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Mood in Mid-America

(Page 2 of 2)

Standing behind the mahogany counter, Mr. Bailey insists: "I don't think we should be playing supercop. We should be focusing more on trade and the economy."

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Dressed in a crisp red and white sports jersey that shines faintly, Tom Filbert retorts: "During World War II we all came together, and everybody stayed focused. It's only a few years after [the Sept. 11] attacks, and our focus seems to be going away."

Around the counter, there is just as much chatter about the plans for a new Wal-Mart and what that could do to business in downtown Boonville. The consensus is that America can overcome its troubles better than Boonville.

For her part, Orester has faith in the foundations laid by America's Founding Fathers. "We have survived other things in the past, and we will survive this," she says with a flourish fit for parchment and quill. "What makes us a strong nation is not changing: our fundamental freedoms."

Across middle America, however, faith in the future of the nation comes from a variety of sources. It comes from the very nature of the place - the rhythms of a land where storm clouds line up like battleships on the horizon, and the fortunes of many are bound in the hope of a seed and a good season. Difficult days bring hard labor and patience, and these times are no different. So people do what they can, and hope for better.

"I'm not much of a bookworm," says Ron Schumacher of Rawlins, Wyo. "But give me a shovel and a pitchfork and I'll get after it."

Yet Mr. Schumacher also hints at perhaps an even deeper thread in everyday life in the Heartland. Sitting in front of his church, his straw hat filtering the glare of the midday sun, Schumacher says Americans need to "get down on their knees more."

For some, religious faith only adds to the angst about the direction of modern America. "The spiritual level of the country is declining," says Lamar Lapp, who sells flowers at a farmers' market in Cambridge, Ohio, every Friday. Mr. Lapp has gone so far as to banish televisions and radios from his house to keep his six children from the "filth that comes over that stuff."

"I want them to grow up and see the good," he adds. "And there are plenty of other things to do."

For others, though, religious faith is intertwined with their unfailing optimism for the nation. In Bush, they have a president whom they trust and understand. "The president is a man of deep conviction, and the decisions he makes are based on faith," says Tim Robertson, a teacher who has come to Salina, Kan., for a conference. His wife, Sharron, adds: "As a person of faith, I tend to look at life optimistically.... You have to go through the hard times before you build things up."

At the farmers' market in Cambridge, Violet Cummings is hovering over a collection of her homemade jams, trying to build up a better America one person at a time. At the moment, it's a gray-haired customer whom she greets with a broad smile and friendly chatter. Later this year, it will be all of Cambridge as she runs for a seat on the school board.

She's not happy about the way things are going in America right now, but she's already worked out the perfect solution: the people. "If politicians went to farmers' markets and talked to people, they'd realize that the people have good ideas," she says. "They flat out don't listen to the people."

So this fall, Ms. Cummings is going to try to make them listen. After all, she twinkles with the enthusiasm of an 8-year-old, "This country is awesome."