It was a “Southern Living” Christmas for us! Set against the luxurious ambiance of finely crafted, antique furniture, enhanced by impeccable decorator touches and several lifetimes of family love, the two-story, five bedroom home, recently inherited by my daughter-in-law, is situated on Main Street in Henderson, Texas. (To be more precise, the home is located on South Main Street, since, emanating from a perpendicular intersection on the downtown square, there are actually four Main Streets – South Main, North Main, East Main and West Main!) Given the inviting atmosphere of this well-maintained home (built in 1929; restored about 10 years ago) and since our family is now scattered in Los Angeles, California, Alexandria, Virginia and Athens, Greece, we decided to celebrate our first Christmas since both of our sons have married in “beautiful, downtown, Henderson, Texas.”
The two and a half hours from the nearest large airport and urban center provided blessed time to depressurize and un-wind, in anticipation of the slower pace of small-town life. Beyond the Wal-Mart store, Bob’s Barbeque and its prominence as the county seat of Rusk County, Henderson, Texas is famous as an “oil town,” a railroad center, the home of a syrup festival and certainly, enough warm hospitality to soothe the most cynical city-dweller.
By the time everyone in my family had arrived and we were making final plans for the “best Christmas ever,” (every year, it gets better!), my mate remembered some vital elements that she had forgotten, so I was dispatched to the grocery store. (Some things never change, whether in Henderson, Texas or Athens, Greece!) I found the Brookshire Brothers grocery store remarkably busy for this late in the pre-Christmas season. Apparently, others had likewise forgotten those “must have” ingredients for the upcoming feasts and fests!
Inside the store, checking-off the items which I had been sent to retrieve, I passed the soft drink section of this modern supermarket. I was prepared for a generous selection of beverages, despite (or, perhaps, because of) the reality that Rusk County is a “dry county” - alcoholic beverage strictly prohibited! But, I was totally unprepared for what I saw in the middle rows of the expansive cola collection.
Seven different brands of root beer! Not seven different versions of the same brand (regular, diet, caffeine, non-caffeinated, etc), but seven different brands! Hendersonians must love their root beer! Hendersonians must love their root beer choices!
I have lived in Houston, Texas - population 5 million; I have lived in Athens, Greece - population 5 million; I have lived in Tirana, Albania – population 1 million! I have been to a couple of goat-ropings and a few county fairs. But, I have never seen seven different brands of root beer – all for sale in one place! And, if you’ll pardon my effete snobbery, I never expected to find such root beer options in Henderson, Texas!
Well, I am reminded that small-town life is not what it used to be. Modern technology and communications, yea, aggressive contemporary marketing, have shrunk the size of our world, with the result that most among us live in many ways the same lives, whether the setting is Henderson, Texas or Los Angeles, California. Perhaps we should celebrate the freedom and liberty represented by this week’s worth of beverage choices.
I intend no disrespect toward root beer; I love nothing better than that decadent delight in a frosty mug – perhaps with some vanilla ice cream in the mix! Maybe it seems impertinent of me to question vaunted capitalism and the machinations of modern marketing. But, I dare to wonder out loud: with all of the problems facing humanity, how does it come to be that our world (or the world of Hendersonians, at least) needs seven different brands of root beer? I understand that “there’s no accounting for taste,” and, as our government officials are learning, I am certain that it is very difficult to control private enterprise.
But, think with me here: what would our world be like if the energy, ingenuity, infrastructure and pizzazz associated with getting seven brands of root beer to the shelves in Henderson, Texas could be tapped and channeled toward the solving of some of the great conundrums of modern life, such as the Arab-Israeli conflict, the intractable spread of AIDS, or the prevalence of diet-related diseases among the desperately poor on the planet? How might this old, broken-down cosmos be improved if we could tap the forces utilized to satisfy individual tastes or cater to eccentric whims and redirect them toward what Abraham Maslow taught us, years ago, were the more basic needs of humanity?
There is some reason for hope on this topic. Bono and others, with their “Red Campaign,” etc., are helping us to learn how to channel the often unrestrained forces of capitalism away from simple selfish satisfactions toward the resolution of truly global, humanitarian needs. These days, it is becoming more fashionable for major corporations and their captains to engage in benevolent work and the trend toward eco-friendly actions and corporate largesse seems to be on the up-tick.
We capitalists, especially, must learn how, without abandoning our work ethic and even our incentives toward profit, to make appropriate use of the levers of power available to us for the sake of the often overlooked “common good.” If there is a clear lesson arising from our current economic “melt-down,” it is certainly that self-interest cannot be the sole motivation for human activity.
The next time I have a root beer float, I’m going to sit back, take a “swig,” and ruminate on that!