Great Americans

TALKING TO MYSELF 3 November 2015   It's Election Day in Kentucky. First, let me urge you to take time to vote. You know all the reasons why you should so I won't belabor the obvious. Second, in hopes of dialing down the rhetoric among my friends, some who lean far to the left in their political views and others who veer far to the right, I am re-running an old story about my grandfather, George Hudson, and his friend, Norman Howard. "Great Americans" first appeared in my News-Herald column sometime during the first Iraq War, and was later included in my first collection of essays, You Can Go Anywhere. I urge you to read it thoughtfully, and to remember Gran and Norman before you sound off on Facebook tonight (or next November) about the election results. 

 If I were asked to compile a list of Great Americans, I’d have to put my Grandfather Hudson and his pal, Norman, near the top of the list.  Not that either of them ever did anything out of the ordinary, mind you.  Too young for the Spanish-American War and a bit too old for World War I, neither of them even served in the military.  Nevertheless, they were great at being Americans.

With little formal instruction in civics, they grasped that the essence of freedom is amicable dissent.  And oh, how they did dissent.  My grandfather was a yeller dog Democrat which meant, I inferred, that even a yellow dog was a superior candidate to any that the Republican Party might put forward.  Norman was a Republican steeped in the tradition of the Taft-Hartley Act, and never met a Democratic politician whose policies he admired.

My grandfather idolized Franklin Roosevelt and kept a framed photograph of FDR hanging over his bed.   Norman watched for Roosevelt’s obituary in the paper every morning.

Norman liked Ike.   My panicked grandfather tried to sell his cattle the morning after Eisenhower was elected, as he put it, “before the Great Depression hits again.”

Despite their divergent political views, they never failed to celebrate a presidential election together with a party.  They met at one house or another every four years to listen to the returns on radio, and then late in their lives, on television.  This was before the age of computers and instant projections, and they arrived early knowing that the night would be long.  Their discussions fueled with hot coffee and cold Coca-Cola, they would sit together until dawn arguing the merits of their respective candidate until the last votes were reported.

Norman was fond of playing practical jokes on my grandfather at these gatherings.  One year, he slipped a rubber hot dog into my grandfather’s sandwich bun.  Gran, espousing the virtues of FDR (or Truman or Stevenson)  chomped away at the slippery wiener for fifteen minutes without noticing his lack of progress.  Another time, Norman gave Gran a fine cigar to smoke.   You guessed it - it blew up in Gran’s face when he lit it.  My grandfather laughed right along with the others at the pranks.  In the perennial re-telling of these old stories neither he nor Norman seemed to make a distinction in the roles each had playe

You see - they got through long election nights, each winning some and losing some, without anyone ever getting angry.  No one questioned the validity of the other’s religion though in fact, Norman’s Seventh Day Adventist Church was foreign to my grandfather’s Methodist ways.  Gran simply accepted that Norman would not eat a ham sandwich and didn’t attempt to persuade him otherwise.  Likewise, Norman never tried to convince my grandfather that he should be going to church on Saturday instead of on Sunday.  And I’m positive that neither of them ever questioned the virtues of the other’s mother!      

I couldn’t help but remember Gran and Norman when I read the sad story about two eastern Kentucky men who got into an argument over the Iraq War at the local flea market.  They were good people according to all who knew them, the paper said, and they were also “the best of friends.”  But one fine summer Saturday, they disagreed over the rightness and wrongness of the Iraq War.  Quicker than you could haggle over the price of a piece of junk, one ended up shot to death on the ground, and the other found himself facing a court of law

I can imagine my grandfather and Norman loafing around Heaven, sipping a celestial cup of coffee, and hashing over this tragic event.  Norman would be holding forth in his fine, deep voice (did I mention that he always wore suspenders and combed his black hair straight back?)  “This is not the way Great Americans should act,” he’d say.

My grandfather, lean and tall, would nod in agreement, his once baldhead full of youthful red hair again.  Sucking on his pipe, Gran might turn to John Wesley, a good Methodist he’d starting hanging around with in Heaven, and ask, “What do you say, John?”

Wesley would shake his head and sigh:   “Think and let think, I tried to tell them.” ©Copyright Georgia Green Stamper