It all began at the Teamsters Union hall party at Christmas, when my brothers and I would receive a bag of oranges, a bag of candy and visit with Santa Claus. Dad, a commercial truck driver and Teamster member, once brought home a 10-pound bag of cashews from the party and my brothers and I gorged ourselves until we threw up. I’ve been pro-union and anti-cashew ever since.
Then in fifth grade I fell madly in love. He was dreamy. A “cool cat.” When he smiled or spoke I melted. I wanted to run away, or at the very least, hold hands — with President John F. Kennedy.
The very first page in my elementary scrapbook is a picture of the president that I cut out of Life Magazine. My leanings were established. My feet were firmly planted and took root on the Democratic yellow brick road.
I didn’t really think about politics as a child or even as teen or young adult. In fifth grade, I only worried if the boy I secretly liked would say “ugh,” when he saw my new hairdo — or worse, not even notice my new hairdo.
But I was aware there were some bad things going on. Dad was reading, “How to Build a Family Bomb Shelter,” there seemed to be a fight with a bay of pigs on some island far away and children — like me, except for the color of their skin — could not go to school with white people.
The photo of the pretty little girl with the sad face who was dressed in a frilly white dress as police escorted her to school through a crowd of mean people yelling horrible things — she was just a little girl! — was forever etched into my young, impressible brain. It is on page two in the scrapbook.
I was a liberal by President Kennedy’s and Webster’s definition: “one who is open-minded or not strict in the observance of orthodox, traditional, or established forms or ways.” But I would not come to terms with this label until I was well into my thirties.
To top it off, I lived in northeast (READ: very-Republican) Indiana. No one had the courage to tell me I had a hard row to hoe.
Recently, I asked Elizabeth, the 20-something youngest daughter of my first cousin in Arkansas, to explain why she is a conservative.
Her father and I hung out as kids when I was in the South visiting our grandmother. We rode bikes all over the Ozarks (those hills!), went swimming in creeks and stone quarries and stole watermelons out of nearby farmers’ fields. At night, we would lay side-by-side in the grass on Grandma’s front lawn and talk while gazing at the stars and moon.
We have always had a lot in common and still do.
Other than he named one of his six daughters Reagan after “the greatest president who ever lived,” and I have a niece and nephew named Kennedy and Truman.
For the past eight years when we visited I’ve had to listen to my cousin blame President Obama for a tornado that took out his barn and two shade trees, a recently acquired toenail fungus and the high price of a gallon of milk.
But that’s payback.
He had to listen to me rant during the G.W. Bush years.
His daughter, Elizabeth, told me that some people (mostly liberal Yankees — no names, please) may think her parents dropped her on her head as a baby, but that is not the case.
“I, a true conservative, can tell you the actual haunting reasons for my swing to the right started on a hot summer’s day in 1997. I was six-years-old and kicked out of the house, along with my older sisters, so Mommy could have her “Fox News Time” (also known as wine and soap opera hour),” Elizabeth recounted.
“We played basketball in the front yard, chased each other with sticks that had cow manure firmly attached to the end (something all southern conservatives know about) and fought among ourselves until we almost killed each other. The true test came when we got thirsty.”
Knowing we couldn’t enter the house without stern yelling for interrupting Bill O’Reilly, we took turns slurping long drinks from the water hose. There was something in that water that I blame to this day for being a conservative. Maybe it was the taste of freedom that the cold water brought to a hot July day. Or the way the water made you scream, “Merica” when someone would intentionally spray you in the face,” she said.
“I do know that when my liberal Yankee cousins came to visit they always avoided the hose. I am sure it didn’t have anything to do with how redneck we looked; maybe one day when I visit them I will try their water.”
Elizabeth and her sisters are educated women who are beautiful inside and out. Elizabeth is a missionary and very involved in her church. She recently returned from a mission trip to Peru.
She is a person who will, and has, made a difference.
My chosen passion is writing and my only hope is that I have made people laugh, smile or think with a piece I’ve written.
We’re from opposite ends when it comes to age and political leanings, but our values are the same — we both want to do good, help our fellow man and contribute.
I believe that in the end, politics will not matter at all — whether a person is a Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian, Green Ticket, voted for Stewart/Colbert or does not even know the name of the current president of the United States.
All that will really matter is if you were kind, considerate, forgiving (especially of the Yankee liberals, Liz) and tolerant of others.
— Note: The author is still a bit miffed that Cuz Liz is a funnier writer than she is and that may be the only thing the liberal in her cannot tolerate.