Enduring Values

July 2004

This year our family participated in the Independence Day celebration in neighboring Yorktown, Virginia. The high point of the activities in this small rural town was an appealingly amateur parade. Among the groups represented were boy scouts, city and county leaders, members of the local antique car club, and small contingents of coast guardsmen, marines, soldiers, and sailors drawn from the bases that dot the area.

People of all ages were gathered along the parade route -- teenagers hanging out together, retired people chatting while seated on portable chairs, parents with toddlers in their back packs and young children waving at the participants in the parade. Volunteers manned booths in adjoining fields serving hot dogs and homemade sweets to raise money for community activities. All in all, we were not a homogenous group -- we were Americans. What we had in common was that we felt part of a society that seeks to include us all.

Several years before on another July day my wife Ruth and I were a part of another patriotic celebration, this time in northwest Spain. We were in Santiago de Compostela to celebrate the feast day of St. James, the patron saint of Spain, and to welcome our son Jonathan who was completing a 400 mile walk along the Camino de Santiago, the medieval pilgrimage trail.

After a joyful reunion, the three of us soon blended into the warm and engaging crowd gathered in the Plaza de Obradoiro in front of the pilgrimage cathedral. We were standing among thousands of Spaniards from all walks of life, and from the many and varied regions of Spain: Asturias and Andalucía; Extremadura and Aragon; Madrid and Mazagón.

Soon we were enveloped in a light show which was flashed upon the imposing façade of the cathedral. It celebrated the crucial victory of native Spaniards over the marauding Moorish troops of Almansur. The battle changed the course of the history of Spain; much as the British surrender at Yorktown changed the history of America one thousand years later.

As distinct as these two patriotic celebrations may first appear, the essence of each is the same: the affirmation of a common bond. Americans, of a nation of immigrants, experience the unity of a common dream -- out of many we are one: e pluribus unum. Spaniards revisit the spiritual roots they hold in common on the feast day of Santiago who led them into battle.

In either country we enjoy the warmth of ordinary people when they include us in their lives: their wine, their music, and their traditional food. Here in Virginia the local fare is crabs and oysters from the Chesapeake Bay. But I guess the traditional fare throughout America is hamburgers and hot dogs, popcorn and Coke! In Santiago we enjoy the local pulpo, pimientos de Padrón, the Torta de Santiago almond cake. In Spain as a whole, the emblematic food is the omnipresent jamón serrano.

Sharing traditions is a source of great satisfaction to our family. When we are in Spain we are always on the lookout for families who are proud of the artisan products they have produced for generations. I am sure many of them do not know how important they are: the women patiently wrapping individual 'tortas' (cookies) – much the way the first ones did at the 19th Century stage coach stop; or the farmer who nourishes his grove of olive trees with natural fertilizer as his family has done for hundreds of years in that very soil. To them their work is mundane. To us their livelihood is the substance of tradition. They are affirming their heritage and providing fertile soil for the roots of the current generation.

The breakdown of community is what the news media encourage us to dwell upon - the chaotic disruptions of our culture today. In fact, generating alarm is its lifeblood. But we do not need to be led in that direction. When I stand along the shady streets of Yorktown, with my grandson perched on my shoulders and hear the Fife and Drum Corps playing Yankee Doodle it puts things into perspective.

There are enduring values of family and pride of individual work that we must honor so that they will pass to the next generation. We need to encourage those who embody this integrity in their work and in their lives. That is what our family is seeking to do though many of the products we bring to you at La Tienda.