A Wise Man’s Appreciation of Home

Our armchair travels with Cabot Yerxa over the past couple of months have brought us to the end of his voyage to Europe. On January 13, 1926, as the U.S.S. Leerdam made its way into New Orleans, Cabot found himself — like us today — in an unusually solitary environment. Unlike us, he was not yet home.
The ship can carry 900 passengers. But as it happens, I am the only passenger. So I eat alone in a room that seats 250 at one time. For 20 days [of the voyage], only one other man could talk English of 472 passengers. Then he got off and an American got on for three days. He left and no one could talk English for seven days and then I am all alone for 10 of 40 days on the S.S. Leerdam.

When the sailors came on board in Mexico, some had parrots, another some cactus planted in sand, one carried a large pottery bowl, and one was very proud of a gilded box on which were glued many seashells painted blue, red, or green. People who know talk of discord in music. That box was sure discord for the eyes. But the sailor thought it beautiful.

70 men in the crew to handle the S.S. I am the only passenger. No difference between me and the owner of a private yacht except the color of my ticket. Today I had soup, steak, potatoes, bread, green beans, tea, and wine — eating all alone. Some class.

Cabot turned introspective, as would most likely any other traveler after a stretch of eight months at sea and immersed in foreign cultures.

Soon I will land in U.S.A. again. One of the lasting impressions is that of being part of the life of the land where I may be for the time being. In Europe, I seemed to belong to life there; and to recall details of the U.S. was an effort. Now Europe is commencing to get more dim in memory. Just like day and night: Day is the fading of night or night is the fading of the day. Which is real?

 You see flags waving everywhere you go, but the one that makes you puff out your chest is the Stars and Stripes. Even though I shout for America and its people, also I can see that all people are alike and only differ because conditions, food, climate, etc., differ. In France you can see their point of view, in England theirs, and so on. What is more to the point, you can see the failings of the U.S.A. too.

 Shortly after his return to the States, The Sierra Madre News published a piece written by Cabot in which he reveled in both being gone and being home.

Great castles loom up in memory and fade to leave a column of marching soldiers. Sunlight glints upon bright pieces of metal. Cathedrals flash in memory so plainly that you hear the peal of bells. Art galleries of wonderful interest slide past, picture by picture. Black eyes (or were they blue?) look into yours. Languages differ. Spoken words are not understood. But you remember kisses with just as much pleased memory as though they had all been explained in perfect English.

 Traveling 21,000 miles takes you into many places. But the best of all is the country from Los Angeles to San Diego. In this stretch live many satisfied people. And I will not quarrel with you as to which is best. But if you want to find me in a few days, get a burro and a canteen of water and walk out into the desert. As the sun goes down, you will see a dull, slow fire. A man sits in the sand and cooks supper. He will be talking to his burro. What about? Listen: You doggone, long-eared burro, you are eating better sagebrush, seeing better scenery, breathing better air, and having a better time than all the crowned heads of Europe.” The burro will come up and put a soft muzzle on the man’s shoulder gently to say, “I’m glad you’re back, you old desert rat.”

Looking back to Cabot’s journal, we may be inspired by the following words to find parallel thinking almost a hundred years later.

Another impression of having been away, and wiping the slate clean of routine habits, is to maintain some semblance of freedom. For 17 years, I have been a slave to duty and routine of different kinds, with very small rewards of appreciation or recreation. I must now watch the future trail so that I get something out of the few remaining years and keep clear of ruts of employment or thoughts. Keep clear of people with #6 hats, women whose minds revolve ’round hats, clothes, amusements and relatives, mental leatherheads of all kinds, and people who are bound up in material interests in general. It is best to make one’s own rules and regulations and to watch the rising sun of each new day so that whatever of value or happiness may be enjoyed from one’s personal slant of interest.

In particular, we hope you take heart in Cabot’s words of wisdom, written on December 28, 1925 — the day the S.S. Leerdam left Cuba.

The steamer is today bucking a headwind, and the waves roll high towards us. But she meets them one by one, and they appear looking backwards to be very flat and unimportant. So it is with many things in life that threaten awhile and appear formidable, but later when passed and we get a true perspective, they are not to be given much attention. So if mistakes are made or days of ill fortune come, let them pass. When passed, perhaps they will form a background and a knowledge from which days in the future can be more fully enjoyed. The past is gone; look to the future. Perhaps we can grasp moments of contentment.