Updated 22 May, 2005
Garrett Hardin Oral History Project
Tape 1 - "The early years"
RUSSELL: All right Professor Hardin, I thought that this morning you might start with a biographical sketch of your mother and father--a verbal vignette.
HARDIN: Unquestionably as I grew up, my mother was more important in my life than my father. I can think of several reasons for this. For one thing a woman is usually closer to her children--warmer, more affectionate. And my father, Hugh Hardin was a rather inhibited person. He certainly had a hard life. He was raised on a farm in southwestern Missouri, a general purpose farm with not very good soil. He was the youngest of five children. He had three older brothers and a sister. He was the runt of the family. His brothers were just over six feet in height; he was five feet seven, and I don't suppose he ever weighed as much as 130 pounds. The old fashioned farm required strength in its men, so it was hard for a runt to hold his head up. I know one of his brothers--Ed, who became a barber--teased him in a typically insensitive hayseed fashion, leaving him with a lifelong resentment. The other two brothers were, I believe, unfailingly kind.
Hugh left home at the age of sixteen. Life wasn't easy for him. He went to Kansas City, which is 70 miles north of the farm near Butler, Missouri. Ed predicted he would be back in six months. Of course he had to prove Ed was wrong; and he did.
I didn't realize as a child how hard a time he must have had in Kansas City at first. I think he held down two or three jobs at once. He delivered newspapers, that meant entirely on foot, getting up very early in the morning. During the day he ran an elevator. I'm sure he didn't have enough food much of the time. He had intermittent stomach trouble all his life, and he looked malnourished: he had what I believe is called a "pigeon breast," though the name is a misnomer--somewhat caved in (rather than stuck out the way a pigeon's would be).
Gradually he bettered himself, after failing in a number of attempts. He tried dental school, but he ran out of money and maybe out of ability. His eyes gave him trouble: he was virtually one-eyed. Legally he was one-eyed, actually he saw something with the poor one. His was a hard life.
He met my mother through some dentistry friends, as a matter of fact. I guess she was in her early twenties when she got married. Hugh Hardin was six years older than Agnes Garrett. They had two children, both boys. My brother, John Hugh, was born in 1909, I in 1915, both in Dallas, Texas.
Both of us were born at home, probably the rule in those days. When I was born we lived on Garrett Street. I am not sure of the following, but I think my mother wanted to name me Garrett from the beginning, but was afraid that people might think she was so unimaginative as to have to name me after the street they were living on. At any rate, she didn't make the decision until about six months later, by which time the family had moved from Texas to Little Rock, Arkansas, without ever having officially given me my name. Later--during the second world war, when people were needing birth certificates to get government clearance for all sorts of jobs--I went to the trouble of getting my birth certificate. I saw the handwritten register in Dallas and discovered that I was listed only as "Baby Boy Hardin." Fortunately my parents were still alive and could attest to the fact that Baby Boy was Garrett, and the birth certificate was corrected.
RUSSELL: What was your father's initial job?
HARDIN: He had various jobs, but I can recall only two. One was with the Philadelphia Plate Glass Company--I think that was the name. But his main job was with the Illinois Central Railroad. He was with them most of his life. At one point, he gave up that job. He thought he could better himself, but apparently failed and then came crawling back, I guess, and said, "I would like my old job back." I sensed that his pride was hurt. He stayed with the "I.C." for the rest of his life.
He was essentially a traveling salesman--a "freight solicitor," I believe was the title. This kept him on the road for about five days a week, returning home only at the weekend. This was another reason why I was never as close to my father as to my mother, though I had a real affection for him.
One other point about his business career may be of interest, as a contrast to today. By attending night school he trained himself as a male secretary--most secretaries were men then--and got into business through this route.
RUSSELL: What dental school did he attend?
HARDIN: I don't know; Kansas City is all that I know.
RUSSELL: Was your mother born on a farm, too?
HARDIN: No. My mother was born, I think, in the Kansas part of Kansas City. She was born in the city at any rate. Her father was a buyer for one of the packing companies in the stockyards. This meant that he looked over the cattle and then bid--in open cry at auction. As a matter of fact, I watched him at work once when I was a child. It was very romantic, very exciting to see this. All auctions are exciting. As far as I know, auctioning cattle is the only job my grandfather (John Elmore Garrett) ever held. His family was almost the reciprocal of my father's family--five girls and a boy.
RUSSELL: The last time we met you mentioned that your grandparents were very important to you during your early years. They provided stability during your childhood, since their farm was the one stationary place you could relate to during these formative years. Would you like to develop this scenario?
HARDIN: The first thing I remember was living in Kansas City, where we moved when I was three-and-a-half years old. My parents came back to Kansas City, where they had started out in the first place. All the years that I was growing up, in the summer time and during other vacations as well, we would go to the Hardin family farm, five miles from Butler, Missouri. So this was the one fixed place. My own home, the home of my parents, kept moving all the time because my father kept moving from one place to another. We lived in one apartment in Kansas City; then my parents bought a home because they thought we would be there forever. I believe it was only five years later that my father was advanced and sent to Memphis. We lived in a couple of apartments there and then we moved to Chicago, where we lived in six or eight apartments before we were through. So we were constantly on the move. The one stable place in my life was the farm in Missouri. After about my tenth birthday I spent all my summers there, until I was about age eighteen or nineteen. I can't remember exactly when I stopped going there for the summer.
RUSSELL: What do you remember about your grandmother and grandfather?
