Great Americans

TALKING TO MYSELF: 4 Nov 2012 The 2012 Election is only two days away, and because I've said absolutely nothing about it, I think I'm going to make it through without anyone de-friending me on Facebook. This isn't the way I used to be. I grew up in a family that discussed politics with the same fervor that we discussed the weather, and I shared my political opinions with anybody in earshot. But as Dylan said (thanks Sherry Chandler for reminding me
http://sherrychandler.com/2012/11/01/style-is-content/ see also http://sherrychandler.com/2012/11/02/polarization/ )

Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now.

 It has become abundantly clear to me that no one thinks I know more than they do about most anything, much less politics, and so I keep still. But when, I wonder, did Republicans start telling you to your face that you're going to burn in eternal damnation if you vote for a Democrat? When did Democrats start demonizing you as a  cold-hearted (insert your favorite bad word here) or a bigot if you vote for a Republican? Both the left and the right have turned voting into a litmus test of character which strikes me as ridiculous given the blurred and slippery lines of morality in this society. Yes, I know "dirty politics" and vitrol have been a part of our American heritage from the get-go (after all I made an A in Mrs. Perry's American History class at Owen County High School.) But seems to me ordinary folks, like you and me, used to leave that ugly stuff to the professionals and their hacks.  We didn't go around metaphorically - and sometimes literally - shooting our  friends because they disagreed on who to vote for president, did we? All of this hate talk between friends has made me homesick for my Grandfather Hudson and his buddy Norman. I wrote "Great Americans" about them way back at the beginning of the Iraq War. Today seems like a good time to re-run it.

Great Americans

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 played.

  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 palling 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

Georgia's new book Butter in the Morning will be released on or about December 1, 2012.