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American voices: Resilience runs deep in a somber time

On a journey from Plymouth Rock to the Grand Canyon, we find an America that is neither as divided as talk-show histrionics would suggest, nor as sullen as a flagging economy says we should be. We find a country that is struggling, yes, but is also pragmatic and still harbors a little idealism.

By BILL GLAUBERCorrespondent of The Christian Science Monitor / July 12, 2009

The ribbon of blacktop that took a photographer and writer across the US.

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff

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Plymouth, Mass.

We look down at Plymouth Rock, buried in the sand like a refrigerator turned on its back.

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This is where the Pilgrims came ashore, a step onto a rock and onto a continent, to forge a new life in a new land.

We look east, Plymouth Harbor and the Atlantic Ocean stretching to the horizon, blue sea, blue sky lit by a midday sun burning bright and beautiful.

Tourists and school kids mingle, glance at the rock and move on.

More than one person asks, "Is that it?"

Plymouth Rock, so small, so symbolic, so American.

Photographer Melanie Stetson Freeman and I are on a journey to rediscover our country, from Plymouth Rock to the Grand Canyon, to find out how well America is working.

A year ago, Americans were engaged in a presidential election that divided as well as united.

We were concerned about gas prices rising to $4 a gallon, two foreign wars, and the early glimmers of an economic recession.

Gas prices are rising again. The wars grind on, unseen by most Americans, not really felt except by those directly engaged in the fight and their loved ones at home.

And the glimmers of recession have given way to the reality of an economy floundering.

Listen to America on talk radio, cable television, and the Internet, and you think that we are a people who shout, who boil over with us-versus-them anger, who think the worst of one another, instead of the best.

The truth is far different.

This is a journey in an America after the stock market crash and the housing bust, amid soaring unemployment, where people deal with hard times the best they can.

It's an America of hope.

And ultimately, we'll come to discover, it's an America largely at peace with itself.

We ride west.


Ms. Walker is an attendant at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, set on Main Street in Cooperstown, baseball's ancestral home. Long past retirement age, Walker works 24 hours a week in the summertime, when the streets swell with crowds drawn to America's game.

She remembers sitting on her daddy's shoulders to glimpse the first induction at the Hall of Fame back in 1939. That day, her brother carried Babe Ruth's bags from the train station.

Tell Walker that baseball is just a game, and she purses her lips and says, "Oh, no, no, no, no.... [I]t's very important. It's part of the United States. It's not just an old museum here. This is a standard, a standard you don't want to lose. Baseball is part of us."

Standards, she says, are missing from modern America, just like the clothing stores and shoe stores that used to line the main street here, now replaced by baseball novelty shops.

She remembers playing school softball in bloomers, teaching school, raising a family, and in 1989 becoming one of the first women to work in the galleries at the Hall of Fame.

She yearns for an America where people follow rules, remain respectful.

Here's what working here has taught her. Greatness, whether displayed in a game or on the job, matters. Not everyone who plays baseball gains entry into the Hall of Fame. You have to earn it.

Visitors give her hope.

"You'll see some kids who come along who are absolutely super," she says. "And it will renew your faith."

She tells the kids the stories, old and new, about baseball. And when she leaves at night, she makes sure to keep one seat down inside a Hall of Fame theater.

You never know, Babe Ruth just might decide to stop by.