HARDIN: James Hardin, my grandfather, died when I was about seven. He was a rather distant person to me. He was just an old grouch, as far as I was concerned. Old men are not always very patient with children you know. Now my grandmother (Mary Stone Hardin) was pretty sharp. But that was a different thing; you see she was sassy, you might say, and very much "with it." She didn't avoid the children. She just gave them the sharp side of her tongue. Her son Ed, the barber, lived in Butler. And then there were two other uncles (Fred and Frank) on the farm, together with Kate. None of these three ever married. They were foster parents to me in a very real sense. My grandmother died in 1932, or something like that. I can't remember just when she died. But the two uncles and my aunt were really very close to me and did a lot of the raising of me.
RUSSELL: Which one of your uncles was the most important to you?
HARDIN: Oh, no question about that. The older one was Fred, called Billy. And the younger one was Frank. Uncle Billy was very amusing. You would have thought he was a scholar in the university. He was off in another world. He read voraciously, anything that came to his hands he would read. He was absent minded and sort of sloppy. His sister, Aunt Kate, got a little annoyed with his spilling things on the table cloth; so she always put a newspaper under his plate. When he sat down the first thing you'd know, he'd move the plate over and say, "Why, I don't remember that!" He would stop eating and read. He was a marvelous person but he was just not in this world--not what you would think of a farmer at all.
RUSSELL: Was he the one who had the most influence on you?
HARDIN: No, he was amusing and wonderful. But no, the other one, Frank, was by contrast extremely sensitive to everything about him. The very opposite of absent mindedness, very sensitive to people. When someone told a story about someone having been hurt, you could see a flash of pain go across his face. He felt everybody else's pain. All of the things that one associates with femininity--you know, sensitivity and so on--he had. He was a strong, able, masculine farmer. But at the same time he had what one calls feminine sensitivity.
Uncle Frank was really the most important male figure in my life. It took me years to realize this.
RUSSELL: If you could compare your Uncle Frank to your father, why was he more of a father figure? Was it because your father was too busy?
HARDIN: Well, he was busy. But I think he was sort of worried all of his life; worried that he wouldn't do well enough. He was sort of the type of person who was driven by the commercial machine, trying his darndest and getting along fairly well, but I think he had many reverses. He was worried. In his position as traffic solicitor, he would go out and speak to people who might give the I.C. carloads of this, that or the other thing to ship. When he would come home Friday always, in my memory, he would have candy bars in his suitcase, Colliers and the Saturday Evening Post. John and I would eagerly open up his suitcase and there would be these two magazines, which he read religiously, and the candy bars, which, of course, we were always looking for. He was nice. But he was simply not an outgoing person. And I think he worried too much about his own situation. Until he was quite old and retired, he was distant. He really wasn't close to his boys at all, but he was proud of them.
RUSSELL: How close were you to your older brother?
HARDIN: Well, he was five-and-a-half years older than I was, and I think actually this is a very fine gap for sibling relationships. He was my peer but he was also a much wiser person. So he was kind of a leader in that respect, and he was a good brother all of my life. He was very kind to me. But there was a good- sized gap between us--five years.
RUSSELL: What do you remember about your mother's family and the fact that they were from the South?
HARDIN: Yes. My mother's father, the one who was a buyer in the stockyards, came from Kentucky. You know it's a sort of a religion being a Southerner--a whole way of life that you prize if you come from the antebellum South. Such people believe in the Southern ethos, as my mother did. Grandpa Garrett did not serve in the Southern Army--I don't know why. I never heard an explanation of that. On the other hand, my father's father, James Hardin, served in the Northern Army. I remember one of the things out in the barn was a musket he had used.
RUSSELL: Did you ever talk to him about his service?
HARDIN: I was too young; we were too distant, and I never heard anything about it except indirectly from others. So I know nothing about it.
RUSSELL: Did you start school in Kansas City?
RUSSELL: What do you remember about your first experiences in school?
HARDIN: I remember the name--Longon School. I suppose it was named for some local politician. It was within walking distance of where we lived, about half- or three-quarters of a mile, though at first I didn't walk there. I had polio when I was four-and-a-half and the recovery from it was slow. By the time I started in school, I was six, and I still wasn't strong enough to walk to school. So I rode my tricycle, and my mother walked beside me. So I went to school on a tricycle. Somehow during that year, I got strong enough so that I walked to school. Then she let me go by myself.
RUSSELL: I wonder if we could discuss your illness? Do you feel comfortable talking about it?
RUSSELL: Do you remember coming down with it?
HARDIN: Yes. You know this is curious. I have one or two memories that I am sure took place when I was three. Just little vignettes, and then nothing until after I was four. And I should have remembered things about the time that I first became sick, but I don't. I remember recovering from it--I have vivid recollections of that. My sickness is a "screen memory," something I learned from others. I think I was in bed for several weeks. I do remember my Aunt Amanda (my mother's sister, later to be called "Antique") coming every day with a new book from Emery Bird Thayer's department store, to read to me. She was one of those rare persons in those days, a female secretary. Unquestionably the most intelligent and most independent of the Garrett girls. And very loving to me.
This was in the days when they thought that the best treatment for polio was complete rest, which of course was the worst treatment. So I was in bed for several weeks.
I can remember high fevers. What I remember about them were the visual things that went with the high fevers. The images and so on. And many years later, something like 40 years later, I read about what people saw with drugs. Then I realized, "Oh boy! I've been through that!" Though why anybody would take drugs to see those images, I don't know. I saw them; I didn't like them. I think it's the high fever that does it. It has the same effect as drugs. And I wouldn't want to go through it for anything.
RUSSELL: Did you have crutches when you were small?
