I sometimes think that I am from a different era…one where people didn’t use so many obscenities. In reality, I am from that era, because on June 24, 1957, when I was just a 14 months old, the United States Supreme Court ruled that obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution, which guarantees free speech and freedom of the press. Call me old fashioned, but when I hear someone screaming at their own child, using every obscenity known to man, it makes me cringe. Calling our children such horrible names, can’t possibly be a good way to teach them self esteem. The United States Supreme Court agreed, according to Roth v. United States, a case decided in 1957. Samuel Roth of New York City was convicted of mailing obscene materials. On appeal his conviction was affirmed by the Supreme Court, which held that obscenity was not protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The court ruled that “material is obscene if, to the average person applying contemporary community standards, the dominant overall theme appeals to prurient interest.”
These days, we are bombarded with obscenities and profanities…everything from the f-bomb to the names we call people we don’t particularly like. Television shows use obscenities on just about every show, and our children are growing up to think that not only is it ok to call people such names, but its ok to be constantly angry…and to let everyone around you know it. It seems to me that as all the obscenities became commonplace, so did anger. And anger breeds hate, which in turn breeds things like road rage, bullying, and even murder.
Now, that we have the freedom to say the things that we do, another problem has come to light…hate speech. What is hate speech? It never used to be a thing, although it did exist…it just didn’t have a name, per se. So we have somehow come full circle, to a degree. While the Supreme Court used to say that we can’t use obscenities or profanities, and then suddenly we could, now we find ourselves with the necessity to decide if something said is “hate speech” or not, and if it is, then has the right to free speech been denied. Why is one thing different than the other? Believe me, I don’t like either kind of talk…hate or obscene, but if one is “illegal” then shouldn’t the other also be “illegal.” Or, should we have any say at all? It is a vicious circle to be sure. I guess that in reality, it is a moral issue. We have slipped so far from the moral values of our ancestors that our world almost doesn’t even resemble that of the era I was raised in, and certainly bears no resemblance to the era of our ancestors. While I can’t say exactly how to solve this dilemma, I think that maybe the best solution lies within each of us. Maybe we need to walk away from the situations that make us angry. Maybe we need to be more careful of the speech and behaviors that we show to our children. Maybe we need to teach our children that other people have a right to their opinion too, and it is not up to us to be their verbal police. Maybe we need to take offense less, and show compassion more. No matter what the ultimate solution is, there is no doubt in my mind that it begins in the human heart.
Life in the late 1800s was much different from life today, and in many ways, I must say better. It was a more gentle, moral time. I was once again reading through my Great Aunt Bertha Schumacher Hallgren’s journal, and wondering how it can be that every time I look through it, I see a part of the history of my family that I hadn’t noticed before. For a while now, I have wondered why so little is mentioned in the journal about my grandmother, Anna Schumacher Spencer. Of course, the main reason is that by the time Bertha started writing, my grandmother was married and living in Minnesota or Wisconsin. She is mentioned in the younger years, but it was harder to know much about her daily life then, because things like cell phones, free long distance, and internet did not exist. I find it sad in so many ways that they could not stay in closer contact. I wonder if those of us in this day and age really know just how blessed we are, and how very important it is to stay in touch.
Because so many people had begun to move west, and things like towns, churches, and even schools were more scarce then, often, the religious training of the children happened at home. Bertha mentions in her journal that my great grandparents were dissatisfied by the fact that they were only able to attend church a few times a year. Carl and Henriette knew that this was not the kind of upbringing they wanted for their children. Even though they were both devout Lutherans, they knew that their children really needed to be in church…and they did too. It is so easy to slide in one’s faith when the family isn’t getting weekly or even more often, teaching in a church setting. So, Great Grandpa sold the quarter section of land that they owned, and purchased 320 acres just three miles east of Lisbon, North Dakota. Bertha remarks that this was a nice home with one of the few bathrooms in the country, and an artesian well. It must have been like moving into a castle. We take such things for granted these days. They did not.
The artesian well helped to form a ten acre lake, which my grandfather, Allen Spencer later stocked with catfish. Great Grandpa Carl Schumacher built a safe flat bottom boat for the younger children, so they could all enjoy the lake. This was a time of joy and happiness for the family. Life was changing, the children were growing up and moving out on their own, and new babies were coming too. Times were getting easier with new inventions every day designed to make life easier. Nevertheless, the problem of distance remained. I’m sure that Bertha would have written more about her older siblings families, had she had the opportunity to know them better. As a writer myself, I can relate to that. There are family members about whom it is more difficult to write, because I am not around them often. There are others about whom I know much, and so writing is easy. Nevertheless, if I write about them or not, they are all dear to me and in my thoughts often. I am, however, grateful to Bertha for her writings and the insight it has brought to me. Bertha has been an inspiration and a blessing to me. Through her writings, I feel like I know people I never met, and that is a limitless gift. It just keeps on giving.