Reality Check

What’s the matter with us?
No country ever had more and no country ever had less.
Ten men in our country could buy the
whole world, and ten million can’t buy
enough to eat.

WILL ROGERS, 1935

There were those who said America’s luck ran out the night of August 15, 1935, when Will Rogers and his old pal Wiley Post were killed in a mysterious plane crash far up in Alaska. The end came when their Lockheed Orion, with Wiley Post at the controls, plunged into a remote arctic lake 15 miles south of Point Barrow.

For millions of Americans, it was a calamity.

Wiley Post, the eye-patched, record-breaking speed pilot, was known throughout the land. But it was the loss of Will Rogers that was devastating to so many. America loved Will Rogers as it had never loved any other private citizen before—nor probably ever will again.

It’s hard, even today, to express the extraordinary hold that Will Rogers had on so many millions of Americans in his lifetime. Cowboy philosopher from out of Oklahoma, part Cherokee, beloved humorist, stage and motion picture star, wise and witty newspaper columnist, serious writer, hard-riding rancher, expert roper, confidante of presidents, shrewd political analyst and always a protagonist for the common man, Will Rogers had been a reassuring and calming voice during the darkest days of the Great Depression. Now he was gone.

My grandfather, Jim Dewey, took Will Rogers’ death as a personal loss. His old lips tightened over his mouth and for several days he didn’t talk much to anybody.

I tacked up on my cluttered wall the last published newspaper photo of Will Rogers and Wiley Post together—taken at the Fairbanks airport only minutes before they took off on their final flight.

***

In tracing the threads of my childhood, I realize that I grew up with no sense of entitlement. Never did I receive an allowance, for example. Nor did any of the other kids in our blue-collar neighborhood. We never even thought about it. However, I did work at odd jobs around town in order to rustle up spending money. Then, at the age of twelve or thirteen, I took on a real job for the first time.

After only three weeks, I was fired.

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