HARDIN: No, I never had crutches. The belief was that I should make do without any aids--no crutches, no braces. I think that this was probably good. Making me somehow struggle along with what muscles I had was good. And as I said, I wasn't strong enough to walk to school when I first started first grade. There was no kindergarten--kindergarten didn't exist in the Midwest at that time. Nursery school had never been heard of. So at six years of age, I started off to school on my tricycle.
RUSSELL: How difficult was it for you to adjust to school under those circumstances?
HARDIN: I don't have much of a recollection about that. You see my principle recollections are of always being an oddball. I knew I was crippled and people would use the word "cripple"--which hurt very much. But I just sort of gritted my teeth and got along pretty well with the other kids. I was good at academic things. But, of course, my mother pushed me that way. She made it clear that that's where my future lay, and I absorbed her attitude. It entered into my bones. So I just loved anything that had to do with study and learning.
I was usually first in my class. Sometimes there would be a girl ahead of me--never a boy. Usually, I was first in schoolwork. And I could do other things. I was a good marble player. I remember the school had a strict rule--no playing "for keeps." But, of course, you know how it is, the kids did play for keeps. The teachers knew they played for keeps; but they pretended they didn't know. As long as nothing scandalous happened they left us alone. By the time I was in third grade, I could beat most of the kids in the school. I had a tremendous pile of marbles.
RUSSELL: How did your brother help you during this time?
HARDIN: He was always helpful and it was clear that he was under family pressure to be helpful. Many of the impressions of childhood are absorbed unconsciously and not brought to the surface until later. Years later, thinking back over it, I realize all the things that had been happening that I didn't realize consciously at the time. For instance, I'm sure my brother was under instructions not to leave me out of things. And I must have been quite a burden on him. But he didn't show it. I tagged along with him while he went off with his gang to play. We had a tremendous neighborhood gang. I mean it was both good and bad. But boy! It was a real gang of kids.
RUSSELL: In what respect? Were you a group of kids that hung around together, or was it a club?
HARDIN: It was a club. I mean they had a club house. They dug a series of tunnels in the ground and put a roof over the whole complex. They had a cave that was a club house. And they were...there was quite a bit of vandalism; not terribly serious. But of course, on Halloween, garbage cans piled on porches and things like that. That sort of vandalism. And there would be quite a bit of petty thievery, that is stealing apples and fruit and things from trees. And I can remember also going into the parks, to get black walnuts--which you were not supposed to do. I don't know why not. What could the city do with all those black walnuts? We would collect black walnuts. The park keeper, groundskeeper, would come and chase us away. I remember this; it was a real gang.
There was a clear-cut leader of the gang, Bill Kernberger, who was a most incredible natural born leader. Whatever he said, went. He was not the oldest member of the gang. He was eleven. His older brother was also in the gang, but he wasn't the leader. (I believe his name was Reynolds Kernberger; he was about fifteen.) There was a span of about eight years in the ages of the gang; I remember it from the time I was about nine-years old.
What was the mystery of Bill's leadership? I don't know. But this eleven year old boy coined names for all sorts of common things. What Bill coined then became their names, and we never used their common names again. For instance, "spatsy" was a sparrow; we never used the word "sparrow." The special names were current only in this small region of Kansas City. You got a few blocks away and those names were not used.
Bill also named each new member of the gang as he came into it. A new boy would come in and it might be a week or two while he went by his Christian name. Then suddenly Bill would say, "Your name is such and such." And the name stuck. One boy was called "Mule," but I can't remember his real name. After a while his parents called him "Mule" too. Some parents would resist, but it did no good. Whatever Bill said the name was, that was the name.
RUSSELL: What did he dub you?
HARDIN: I don't know whether I should say it. I think I won't. I'll tell you why, because I occasionally use this name. For instance, if I need a code name for a combination lock, or for the electronic transfer of funds, I am likely to use this name, which I've never heard in any other connection. I think I'll preserve the security. Nobody will ever guess the name. It bears no relationship to my real name. It stuck. It was the name I was known by all the years I was in Kansas City.
RUSSELL: In that case, would you give your brother's name so that we will have an example for the record?
HARDIN: He was just known as John--not as John Hugh which his older relatives called him. Why Bill sometimes left the given name intact I don't know. But whatever the name, it seemed to fit. I've always felt that I witnessed here something of the process by which natural languages are altered by the common people. A talented person invents the new word and it sticks; it then becomes the name. Bill Kernberger is the only person I have ever known who had this ability.
RUSSELL: Was he frightening from your position within the gang?
HARDIN: No, it was just damned interesting; it was very mysterious. Why was he so talented in this way? Why did we accept him? And my wife has wondered if this early experience inclined me to invent names for new concepts, as I have done on a number of occasions. (Some of them have been accepted.)
RUSSELL: How long did you live in Kansas City?
HARDIN: From the time I started school until third grade, so I left there when I was 9 or 10. I guess I was 10 when I left there.
RUSSELL: Do you remember your father announcing to the family that you were going to have to move from Kansas City?
HARDIN: No. But I remember my mother planning joyously for it. Because we were moving back south. She had spent such happy years in Dallas and Little Rock. She was anxious to move south again. My father wanted to, too. That I remember, her planning for it.
RUSSELL: The family moves; and if I remember correctly, it was to Memphis, Tennessee, wasn't it?
HARDIN: Yes, Memphis. For two years we lived in an apartment half a block from school and half a block from Overton Park where the zoo was. So it was very convenient.
