All the Difference posts are about those people (and ideas) who dared to step off the busy highway and to follow one less worn for wear. Away from the crowds, these individuals walk to their own beat, with unexpected and singular results that may not always be for everyone, but that, my guess, was never the point.
It was 1835. With little more than 50 years past the boot given to the British in our War of Independence, and only 20 years out of boot #2 from the War of 1812, a young America heard a newborn’s cry. Running with the unrestrained speed of a people newly cut loose, the fledgling country already was at a number of crossroads from all its people and ideas on the move. Abolitionists, Expansionists, Industrialists, Feminists, Capitalists, Unionists. Iron horses would soon replace the flesh and bones type, and water and its heated sibling, steam, would forever change the nation through cogs and gears, tracks and wheels. World blights and the eternal dream of a better life would provide cheap labor and transform a young nation from a backwoods land to a backwoods land with potential. It was a time when people’s optimism was as immense as the land they sought to tame. And their challenge and rejection of the legitimacy of another voice speaking for them left them ripe for their own. They would find it in this baby born in a small town on the fringe of the American frontier: Samuel Clemens.
Born a sickly kid two months’ premature, Samuel Clemens followed a colorful path before becoming Mark Twain, one of this country’s most beloved, insightful, humorist writers: printer’s apprentice; typesetter; editorial assistant; in 1859 a steamboat pilot; then a miner; a reporter; in 1863 changed his name to Mark Twain, a riverboat call that signified a safe depth for passage; by 1865 he was on his way as a nationally recognized humorist. He then toured the states giving lectures before heading abroad as a travel correspondent in Europe and the Middle East, resulting in his first best seller, Innocents Abroad. Upon returning home he settled down with a family and began spending time between Hartford, Connecticut and Elmira, New York, only 90 miles from where I grew up. It was during the time he spent in Elmira when he wrote the best sellers we all know him for; in 1876 Adventures of Tom Sawyer hit the stands, in 1884 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
What draws me to Twain is that he was a humble man with humble beginnings who broke through the formidable intellectual and cultural walls of the publishing world with nothing but his ueber ability of observation of the every day, and his extraordinary gift of the every-man’s language. Through his examinations of the folly of man—both the pompous and gullible type— he presented the country with a mirror of itself. Yet he never stood above his own poking; he could just as well make fun of himself as anyone else.
Twain was a common man with the uncommon, uncanny ability to find the human truth of any situation. He put it all out there, and through him we can see ourselves, if we dare. I think of Twain and wonder what he might say about not just today’s world, but today’s wine world. There’s always something going on: the Gallo duping, pinot noir debacle; the splittering and twittering through keyboard posts and comments as writers worry like old ladies at a grocery store over quality and pricing and the young whipper snappers showing up on the scene and what do they know? Or the mushrooming of labels and brands and the race to the bottom with the selling out of individuality from chasing fickle consumers. Then there’s the classic “You mean this is NOT Tom Jefferson’s wine?!” cry, and all the instances of a consumer duped, from the thousands for a Chateau LaCheat to that little Red Bicycle so brazenly peddled to the public. The phoniness and pretension, the castles and villas, the animals taking over grocery store shelves because cutesy is supposed to sell. Man, It’s one busy, loud, crazy wine world.
After he’s done with all that, I’d then ask him to move on to what Scott and I are doing, this dream of ours slowly taking shape. See, like Twain, I’m not above any of the poking I give to others either, and I’m sure there’s some to be had. About our bright-eyed optimism (Scott’s mainly). About the countless episodes of anger and crying and pissyness from me about it all. About trying to step out and do our own thing and not follow the 21st century prescribed way to go from vine to wine. About how we took on this endeavor with no backing, no deep pockets, and that every year we eek along, waiting for the wine. About how we live in this shoebox of a house and how poor Scott is just stretched to do it all. About how as if this venture weren’t enough, we threw a kid into the mix. About how desperate we are to keep this dream alive, even in this climate, because of everything we’ve put into it. Would he say we’re fools? I’d love to know.
If you haven’t read Twain since you were a kid, I’d recommend revisiting him. He’s a hoot. And his humor so much more relevant to an adult. I’ll end with a quote that gives me hope:
It were not best that we should all think alike; it is difference of opinion that makes horseraces. Mark Twain, The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson
And we’re off.