about building a life here. These expectations spoke to our shared culture.

We built a new home, settled into the public school community and began getting to know people as I worked a career that would eventually take me to a job in Eldridge, Iowa where I managed a dedicated fleet operation for a large steel service company. At the time I thought the 55-minute drive was a reasonable commute.

While there, in a staff meeting, news of the planes hitting the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and crashing in a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania began to emerge. I was scheduled to fly to Philadelphia that morning but the flight would be delayed. That day became part of an American cultural heritage.

The events of Sept. 11, 2001 were an opportunity for the country to pull together, to unite in shared values. It was squandered by our national leaders who used the terrorist attacks as sufficient reason to invade Iraq. Our disdain for the national culture has increased since then.

Participating in a national culture is made worse by growing income and wealth inequality. If comparisons of modern capitalism with the Gilded Age and the rise of Rockefeller, Morgan, Vanderbilt, Carnegie and others is apples to oranges, Republican leadership of the U.S. government is systematically undoing every constraint on wealth and business implemented since the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act. This is intentional, and under a government subject to the unlimited financial contributions of businesses. In part, we can thank the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. FEC for unleashing the power of the wealthy in our governance.

Not only do we view the rise of the wealthy into power over our lives with disdain, we spend more time thinking about it because of new media available to us 24/7. We tend to forget our local culture, the culture we share with family, friends and neighbors — things that are shared, yet personal to us.

Mom’s funeral on Monday started an immersion into cultures I forgot existed. Greeting people from every part of Mom’s life at the visitation taxed my ability to remember. I don’t believe I come up short. At the Knights of Columbus Hall after interment I sat with three of my cousins and talked about things I’d forgotten existed. Aunt Wini’s wringer washing machine, Orsinger’s ice cream, Uncle Vince’s photography culture, Chicago steel mill culture, and more. I was able to keep up even though it has been years since I’d seen any of them. I could keep up because it is our shared culture.

Yesterday I took the crate of apples from the summer trees in our backyard and made a gallon of apple cider vinegar. By this morning the brewers yeast was working. After skimming the scum, I put the two half gallon jars on the pantry shelf to ferment. I got the mother of vinegar from a neighbor. His family had been making vinegar with it since the 19th century. The distribution of our vinegar is in a short radius with most of it used in our kitchen. I’d be willing to bet I’m one of a very small number of people fermenting vinegar in our township.

The point is we have shared cultures and the only way they exist, now and into the future, is by participating in them. The sad occasion of Mom’s passing was made better by the celebration of her life by the living. Our cuisine is made better by making our own vinegar for pickles and salad dressings. Eventually our national culture will regain its value but we are not there yet.

We chose this township based on the logistics of living. To make it meaningful we’ve had to participate in local cultures. As bad as the national culture is now, we can’t stop participating because so much is at stake. What happens near the lake ripples throughout society. If enough people engage, that could be life-changing for us, and for us all.