One of the first important things I learned in Memphis was how to go from the top of the totem pole to the bottom. It was the sort of thing the high school valedictorian has to learn when he goes to Caltech and discovers there that he is only one of 180 valedictorians. Well, there I was in Memphis, fresh from being the best marble player in Longon School in Kansas City, and now I was the worst in Memphis. I had moved to the big league. The way they played marbles I just couldn't hack it. I lost half of my marbles the first week.
In such a situation two reactions are possible. First, you might just get mad and decide you are going to beat the others and work, work, work. I wasn't ambitious enough to do this, so, no more marbles. I had to find something else to do. Then I discovered I was better at tops than they were. Playing with tops can be an aggressive game. You know, this is one of the many things children know nothing of these days. In the days before television, we had a lot of games like this.
RUSSELL: How would you describe the game of tops?
HARDIN: Well, if you know what a top is, a top that you wind a string around and then spin it. Well, in tops, you draw a circle and each person throws his top down spinning. And then the other people try to top it. That is, try to hit it and knock it out of the circle. And if you knock it out, it's your top. And sometimes, instead of knocking it out, you split it. Well, that's just hard luck for the other guy; he's lost his top because it's been broken. That's the way tops are played.
RUSSELL: So you became quite good at that?
HARDIN: I was good at that. Or at least I was able to hold my own. Then I discovered, and this is probably an indication of what my career might have been but never was--I was always basically what could be called an entrepreneur. I think if I hadn't had polio, I might have become a businessman, maybe something disgraceful like a second-hand car salesman. Because I had strong instincts along that line, no doubt about it. But you know, if you are going to be in business as some sort of salesman, a favorable first impression is very important. And someone who has a limp does not make a favorable first impression.
In Kansas City, I remember when I was, I think, six-years old, I overheard my brother saying that he was thinking of selling his bicycle, and that he could get $10 for it. Well, I found somebody who would pay $15 for it, so I sold his bicycle, collected the $15, came back and gave him $10. Well, all hell broke loose in the family. I was not a licensed agent, hadn't been commissioned to do this; I did not have his permission. It just wouldn't do.
RUSSELL: Did he get the whole $15?
HARDIN: Yes, he got the whole $15, but I always had some little business going. I sold soda pop, for instance. When I went to Memphis, I discovered that there was a type of top that they had in Kansas City that could not be had in Memphis. It was a small top that sold for a penny in Kansas City. So I wrote to my Aunt Helen and sent her some money and she sent me a whole bunch of these penny tops. And then I got some gilt, and I gilded them--either silver or gold, and I sold them for 10 cents apiece. I had a good business. There was no place else the kids could get them and, and they had never seen anything like them.
RUSSELL: What did your parents think of this sort of transaction?
HARDIN: Oh, that was all right, that was legitimate. You see, it wasn't like selling somebody else's bicycle without his permission. I had to learn about mine and thine. Of course, with my brother's bike, my argument was $10 was all he was going to get anyway, so what was he complaining about?
RUSSELL: Did you have any discipline problems in school?
HARDIN: As I said, I was a good student all along; I learned very quickly. I had a good memory and so on. On that side I was very good. I was also a talkative child. Unfortunately, I had a deep voice; my voice never changed in adolescence--because it was already about the adult level. As a child, I didn't seem to learn how to whisper properly. I remember particularly the 4th grade. I'm pretty sure the teacher's name was Miss Hall. She had a system of putting on the board each day the names of all those caught misbehaving, and then adding to their scores as needed. The tally was supposed to last all week, but I seemed to accumulate enough black marks in one day. So she started it all over again each day.
I swear every one of the black marks I got was unjust, that's the way I felt at the time. Because the little girl behind me would whisper something to me and, and I would try to whisper to her. Of course, I was heard and I got the black mark and the little girl got off Scot-free. I resented this. Sexist is what we would call my attitude today. Then I thought it was just damn unjust.
Miss Hall chose as punishment for people like me that I was to learn a poem each day, the length being roughly proportional to the number of my black marks. Almost every day by noon, I had accumulated the full load of black marks and had to learn a poem. So she'd give me a poem. The idea was I couldn't go home in the afternoon until I had recited the poem from memory. Well, since I usually had the assignment by noon, I took the poem home with me, and while eating lunch at home, my mother sitting on the other side of the table, held the script to me. I would recite the poem back and usually had it all memorized by the time lunch was over. I'm pretty sure my mother thought the teacher a bit over-harsh, but she never undermined the teacher's authority. She just helped me with the punishment. As a result, I could get out promptly at the end of the school day.
My impression was that Miss Hall couldn't stand my guts. I must admit, that there's this sort of chemistry, one teacher likes you and another one doesn't. Well, I dare say she was justified. And this is what she did, and I guess she couldn't think of any better punishment.
RUSSELL: Did she keep making poems harder and harder?
HARDIN: She ran out of poems; she had to get books from the school library, more poems, more poems, and so on. Any typically, the poems would be about a page in length. Though they were not excessively long, it was a pretty good trick to memorize them over lunch.
RUSSELL: That was tremendous training though.
HARDIN: Oh, it was great! I didn't mind it at the time. I like poetry. You might think this would make me hate poetry, but it didn't. I liked what I was doing as a matter of fact, which must have irritated Miss Hall even more. It certainly didn't break my spirit. I rather liked it... You know, it was like punishing a dog by throwing a stick and making him get it. That's no punishment! But I sure learned a lot of inspirational poetry those days--much of which I still remember and recite to my wife's amazement--when I come up with these things--dredging them up from the past.
RUSSELL: How about your friendships in school?
