I think about the Next Indiana quite often these days because it is, quite literally, running around my house in a shark shirt. My older son is named Milan, and it was my wife’s idea to name him after my basketball-hero hometown. He’ll turn five in August.
But how to raise a Hoosier? Or two of them, because Milan has a little brother. When I was Milan’s age I spent a lot of time on my grandparents’ farm outside of town. My grandfather was a Hoosier by most definitions: he owned over one hundred acres, which he farmed, and kept cattle in the barn and pasture. He owned International tractors, while my dad owned John Deeres. I did a lot of odd jobs for my grandpa, because I was out there anyway, and he liked making me work. I painted the chicken coop, outbuildings, and the bottom three rings of the silo. I put a new roof on the shop. I knocked dirt off the disc blades and oiled them up for winter. I don’t think my grandpa was ever given a dollar he hadn’t earned the hard way and I worked harder for the crumpled singles he would push into my hands in those days than I do now.
The rest of the time I spent fishing in the farmponds and running around in the woods. I sometimes spent the night there to make it easier to get up and fish. If Grandpa had a groundhog clearing out a beanfield we would get up early and go stake the field out in his Ford truck. He would roll down his window, drape his red handkerchief over the side mirror and rest the forestock on the windowsill. When the groundhog appeared on the far edge of the field the sound of the gun firing would fill the truck cab like a bomb exploding.
My grandpa fought in World War II, but it was his Massey-Ferguson combine that took half his leg in the seventies. For most of my life, he walked with an artificial leg that he took off at night and set by his easy chair while we watched television. It was a reminder to respect machines and a token of bad and good luck.
He was a proud NRA member who could make meat of everything from a fish to a steer with his own hands. What would he say, though, if he were alive today, if I were to tell him that my biggest fears for my boys are of school shootings, of explosions in malls, of trucks running over people at outdoor parties? What to make of this violence that strikes without warning, without cause?
He might tell me to do what my wife and I are doing: giving them the trails of Turkey Run. Turning off the news when they walk into the room. Putting frogs in their hands. Letting them touch caught fish, from shad to sharks. And lifting their little butts up into the seats of their Grandpa’s John Deeres.
Gregory Schwipps is a professor of English at DePauw University. This post was written as part of a series celebrating the Next Indiana Bookshelf, a program of Indiana Humanities and the Indiana Center for the Book. Schwipps’ novel, “What This River Keeps,” won a Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Award in 2010 and is featured on the shelf. Views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of Indiana Humanities or Indiana Center for the Book. Check the Indiana Humanities blog throughout 2016 for additional posts by authors detailing their vision for the Next Indiana.