Mama sewed all my sister’s clothes when we were growing up. I can still see her hunched over that old Singer fighting an ornery bobbin, elbowing fabric this way and that, turning out dress after dress.
The image floods my mind every time I hear Dolly Parton’s poignant “Coat of Many Colors.” It came often this past 4th of July weekend as I took advantage of the “cool spell” to do my least favorite thing – exercise. I find walking almost enjoyable when listening to country Gospel. So I found myself immersed in Dolly’s song while contemplating Independence Day
“Coat of Many Colors” with the images it provokes is a metaphor for the rough-hewn fabric of 20th Century America as it was woven through hardship, hard work, and hardy devotion. This uniquely American fabric of many colors, races, and creeds has been a tie that binds; e pluribus unum our Founding Fathers named it.
We saw this fabric strong on the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Katrina, but frayed in the Louisiana Superdome. We see it stretched thin today along the Coast from Louisiana to Florida, but still intact.
But there are slashes, holes, and pricks that tear away at the fabric, exemplified by father and son anti-government activists senselessly killing West Memphis police, 20-year-olds burning black churches in West Alabama, and angry parents assaulting soccer coaches.
Then, there is our modern phenomenon of 24/7 political and media personalities who prosper by inciting others to slash, punch, and prick our national fabric.
Can it hold together, this fabric of ours? Can it hold us together? Or, should we be asking, can we hold it together?
The Preacher warned us “to every thing there is a season.”
America has experienced seasons that ripped our fabric asunder – the Civil War in the 1800s and the Great Depression in 1900s. Dolly’s song is a tribute to those of the Depression era who persevered through hardship.
Troubles of the 21st Century have yet to escalate to cataclysmic proportions. But, beneath the rhetoric bouncing around the twittersphere are fundamental weaknesses that promise catastrophe if unaddressed. Some are revealed in a New York Times series entitled “Payback Time.” For example, states and pension funds are going broke while decision-makers and service receivers fiddle with unreal expectations.
Scream about the tough cuts Gov. Haley Barbour has made, but know he put Mississippi in better shape than most. Still, no one or handful of states can hold back the pressures building nationwide.
Maybe nothing can hold and we will have to re-weave our national fabric once again.
Then, again, maybe our frayed coats of many colors are stronger than we think.