The Making of Americans

Gertrude Stein

Preview: Issue 1 of 144

Once an angry man dragged his father along the ground through his own orchard. "Stop!" cried the groaning old man at last, "Stop! I did not drag my father beyond this tree."

It is hard living down the tempers we are born with. We all begin well, for in our youth there is nothing we are more intolerant of than our own sins writ large in others and we fight them fiercely in ourselves; but we grow old and we see that these our sins are of all sins the really harmless ones to own, nay that they give a charm to any character, and so our struggle with them dies away.

It has always seemed to me a rare privilege, this, of being an American, a real American, one whose tradition it has taken scarcely sixty years to create. We need only realise our parents, remember our grandparents and know ourselves and our history is complete.

The old people in a new world, the new people made out of the old, that is the story that I mean to tell, for that is what really is and what I really know.

Some of the fathers we must realise so that we can tell our story really, were little boys then, and they came across the water with their parents, the grandparents we need only just remember. Some of these our fathers and our mothers, were not even made then, and the women, the young mothers, our grandmothers we perhaps just have seen once, carried these our fathers and our mothers into the new world inside them, those women of the old world strong to bear them. Some looked very weak and little women, but even these so weak and little, were strong always, to bear many children.

These certain men and women, our grandfathers and grandmothers, with their children born and unborn with them, some whose children were gone ahead to prepare a home to give them; all countries were full of women who brought with them many children; but only certain men and women and the children they had in them, to make many generations for them, will fill up this history for us of a family and its progress.

Many kinds of all these women were strong to bear many children.

One was very strong to bear them and then always she was very strong to lead them.

One was strong to bear them and then always she was strong to suffer with them.

One, a little gentle weary woman was strong to bear many children, and then always after she would sadly suffer for them, weeping for the sadness of all sinning, wearying for the rest she knew her death would bring them.

And then there was one sweet good woman, strong just to bear many children, and then she died away and left them, for that was all she knew then to do for them.

And these four women and the husbands they had with them and the children born and unborn in them will make up the history for us of a family and its progress.

Other kinds of men and women and the children they had with them, came at different times to know them; some, poor things, who never found how they could make a living, some who dreamed while others fought a way to help them, some whose children went to pieces with them, some who thought and thought and then their children rose to greatness through them, and some of all these kinds of men and women and the children they had in them will help to make the history for us of this family and its progress.

These first four women, the grandmothers we need only just remember, mostly never saw each other. It was their children and grandchildren who, later, wandering over the new land, where they were seeking first, just to make a living, and then later, either to grow rich or to gain wisdom, met with one another and were married, and so together they made a family whose progress we are now soon to be watching.

We, living now, are always to ourselves young men and women. When we, living always in such feeling, think back to them who make for us a beginning, it is always as grown and old men and women or as little children that we feel them, these whose lives we have just been thinking. We sometimes talk it long, but really, it is only very little time we feel ourselves ever to have being as old men and women or as children. Such parts of our living are little ever really there to us as present in our feeling. Yes; we, who are always all our lives, to ourselves grown young men and women, when we think back to them who make for us a beginning, it is always as grown old men and women or as little children that we feel them, such as them whose lives we have just been thinking.

Yes it is easy to think ourselves and our friends, all our lives as young grown men and women, indeed it is hard for us to feel even when we talk it long, that we are old like old men and women or little as a baby or as children. Such parts of our living are never really there to us as present, to our feeling.

Yes we are very little children when we first begin to be to ourselves grown men and women. We say then, yes we are children, but we know then, way inside us, we are not to ourselves real as children, we are grown to ourselves, as young grown men and women. Nay we never know ourselves as other than young and grown men and women. When we know we are no longer to ourselves as children. Very little things we are then and very full of such feeling. No, to be feeling ourselves to be as children is like the state between when we are asleep and when we are just waking, it is never really there to us as present to our feeling.

And so it is to be really old to ourselves in our feeling; we are weary and are old, and we know it in our working and our thinking, and we talk it long, and we can see it just by looking, and yet we are a very little time really old to ourselves in our feeling, old as old men and old women once were and still are to our feeling. No, no one can be old like that to himself in his feeling. No it must be always as grown and young men and women that we know ourselves and our friends in our feeling. We know it is not so, by our saying, but it must be so always to our feeling. To be old to ourselves in our feeling is a losing of ourselves like just dropping off into sleeping. To be awake, we must have it that we are to ourselves young and grown men and women.

