Wisdom at Cribbs Creek

Carmer, Carl

  • Carl Carmer remembers the education his father gave him as a child by introducing him to different people and how he developed an appreciation for the "wisdom of the people."
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And now, This I Believe. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Carl Carmer, well known as poet, author and editor, was born in upstate New York, the son of a teacher and a school superintendant. After teaching in college and doing service as a magazine editor and columnist, he wrote his first successful book, Stars Fell on Alabama, in 1934. Many more have followed, including a number of juveniles. Carl Carmer is also editor of the Rivers of America series. Here is his creed.
Often, after a man has reached his mature years, he has experiences that seem like sudden shafts of sunlight to illuminate and give meaning to events of his past. Such a revelation came to me
beside mud-yellow Cribbs Creek, when I first saw an Alabama Sunday baptizing. A one-armed Negro in a white robe, waste deep in the current, was preaching the sermon, and I found myself spellbound by a miracle of talk packed with homely but poetic phrasing, with deep and passionately felt wisdom. Somehow the man’s words stirred a memory of myself, a small boy on my weekly Sunday afternoon walk with my gentle, child-loving father in upstate New York. The man in the water had suddenly made me understand those walks with my father as I had never understood them.
Each Sunday, we visited an old man. One was white-haired Mr. Cowan, who had seen bears among the trees in front of the very porch on which we sat, and had known Indian chiefs who still talked of destroying
Whites who had stolen their lands. Another was town florist, French-born Monsieur Ducat, who had joined the Union Army during the Civil War and whose valor grew ever brighter and more dramatic as he reported it. A third was short, bald, and merry Jerry Simpson, editor of the town weekly, who explained as well as he could what a saturnine man named Eugene V. Debs had meant when I had seen him harangue between trains a dozen depot idlers on the hardships of the American working man.
Unsatisfied with formal education, my school superintendent father had wanted me to know the wisdom of the people, wisdom that had been recognized, sifted, polished, handed down by generations of undistinguished but thoughtful humans. He wanted me to realize that from such succinct, simple folk
proverbs, as our Sunday hosts often used, may come such beauty and truth as even our greatest wise men have seldom expressed.
Since that Cribbs Creek episode, I have long sought for expressions of the wisdom of the folk, formulated from their own journey through time. Though mountains and deserts have even psychic effects on the man who lives on them, though cattle herding or accounting strongly color a man’s mind, it is something more wonderful than these that brings him wisdom. I call friend a man who at 19 committed a serious crime. He is now a wise and cultured and good companion. He became the man he is through nineteen years of the worst environment man has created for man—a high security prison.
Some men deny the authority of worldly experience and turn the bread and water fare of a literal or figurative imprisonment into the spiritual wine of freedom. Such men are the true miracle workers. Granted as much of godhead as each of us, they use it nobly, sure that dying for one’s convictions is never loss of the battle. To them and millions like them, unknown and undistinguished, belongs the truest wisdom, the wisdom that grows in mankind.
That was Carl Carmer, American poet, author and editor.