HARDIN: I remember some of the friends. I had a very close friend, Archwood Stratton, whom I remember well. Archwood had tuberculosis of the bone and had to stay in bed for a year. I kept him company, and we played imaginative games together. He recovered, and when I saw Arch in Chicago once years later, he was a vigorous young man. I always seemed to have at least one close friend and two or three other very good friends. I was never without friends.
RUSSELL: Exactly, what years did you spend in Memphis?
HARDIN: I was 10 and 11, and I left at age 12, I guess.
RUSSELL: These were very important years for self-development?
HARDIN: Yes, I think very important. I think our position near the zoo was very important. The idea of a park, for one thing, sort of a semi-wild area, was always exciting to me as it is to most kids. There was a wild area right back of the school, as a matter of fact, not built up at all, and the park had sort of wild areas, a magnificent grapevine swing. Kids could play and imagine all sorts of things.
RUSSELL: How influential was the zoo? Did you get to know any of the zoo keepers?
HARDIN: Yes, I got acquainted with the zoo keepers. There was one who taught me to howl like a wolf, which would get the wolves to howling. And I remember talking to him about other things. He was very friendly, and I enjoyed watching the animals. He didn't let me like get into the cages or do anything like that.
RUSSELL: Was there any particular thing that fascinated you about his work?
HARDIN: No, I don't think so, not more than any child is interested in animals. The animals were certainly a part of my daily life. I remember how delighted I was when we first moved to Memphis to hear the lions roar early in the morning--around three or four o'clock. Of course, after a few days, we no longer noticed the roaring.
RUSSELL: How did the South shape your character?
HARDIN: Well, there certainly is a marked difference between, say Memphis and Chicago. Of course, there were several reasons for the difference. First, there was the size of the places. But part of it is a matter of South versus North. The people in the South then were what we would now call "laid back." No question about it, Well, the primary thing in the Old South was human relations; these simply overweighed in importance everything else--particularly time and space.
One of the things that amused us very much when we first went there was this. Ask somebody "How far is it to such and such a place?" "Oh, it's a good little piece." "Well, how far is it?" "Well, it's a good little piece." "Is it a mile?" "Well, it's a good little piece." You could not get a quantitative answer out of them. You would say, "How long does it take?" "Well, it takes a good little while." You couldn't get out of them any direct answer because they didn't think in terms of distance or time as quantitative things at all. It's a little piece, a good little piece or a mighty good little piece. That had to do.
And the same thing was true in meeting appointments. It was sort of like Latin America. If you said you would meet somebody in the afternoon someplace, there was nothing definite about it. Even if you said "3:00 o'clock," there sill was nothing definite about it; maybe you would be there at 3:00, and maybe you would be there at 3:30. Being late produced no criticism. That's just the way it was.
The street car line ended at the eighteen-hundred block, just a couple blocks away on a parallel street. Once I was getting on the street car to go downtown. A couple blocks later, the street car stopped for a woman; she started to get on, but then she said, "Oh, I forgot to lock my door. Will you wait a minute?" "Oh, yes ma'am." So she went back half a block; not running, just walking. Locked the door, came back and got on the street car. The car waited. Nobody on the street car complained--that would be wrong, it would be impolite. You see, in the Old South, it was people that counted. Whereas, in the North, she would have never made such a ridiculous request. But that is an example of the unimportance of time and space to them--it was human relations that mattered. And this makes for a very nice world to live in. It really does, very gentle. Now, of course, if you yourself are governed by a clock, dominated by a clock--it just irritates the hell out of you. But if you get that out of your system, then it's a fine world to live in.
RUSSELL: You spent two years there.
HARDIN: Two years there.
RUSSELL: And now you had to leave there and move to Chicago.
HARDIN: Yes, we went to Chicago, which is utterly different, a hard-driving big city, different people, different origins. In the area where we lived, many of the people were Swedish or German; some were "Polacks." There were quite a few Jews, maybe ten to fifteen percent, I am not quite sure. And they were all ambitious, hard-pushing, upward bound, living in apartments; and many of them had come from smaller places in Europe, rural places, and small cities. And they were moving up just as my father was, but much harder driving.
RUSSELL: How did your mother react to your move to Chicago?
HARDIN: She was very unhappy about it. It was a case where she knew she had to do it; her husband's advancement, etc., etc. But this was a real sacrifice, and she was very bitter.
RUSSELL: Did the move allow your father to spend more time at home?
HARDIN: As a matter of fact, it did at first. Yes, he was working in the office. Later he went back to doing more of the other work. Although I don't remember just what his duties were at that time. He was home more.
RUSSELL: Did you start high school at this time?
HARDIN: No. Let's see, I had 4th and 5th grades in Memphis. Then that left me three grades in Chicago before I entered high school. In fact, I did them in two years. I skipped some grades. I had fallen a half a grade behind because of tachycardia that followed a bout of scarlet fever the last year I was in Memphis, so I skipped three half grades and went to high school a year early.
RUSSELL: Obviously a person who loved poetry, must have read Carl Sandburg?
HARDIN: No, not much. All that I can remember is the fog coming on little cat's feet, then butcher to the world--the Chicago thing. But, curiously, I had never read much of him.
RUSSELL: No, I was wondering if you shared his view of Chicago?
HARDIN: Well, I would say his view was more romantic than mine. This, partly because I was prejudiced against Chicago because my mother hated it. Any my own experiences never gave me much reason to contradict her. I really don't like big cities--not American cities. I didn't discover what a city could be like until 1964 when we went to Europe, and I discovered that a city can be quite different from American cities. And I saw that there is something to be said for cities. I was 49-years old before I discovered that there is anything to be said for cities.
