Letter FromrnPennsylvaniarnby fames J. NovakrnThe Pilgrims’ ProgressrnIf there is one constant at yard sales, estaternauctions, and second-hand bookstoresrnin this state, it is the presence ofrnold books, Bibles, classics, and diverserntexts that once made splashes beforernsinking into obscurity. Perhaps the mostrnfrequenth seen volume, after the Bible,rnis John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, arnbook that, again, was second only to thernBible in most American homes up tornthe end of the 19th century and, inrnsome homes, albeit mostly rural ones,rnwell into the 20th century. Indeed, itsrnubiquitous presence throughout mostrnof our voung nation’s history may wellrnaccount for the stability of American politicalrnlife. For Pilgrim’s Progress is thernmost un-utopian book imaginable: a testamentrnthat, in this worid of the Citv ofrnDestruction and Vanity Fair, there is nornhope at all short of the Celestial City.rnMy rekindled interest in Bunyan wasrnstimulated by two recent events thatrnmade me contemplate the importancernof this 17th-century man. The first wasrnthe Grange Fair, the annual county festivalrnin our neck of the woods. It is heldrnin August, usually a dry and golden periodrnof high temperatures and low humidity,rnjust after the summer haying andrnbefore the corn harvest. The CentrernCounty Crangc Fair, according to itsrnsponsors, is the last of the nation’s tentingrnfairs, where area farmers and theirrnfamilies pitch and live for a week in largerntents, today built on concrete slabs atrnthe Grange Fairgrounds in the village ofrnCentre Hall. The tents are half-walledrnones, the kind that used to be standardrnBoy Scout issue, the type that in myrnyouth housed Methodists who went torn”camp” once a year in a nearby forest.rnBack in the old da’s, when a trip to therncounty fair by horse-and-wagon couldrntake up to two days, “tenting” was a necessity.rnToday it’s a relic, albeit a vitalrnone.rnFor while our county fair has its sharernof carnival activities—ferris wheels,rngames, food vendors, and country andrngospel singers, designed, I suppose, tornenliven the atmosphere and brightenrnthe tan-and-green world of crops andrnploughed earth us rubes live in—thernheart of the fair consists of the tents andrnthe awarding of prizes for animals, crops,rncanning, and crafts. Indeed, the essencernof the fair is serious business: judgingrnthe best steer, the fluffiest rabbit, thernbiggest pumpkin, the finest quilt.rnThe tents, in even rows along well delineatedrnand named streets, are the socialrnfair’s heart. Here are found descendantsrnof most of the area’s originalrnsettlers, families whose recorded rootsrntrace to the end of the 18th century,rnwhen our local valleys were settled.rnThese are the farming families thatrnmoved here from Northern Ireland, England,rnScotland, and Germany to ploughrnthe fertile limestone-based fields. Likernthe land they till, each tenting placernat the Grange Fair is inherited fromrnone generation to the next. There’s norndoubt who your neighbors will be nextrnyear. The tents’ inhabitants representrnintertwining family trees—grandparents,rnaunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws—as wellrnas an endless stream of anecdotes thatrncomprise the county’s verbal history, repleternwith family alliances and clanrnfeuds. The fair is a time for CentrernCounty’s old families to gather and tornmake their statement of roots simply byrnpossessing their inherited tenting places.rnBut the Grange Fair is only the culminationrnof their togetherness. For allrnsummer long these elans have held theirrnannual picnics, wherein relatives fromrnnear and far flock to one farmstead orrnanother to eat, frolic, and rememberrntheir common ancestors.rnAs a newcomer to the county, haingrnlived here only 17 years, and as a genuinernEllis Island descendant, I find therntents and their inhabitants fascinating.rnFor around those family tables, conversationsrncontain echoes of those whornfought in the Revolution, who made thernCivil War, who participated in everyrnstage of our nation’s history. Even whenrnnot consciously trying to do so, thesernfamilies express values that hark back tornearly America. Think of the tangible remindersrnmany of those tenting familiesrnretain: old rifles, uniforms. Bibles, books,rnand, in many cases, barns that date tornthat long bygone era. It is these tentingrnfamilies that are the old Americans ofrnJohn Bunyan’s tale, the rural Scotch-rnIrish and German farmers who putrnAmerica on the Straight and NarrowrnPath and have prevented us from descendingrninto the mire and the hot ashes.rnIt is these families, by their doggedrndevotion to tradition, that are the backbonernof America. For they continuernhoning the values that keep us going.rnThis is not to imply that these tentingrnfamilies are, or ever were, straight andrnnarrow pilgrims on their way to the CelestialrnCity. Like everyone else, they arerncaught up in the snares of Mr. WorldlyrnWiseman, Mr. Ignorance, Mr. Formalistic,rnand Mr. Hypocrisy. They are ordinaryrnrural Americans who act and dressrnlike rural Americans, in baseball caps,rnblue jeans, and tank-top shirts. Theirrnwomen wear cotton print dresses or, ifrnyoung, blue jeans or shorts. Their tentsrnare neat, if often filled with tacky couchesrnand old TVs. They are not so muchrnthe “raise-hell-Saturday-night-and-goto-rnehurch-Sunday” kind of Christians asrnChristians like Bunyan’s hero: peoplernwho carry a big load, have tried to berngood but have fallen into the Slough ofrnDespond, have seen the man in the ironrnmask, have known the Doubting Castlernand a fear of its dungeon, have wanderedrndown the Easy Path instead of thernStraight and Narrow, and ha’e li’ed inrnthe Valley of the Shadow of Death.rnHaving grown up with people like themrn(indeed, my natural speaking accent isrnmountain Allegheny ridge), and havingrnserved with them in the Army, it is notrnhard for me to attest that they are thernsalt of the earth, the American earth,rnthe hard-scrabble Americans of the AppalachianrnRidge who form the most reliablernreservoir of fighting men andrnwomen that any nation has ever bred.rnThey are the kind of neighbors thatrnmake me certain of what “we Americans”rnmeans.rnIn a way, you best can understandrnthem by viewing their work at thernGrange Fair. In the cow barns, the milkrncows are clean and combed and thernstalls are mucked and filled with freshrnstraw; at the show barn, the judge notrnonly chooses the best “light heavyweight”rnAngus steers but explains, in anrnagriculture professor’s twang, why eachrnsteer was judged as it was. Among thernmilk goats, young men trim excess hairrnfrom the backs of restive charges andrnpre-teenagers lather and gently shave thernears of patient goat-pets, “redding”rnthem for the judging. In the swinernbarns, blue, red, and white ribbons alreadyrnhave been handed out and hangrnabove the stalls—stalls, not stves. Andrnin the stalls are found the cleanest, bestrntrimmed, most combed pigs ever seenrnMARCH 1993/41rnrnrn