To be ourself like an old man or an old woman to our feeling must be a horrid losing-self sense to be having. It must be a horrid feeling, like the hard leaving of our sense when we are forced into sleeping or the coming to it when we are just waking. It must be a horrid feeling to have such a strong sense of losing, such a feeling as being to ourselves like children or like grown old men and women. Perhaps to some it is a gentle sense of losing some who like themselves to be without a self sense feeling, but certainly it must be always a sense of self losing in each one who finds himself really having a very young or very old self feeling.

Our mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, in the histories, and the stories, all the others, they all are always little babies grown old men and women or as children for us. No, old generations and past ages never have grown young men and women in them. So long ago they were, why they must be old grown men and women or as babies or as children. No, them we never can feel as young grown men and women. Such only are ourselves and our friends with whom we have been living.

And so since there is no other way to do with our kind of thinking we will make our elders to be for us the grown old men and women in our stories, or the babies or the children. We will be always, in ourselves, the young grown men and women.

And so now we begin, and with such men and women as we have old or as very little, in us, to our thinking.

One of these four women, the grandmothers old always to us the generation of grandchildren, was a sweet good woman, strong just to bear many children and then she died away and left them for that was all she knew then to do for them.

Like all good older women she had all her life born many children and she had made herself a faithful working woman to her husband who was a good enough ordinary older man.

Her husband lived some years after his wife had died away and left him.

He was just a decent well-meaning faithful good-enough ordinary man. He was honest, and he left that very strongly to his children and he worked hard, but he never came to very much with all his faithful working.

He was just a decent honest good-enough man to do ordinary working. He always was good to his wife and always liked her to be with him, and to have good children, and to help him with her working. He always liked all of his children and he always did all that he could to help them, but they were all soon strong enough to leave him, and now that his wife had died away and left him, he was not really needed much by the world or by his children.

They were good daughters and sons to him, but his sayings and his old ordinary ways of doing had not much importance for them. They were strong, all of them, in their work and in their new way of feeling and full always of their new ways of living. It was alright, he always said it to them, and he thought it so really in him, but it was all too new, it could never be any comfort to him. He had been left out of all life while he was still living. It was all too new for his feeling and his wife was no longer there to stay beside him. He felt it always in him and he sighed and at last he just slowly left off living. "Yes," he would say of his son Henry who was the one who took most care and trouble for him, "Yes, Henry, he is a good man and he knows how to make a living. Yes he is a good boy to me always but he never does anything like I tell him. It ain't wrong in him, never I don't say so like that ever for him, only I don't need it any more just to go on like I was living. My wife she did always like I told her, she never knew any way to do it different, and now she is gone peace be with her, and it is all now like it was all over, and I, I got no right now to say do so to my children. I don't ever say it now ever no more to them. What have I got to do with living? I've got no place to go on now like I was really living. I got nobody now always by me to do things like I tell them. I got nothing to say now anymore to my children. I got all done with what I got to say to them. Well young folks always knows things different, and they got it right not to listen, I got nothing now really to do with their new kinds of ways of living. Anyhow Henry, he knows good how to make a living. He makes money such a way I got no right to say it different to him. He makes money and I never can see how his way he can make it and he is honest and a good man always, with all his making such a good living. And he, has got right always to do like he wants it, and he is good to me always, I can't ever say it any different. He always is good to me, and the others, they come to see me always only now it is all different. My wife she stayed right by me always and the children they always got some new place where they got to go and do it different." And then the old man sighed and then soon too he died away and left them.

Henry Dehning was a grown man and for his day a rich one when his father died away and left them. Truly he had made everything for himself very different; but it is not as a young man making himself rich that we are now to feel him, he is for us an old grown man telling it all over to his children.

He is a middle aged man now when he talks about it all to his children, middle aged as perhaps sometimes we ourselves are now to our talking, but he, he is grown old man to our thinking. Yes truly this Henry Dehning had made everything for himself to be very different. His ways and his needs and how much money it took now to live to be decent, and all the habits of his daily life, they were all now for him very different.

And it is strange how all forget when they have once made things for themselves to be very different. A man like Dehning never can feel it real to himself, things as they were in his early manhood, now that he has made his life and habits and his feelings all so different. He says it often, as we all do childhood and old age and pain and sleeping, but it can never anymore be really present to his feeling.

Now the common needs in his life are very different. No, not he, nor they all who have made it for themselves to be so different, can remember meekness, nor poor ways, nor self attendance, nor no comforts, all such things are to all of them as indifferent as if they in their own life time themselves had not made it different. It is not their not wanting to remember these things that were so different. Nay they love to remember, and to tell it over, and most often to their children, what they have been and what they have done and how they themselves have made it all to be so different and how well it is for these children that they have had a strong father who knew how to do it so that youngsters could so have it.

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