RUSSELL: Yet, it was in Chicago that you really matured?
HARDIN: Yes, two years of grammar school, four years of high school, and four years of college. But remember, during most of that time I was spending my summers on the Missouri farm. I think a big city of apartments is a hell of a place for an active child to be during a long summer without school.
RUSSELL: How would you describe your neighborhood in Chicago?
HARDIN: Well, three story apartments--one against another, I mean literally. The two brick walls were right against each other for blocks and blocks and blocks. Any you don't know anybody to speak to--you know a few, just by chance you get acquainted with a few.
RUSSELL: Were there any characters in your neighborhood?
HARDIN: No, I mean, you had almost no chance of knowing characters. You see, I knew some of the children who were in school. I knew them because of the school relation, but otherwise, there was no chance to get to know characters. There were no parks for people to go to; you see there is no way you can meet your neighbors--except in the entry-way of the hall or something. The quarters were like so many little boxes where people went at night; came out in the morning and went someplace else. So there was no neighborhood, in any human sense at all.
RUSSELL: This transition from the rural setting of Memphis must have proved quite difficult for you?
HARDIN: Well, I don't remember any hardship. It certainly did not endear the city to me. But remember, I went to the farm every summer.
RUSSELL: What fascinated you about Chicago?
HARDIN: I did any awful lot of reading. There was nothing else to do. There was no place to play. And you had the hard winters. Now when I got older; when I got to high school and college age, I discovered the Field Museum. This was on the I.C. Railroad. I can't remember if I had to pay--I either got my tickets at a reduced rate or I got them free. No, I guess I got them at a reduced rate and not free. And so, I would often, on a weekend, go down and spend the whole of Saturday in the Field Museum, which was a marvelous place.
RUSSELL: What part of the collection appealed to you?
HARDIN: Well, mostly natural history; the animals, reading the labels, looking at the animals and so on. But I would look at everything else; it was a great museum.
RUSSELL: What do you remember about your pre-high school years in Chicago? Were there any teachers that you would like to mention?
HARDIN: I had two or three very good teachers. There was a good teacher of history, and there was a teacher who taught music. Miss Parsons went around from class to class. She also had a class of her own, but she taught music to several upper classes and led the class in singing. And this was good because she did it well. The rumor was that she had sung in opera; she would have us singing parts and so on. And this was good, now that I can remember her.
RUSSELL: And you enjoyed that?
HARDIN: Yes, I enjoyed it. But that was about all there was, there wasn't any other music in the school, just because of this one teacher. Actually, I had music outside of school; I played the violin.
RUSSELL: When did you start playing?
HARDIN: Oh, I started playing when I was eight I think. And my story was a typical story. I liked music, I liked violin music, but I also hated it because I had to practice half an hour before I could go out and play. "Practice your lessons first!" my mother would say. Typical thing, you know, love-hate relationship. But I made slow progress. I do remember one thing from the Chicago years. My closest friend there was Manuel Stillerman, who lived in our block, and we would walk home from school together. And about the second year that we were there, I discovered, walking past his apartment on a hot day when the windows were open, I heard coming from his windows the sound of a violin. And it was awful; he had started taking lessons. I was very smug. I thought--"God, that's awful!" Well, about six months later, I wasn't laughing any more. The sounds that were coming out of his apartment were way better than I could make. In six months, he did better than I could do after three years.
RUSSELL: Did he continue playing the violin?
HARDIN: Oh, he continued on after he graduated from high school. At his high school graduation, besides being valedictorian, he also played Sarasate's "Zigeunerweisen" as a solo. He was really good; he had real ability, far beyond mine. And this business of seeing somebody who started later than you going zipping past you because he's got it. In six months, he had a lovely vibrato. I never did get a really good vibrato.
RUSSELL: Do you still play?
HARDIN: Well, I have played off and on during my life. Actually, as I say, there was this love-hate relationship for many years. Finally, in my last year in high school, I fell in love with Bach and no longer budgeted my practice time. In one short year, I made more progress than I had in the eight or so years preceding. I didn't have good teachers; I didn't have the right experiences for really pushing into violin. Music should be a social thing. Of course, this is what the Suzuki method emphasizes. But mine was always solo. And this is wrong. I was always playing by myself, which is no good. But about my junior year in high school, without being given the assignment by the teacher, I somehow picked up a volume of the Bach solo sonatas for violin, and I just fell in love with them. So I really started practicing for the first time. In a very short time, my teacher noticed and said, "What's happened?" Suddenly, I was immeasurably better. Finally, I had just fallen in love with the overwhelming beauty of Bach. So for one year, I practiced hard and made more progress than I had made in eight years or so before. And then my senior year, I was so heavily involved with so many things--extra-curricular--I stopped lessons then, my mother reluctantly let me do it. And that was all I really did with the violin for many years--dropped it completely until after I graduated and had my Ph.D. And then in my early years of marriage, I decided I wanted to play again, so I joined Stanford Symphony and played second violin. Then, when I came down to Santa Barbara some years later, when the Santa Barbara Symphony orchestra first formed, I was in it. But I didn't like the conductor; I can't think of his name now. He is a good cellist, but a terrible conductor. You know--being a conductor of an orchestra or a singing group--thirty seconds, you know whether the guy has got it or not. And this guy didn't have it; he just could not direct other people. I thought, "Why should I put up with this?" I had had the experience at Stanford with a fellow named Popper, who then went to UCLA, I think, who had it, you know. Just instantly, he draws the best out of you. It's the most incredible thing. So, with the cellist I thought, "Why do it?" So, I sort of dropped the violin again until a number of years later when I found that some of my colleagues played musical instruments. We formed a quartet, which we called the Sal Si Puedes Quartet. Do you know what "Sal Si Puedes" means?"
