Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Portuguese Parrot

My Aunt Sis died yesterday, November 9th, at age 93.  She was the last of her generation, having outlived all her siblings and cousins.  With her passing, I lost my last living link with a world that now exists only in my mind.

Stuck away in the mountains of northern Arkansas, for many years it has been my habit to make an annual trek to visit Aunt Sis.  Kind, gracious, and hospitable to a fault, we would sit around the kitchen table, drinking coffee and sharing the old stories.  She kept her mind until the end.  She became forgetful, and prone to repeat herself, to be sure.  But this was the little stuff.  On the big items, her mind remained clear.  She always knew exactly who she was, who you were, and where she was.  On my last visit, she recognized me immediately, and we became teary-eyed before any words were spoken.  Towards the end, her mind become more focused on the times of her youth, with events 80 years past more real to her than the events of the day.  I believe that to be a great blessing.

On this last visit, she shared a new story, and I think I heard it a half dozen times before I left.  For some reason, her memory had focused in on an incident from over 75 years ago, involving her uncle and a parrot that “spoke” Portuguese.  A little background is necessary.

My grandfather and his two sisters--all born within 4 years of one another--were always close.  The sisters called him Brother.   Due to advantageous family connections, all three were able to attend Wedemeyer’s Academy in Bell County, Texas.  The girls went on to graduate from Mary Hardin Baylor College.  The sisters were true Edwardian ladies--prim, proper, and polite.  They were easily scandalized, and my good-natured granddad took especial pleasure in shocking them, to which they would gasp, “Oh, Brother!”

The sisters lived their entire lives in tandem.  They went to college together, became teachers and taught together, and eventually married brothers.  The older aunt married last, and even after marriage maintained much of the air of an old maid about her.  The two couples lived just outside of Fort Worth.

After the great tragedy that befell my grandparent’s family, the aunts stepped in to help as they could.  The older aunt offered to adopt my youngest uncle, then an infant.  My grandfather, a proud man, refused.  (I wonder how my uncle’s life would have been different, had he grown up in this aunt’s stable environment.  But while his path might have been easier in life, he might not have become the quirky, funny, happy-go-lucky man we loved so much).   Aunt Sis and her baby brother, nevertheless, did spend extended periods of time living with their aunts.

When they moved out to Lake Worth, the youngest aunt and her husband purchased their place from an elderly Portuguese immigrant.  They bought the place, lock, stock, and parrot.  The old man’s bird “spoke” in Portuguese.  Up until the last two years, my Aunt Sis could, remarkably, remember and repeat what the parrot would say, though she had no idea of what it meant.  The large parrot and its cage was her responsibility.  

Her aunt’s husband would sometime tease the parrot.  Once he even gave Polly a cigarette.  The bird bided its time.  Finally one day, as my uncle was walking through the house, the parrot flew onto his back and clawed little vees into the back of his shirt.  He hollered for Aunt Sis to get that bird off his back.  She found a handy broomstick and lifted the parrot off of him.

What happened next is the thing that stuck in her mind.  The parrot got down on the floor and on its side, squawking and twisting in circles.  In Aunt Sis’s eyes, the bird exacted its revenge and was now laughing at our flustered uncle.  My aunt described in great detail how the parrot’s eyes looked, and how they pivoted around.

Our memories are funny things.  At the end of a long and well-lived life, it fills me with wonder that it was this little thing that filled her consciousness, the eyes of a happy parrot from almost 80 years ago.       

Monday, November 07, 2016

A Melancholy Tuesday

A Melancholy Tuesday

As things stand now, Tuesdays are my “day off.”  I plan to make good use of it.  If the weather permits, I will cut some wood.  If not, I can immerse myself in genealogy, or some other form of escapism, such as re-reading something from Trollope.  This may keep my mind off the events of the day.  For at the end of it, the American people will have elected either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump as President.  That does not say anything particularly uplifting about our nation.

I have always taken a keep interest in current events, and I do not expect that to change.  Normally, election days are characterized by high-flown and self-congratulatory rhetoric about freedom, democracy, the American Way, etc., and it is easy to get swept up in all that.  This year, however, I’m just not feeling it.  Frankly, I am exhausted from the eternal campaigning, but more so by the hyper partisanship and the general craziness, of the bat-sh*t variety.  I would be better served to step away from Facebook, but I’m not going to do that any more than you are.

