September marked my 77th birthday and Thursday this week being Thanksgiving, it seems appropriate to reminisce a bit on life’s many blessings, twists and turns.
It’s been a chaotic year for everyone, what with the pandemic and all. I’ve had some health issues of my own and lost my brother David and Linda’s brother Randy. For the past eight years, since 2013, I’ve walked with the help of a cane and more recently, a walker or wheelchair, the lingering result of a viral infection that has affected my balance and limited my mobility, but not my mind. I don’t think of myself as disabled or impaired in any way.
If I have “world enough and time,” as the poem says, I’ll just keep on doing what I’m doing. I’ve been a college professor, a journalist, a newspaper editor/publisher, a business consultant, an elected state legislator and now, a blog columnist and community historian in the Magic Valley. It’s a comfortable list.
I’ve lived in Southern Idaho almost 40 years now and while not a perfect place, it has nonetheless been mostly a delight. The physical landscape is immense and the people are mostly kind, generous and hard-working. It reflects the way America generally was before the country was overrun by near-constant discord of political correctness and identity politics. Here, we’re still a valley of farms, ranches, quiet towns and a shared base of conservative cultural values. How rare and special is that?
Since retiring from the Legislature in 2018 due to health issues, I have two new books out on the various cultural aspects of Southern Idaho life and another underway. These follow a personal memoir in 2014 and several journalism books on reporting, as well as biographies of both my parents, Vincent Hartgen and Frances Hartgen.
I’ve been a writer most of my adult life, so I think I’ll stick with it. Ernest Hemingway once said that his goal as a novelist was to write one truly perfect sentence. I doubt I’ll ever make that standard, but I keep trying.
But none of this is as important as family, place and remembrance, living in this magnificent rural valley of Idaho, a land of freedom, energy and progress. Linda and I have five children between us and a passel of grandkids as well, rambunctious, curious, verbal, loving, all out to make something of themselves in this world. They are close, but not on our doorstep; both are part of the continual joy of grandparenting.
My stream-wading days are over, but I love to mentally fish Idaho’s pristine trout waters and to read American history. I particularly favor accounts of the American West, its rich legends and vigorous settlement, the courage and determination of its people in this vast and enduring landscape. It is the Magic Valley story, the Idaho story and the American story of this great country.
As I age, life’s more visceral past contests fade in importance; they were only sound and fury, as Shakespeare calls them, signifying nothing. Ecclesiastes tells us that no one knows when we may be summoned to a distant stream, when one’s spirit returns unto God, who gave it. In any case, I have many blessings. Here are a few:
— A childhood of delightful memories in a safe and warm place on the edge of a deep, natural forest, a lens through which I have seen the world in most every circumstance.
— Loving parents whose own efforts made the world a better place for those around them, a mother who helped others with sympathy and grace and a father who in his own art and teaching opened people’s eyes to the world of beauty and human ennoblement.
— An education at schools better than I had any right to attend and from which I was able to extract some, if not all, of what they had to offer, sometimes in counterpoint.
— A life of the mind developed from an early age, nurtured by parents and then by myself in quiet hours and moments, overcoming each day’s hustings.
— A long search and then a settling in what seems like “God’s country” of the West, in the presence of daily beauty, the flow of crystalline water, the crisp green of spring farms and range.
— The blessing to live in the best region, in the best state, in the best nation on the planet, in freedom and opportunity, where love of country abounds. If freedom is to be found anywhere, surely Southern Idaho is one such place.
— A flowering of family warmth and love and a spouse and partner whose dedication to the “us” of our marriage and to our faith has helped my own faith grow as we age.
— A renewal in my 60s and 70s of public service and involvement, through both public office and appreciation of my community, giving me a chance to lead through the challenges of public life.
— A gift of friendships bound by common purpose to make our community, state and nation a better place for generations ahead.
— Reasonable health, despite setbacks and conditions. Yes, I have chronic ailments, but so do many others. So what? It is a blessing indeed to do what I can do. Each of us should be thankful for the inner strength God has given each of us.
Scripture tells us to be constantly ready, as we cannot know the hour of the calling. That’s good advice. But we should all take time here as well to count our blessings. Happy Thanksgiving to all! Now, about that turkey!
Stephen Hartgen of Twin Falls is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee. Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He can be reached at Stephen_Hartgen@hotmail.com.