RUSSELL: No, I don't.
HARDIN: Well, you know about Salsipuedes Street here in Santa Barbara. The way it got it's name was this: the street went down into the swampy part of Santa Barbara and the wagons would get stuck there. So they called it "sal si puedes," which means "get out if you can." So we felt that's a good name for our group and called it the Sal Si Puedes Quartet. We finally disbanded just this last year. I said, "I am not going to do it any more," for various reasons. But we played together for about ten years--maybe a little more. And we would meet Friday afternoons and our repertoire was restricted to Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn. Occasionally, we would try a little Schubert or something else, but mostly there was more than enough in the first three. And that is really the most marvelous musical experience of all--quartet playing--there is nothing like it. So finally, music did mean something to me. But one of the many things I really regret is that I didn't get started on the right foot.
RUSSELL: In respect to your observations of what constitutes a leader, could you relate to your friend in Kansas City--his ability to lead--with that of an excellent conductor?
HARDIN: I don't have a vivid enough recollection of particular events, I just remember the consequences; but I don't remember him. His general appearance--he was lean and dark and active, the way a wild animal is, always on the move. That I remember. And part of this leadership thing is just sheer animal magnetism--he had it--restless. But that is all I remember.
RUSSELL: As a review of your early years in Chicago, is there anything else you would like to include at this point? How did you amuse yourself during those years? We know you spent the summer on the farm.
HARDIN: Yes, on the farm. This was important. I worked. My work load was stepped up as I grew older. It had to be kept back somewhat because of my physical disabilities. But still, by the time I was 11 or 12, I was in charge of about five hundred chickens, which I had to take care of--feed and water. And I had to kill a chicken every day for lunch.
RUSSELL: Did that bother you?
HARDIN: No. This I think was a very important part of my education--learning to kill an animal. I regard this as an important part of everybody's education. I think the fashionable attitude is one of the many foolish things in this world. If you want to eat meat, somebody has to kill it. I think everybody ought to have to do it, and not just once, but many times. Because one of the things that I was imbued with, but this farm family, was a horror of cruelty--not of killing, but cruelty. If you are going to kill an animal, you have to kill it instantly and as painlessly as you can. It's a disgrace to do otherwise.
I remember one particular occasion. It was one of those things you get fiery red thinking about later--flush with shame all over. Every time you think of it, you blush again. For a recreation, I would shoot a lot with a .22 rifle, which had been given me--shoot at targets, shoot at birds, kill sparrows, and so forth and so on. I got to be a fairly good shot. Catching a chicken everyday was kind of a trouble, because the ordinary way you catch a chicken is to run it down. Well, I couldn't run. So I would have to maneuver it into a corner of the pen and catch it that way. I had a piece of wire about four or five feet long, with a hook on the end. I would reach out and hook the chicken by the leg and pull it toward me. That's the standard way of doing it. But even so, I had a little trouble because I wasn't fast on my feet. So I decided, "Why don't I shoot them?" So I would get my .22 on the other side of the pen, aim, and the idea was to hit the chicken in the head.
You know the reason for turkey shoots; it is very hard to predict just when the animal is going to move his head. It takes a pretty good shot to hit it right in the head and kill it. Most of the time, I did. But one day I missed, and I just chopped off the top of the beak of the animal. I was so embarrassed. I felt so ashamed of what I had done because then I had to run the chicken down. Here he was suffering, bleeding and so forth, just because I had made this lousy shot. That I remember very well, the embarrassment of that occasion.
Killing is part of life, you see, one of the things that has to be done. I have always had very strong emotions about this matter, very negative emotions about so many people who claim to love animals. There were people in Kansas who had cats they didn't want. They would drive out from kansas City and when they got out to the farms, they would let the cats out and then drive on, because that way, they weren't killing the cat, they weren't being cruel, they thought. "It'll find a good home." I'm sure that was their attitude. Well, we were on the farm. Those cats wandered into our farm, so what do you do? Well, the dogs would kill them. They distinguished between the visitor cats and the home cats. When they saw a visitor cat, particularly when our little fox terrier saw a strange cat, boy, he'd kill it if he possibly could. And he usually could.
Occasionally he failed. A real wise, canny cat would get away. And if it stayed around for a while, it had sort of squatter's rights, or something; then the terrier wouldn't chase it anymore. The typical pattern on a farm like that is that the cat population builds up to a high level, then cat fever sweeps through. It kills almost all of them. Then the population builds up; then it goes down again. Fluctuations. We wanted cats on the farm. We had them--we fed them only milk, so that they would be short of meat, and then they would catch mice and rats in the barns. So they served a real function, but you can only have so many. You know, one tom and three or four females, and that's about it. So we didn't want more, because, for one thing, you get a lot of yowling, a lot more trouble, fighting for territory, and so on. So what are you going to do? If the dog doesn't catch them, you really don't want these extra ones anyway. So it was up to my uncle, this extremely sensitive, kind uncle, to kill the superfluous cats with a gun. I realized from the very beginning that death is a necessary part of life. I learned my first basic lessons about population and carrying capacity on the farm. All my life, I have been haunted by the realization there simply isn't room for all the life that can be generated, and the people who refuse to cut down on the excess population of anything are not being kind; they are being cruel. They are increasing the suffering in the world. So I have a very low opinion of most so-called animal lovers who want to save every last animal.
RUSSELL: In discussing with Jacob Bronowski one time this concept of saving whales and all this, his attitude was that many is a fit animal, and he should survive. If the whale is to be a species that will fall from the ranks of the living, then it will fall from the ranks of the living.
HARDIN: Yeah, well, I would part company with him there, because I would say, "what sort of human life do we want?" In fact, I've asked in one of my essays, "Does God give a prize for the maximum number of human beings?" And I think this needs to be taken seriously. If we think He does, then, of course, I shouldn't keep that canary you hear singing in the other room, because the canary is eating seed, which could feed people. Now it's true, it might require the seed from--I'm just guessing--five-hundred canaries to keep a human being alive, in which case, you could say that every five-hundred canaries are depriving one person of life. The question is, "What sort of world do we want?" A world with the maximum number of human beings, but no canaries? I'd rather have a world with fewer people, but in which canaries are part of the world. And whales, and all these other things. I think that's the problem. You see my fundamental disagreement with Bronowski.
RUSSELL: Getting back, now to the farm. We can diverge and come back and you can piece it together however you want. What other things did you learn on the farm that were important to you? Obviously, we see the genesis, maybe, of your population studies later on.
HARDIN: Well, I suppose one of the really formative things is the sheer quiet and loneliness of a farm. A hundred and sixty acres; the nearest neighbor almost half a mile away; and when a car went by the farm, that was a news event. Maybe once or twice a day a car went by. You know, that's a real quiet life. Just your work; and loafing, too; very quiet, with the sounds of birds, of crickets, of cicadas, of pigs, of horses, of cows. All sorts of sounds like that, but no sounds of trains, or trucks, or industrial things. Very quiet, and nothing else to do. There was no television. There was no electricity in the place. Later, we got radios, battery driven--listened to those in the evening. Very lo-fi, I assure you. You didn't listen to music, for the most part. You heard plays and talks and things like that, because the music was really lo-fi. But not much to do, you see, except read. And I read tremendously. There were a lot of books on this farm. I'm sure this would surprise many city people because the people who lived on this farm had finished high school, at most. Some hadn't even done that; but boy, did they read. There were several hundred books there, books by Wilkie Collins, Thackeray, Victor Hugo and a whole bunch of Dumas books, including The Three Musketeers. What else? A lot of dime novels. A lot of Horatio Alger's stories. I read quite a lot of those, as a matter of fact. You know the sort: the story of a boy who sells newspapers and impresses a businessman; the businessman helps him along and presently he marries his daughter and becomes rich and so on. Horatio Alger in droves! And the price marked on the cover was ten cents--that's what they sold them for then. The dime novels included reprints--they were like the paperbacks of our day, you know--reprints of a lot of good literature. Such was the library of this modest, family farm, and I read a fair share of it..
RUSSELL: Did you have many conversations with your uncle that meant so much to you?
HARDIN: Well, not a lot, but he was mostly a sort of a guiding presence. I don't know what else to say. He kind of set the standards of morality, of reaction to things in the world. I well remember the day that Will Rogers died. Will Rogers was on his way around the world with Wiley Post when their plane crashed in Alaska. The news came through to the farm on the party-line telephone. When the country telephone rings, it may not be your ring, but you pick it up to see what's going on. Well, the news came through that way. I can still see the image of Uncle Frank's face when he heard the news. It was as though he had been hit over the head with a post. He was shattered. The farm people generally were deeply affected. This was one of the saddest days of their lives, the day Will Rogers died. He was a member of the family.
RUSSELL: They listened to him on the radio?
HARDIN: They listened to him on the radio, read his little column in the paper--you know, a very little column, in which he'd have a few wise words to say. His words hit home with the common people in America. I don't think, in my lifetime, there has ever been the death of a President that had such an effect. The nearest thing was the death of Kennedy, but I think Will Rogers had more of an effect on a larger proportion of the American public.
RUSSELL: Did he have the same effect on you, as far as reading him?
HARDIN: Well, I was too young to appreciate his home-spun humor. It's pretty adult; you know, knowledge of human nature, and so on. So I really didn't appreciate that. I appreciated some of the jokes, but I didn't appreciate his wisdom until later.
RUSSELL: How did your uncle respond to it? I mean, was it just a quiet morning...?
HARDIN: I can't remember the early years. I remember later, Amos and Andy. That was always one of the standard things, and every.... Was it every night? I can't remember. Or was it just once a week? I don't know, but boy, we always wanted to hear the next episode. I suppose that people born since then can't even imagine what it meant, because, you know, their humor is new regarded as racist, as just terrible. And yet, to the people at the time, there was nothing racist about it. It was funny. For one thing, it was built on the peculiarities of character. Now the characters were assigned to blacks, in this case, to Negroes--the word "black" hadn't been invented--but it was a character thing that was fascinating. And you can see the same thing in the, well, the novels of the nineteenth century--Dickens, and so on. You see the richness of character--you have a hard time finding such rich characters now. We're all made so uniform by being exposed to the same movies and the same ideals and so on, that there isn't the rich differentiation of character. And I think this is really true. A person wouldn't hesitate--I mean, because that was their character, and they were rather proud of it. That was the way they were. Now everybody tries to be homogenized. So, Amos and Andy has to be viewed in that light. These were rich, juicy characters, and we just loved the particular--the differentiation between Amos and Andy. Let's see, Andy was the fat one; he was the blowhard, bragging about things he could do. Amos was the little guy, more realistic. It was lovely, just to see that differentiation.
RUSSELL: Now, going back, you mentioned last time we talked about the importance of living in a city for an adolescent. What did Chicago mean for you at that time?