For example, I recently suggested to someone on Facebook that their projection of Trump carrying all the swing states plus PA, MI, NH and ME might display a bit of hopeful thinking on his part.  He told me I was rude, to “scram,” and then blocked me.  And I thought I was thin-skinned.  But this is typical of what passes for political discourse these days.

My own particular political beliefs do not fit into the boxes we’ve been assigned.  The terms liberal and conservative, as currently understood in the American context, have little real meaning anymore, and I would resist being labeled as either one.  I am most comfortable with the designation of “traditionalist.”  I value order, stability, peace through humility, continuity, conservation, and preservation.  I have no faith in, or love for, unfettered free market capitalism.  In recent years the real evolution of my thinking has been the growing awareness of just how destructive this has been to the human condition.  At the same time, doctrinaire socialism leaves me cold, as well.  I am mostly attracted to Distributism, to the extent that I understand it.  It will never have a chance here, however, unless of course, after we start over.  

I have conservative friends who still believe, I suppose, in Movement Conservatism, who believe that there are political solutions to our problems, and that only one political option exists for right-thinking Christians to support.  For these people, my ideas are so around-the-bend that they characterize me as a wild-eyed Leftist.   I get a chuckle out of this, for I have friends who are truly Leftists and they know me well enough to know that, while sympathetic, I am not totally in their camp.  I have no stomach for storming the barricades and burning everything down.  Revolutions always destroy much more than they intend to do, and the ends never justify the means.  

I have tried to be even-handed in my criticisms this election cycle.  Not being a supporter of either major party candidate, my interest has largely been analytical--charting the polls and their accuracy.  Also, whenever I have dumped on Trump, I feel compelled to post an article criticizing Clinton.  I have learned that you get no credit for this, however.  In our hyper-partisan age, any criticism of Trump is seen as an endorsement of Clinton, and visa-versa.  Apparently the only thing that matters is your partisan slant.

So here, the day before the election, I want to come clean about the major candidates.  First, Trump.  The man is a colossal fraud, on nearly every level.  He lies--not stealthily like Clinton, but compulsively and pathologically.  He is a narcissist, seeing every issue and every subject as being ultimately about himself.  He is petty, refusing to let anything go.  He is bombastic, speaking almost totally in exaggeration and hyperbole.  He is uninformed, and the worst of it is that he is proudly so.  And finally, he is a dangerous demagogue, one like we’ve not seen since Huey Long.  I can’t say that I oppose him on policies, because he has none.  All is going to be Great, just trust him.   We have elected little, petty men to the Oval Office before.  But in every case, I believe they recognized that they had ascended to something greater than themselves, and set about to make themselves worthy of the honor.  With Trump, I don’t believe he understands that there is anything greater than himself.

I tend to agree with a recent article by Damon Linker, who suggested a small part of him would take a perverse satisfaction if Trump were elected.  He lists 4 reasons:
  1. To destroy the knowingness of the poll-watchers (not unlike myself)
  2. To teach Progressives that “history is not on their side” (yes,yes, yes!)
  3. To humble the smugness of the Establishment Republicans
  4. To humiliate hubristic Democratic elites
I have to admit that while this would be deeply satisfying, is that enough reason to vote for Trump?  No, no, a thousand times no!

Clearly Trump has tapped-into the legitimate concerns, fears and anger (if unfocused) of a significant segment of Americans.  But again, his skillful exploitation of these issues does not warrant a vote for him.  In fact, the only reason I can see that anyone would want to do so would be if they believe Hillary Rodham Clinton is far worse.  I lived through the 90s and voted both for and against them along the way.  I have never really understood the visceral hatred they engender among the GOP.  It has been my observation that the Republicans lose every time they go up against her.  I believe that it is because they always run against the Witch Woman of Chappaqua, rather than against Clinton the political animal.  Believe me, there is enough ammunition to use on the latter without resorting to portraying her as a cartoon villain.  Two examples:  when it comes to “Benghazi,” or the emails, Republicans ought to be screaming to high heaven about Judgment.  Instead, they go for Criminality, with chants of “Lock her up,” or questioning how she could even be allowed to run.  These narratives are reinforced by the Epistemic Bubble of the Right’s social media, from which Republicans refuse to venture outside.  They will believe anything and everything, no matter how outrageous.  Congressional Republicans have signaled that they are ready to start impeachment proceedings now, as well as declaring that they will refuse to consider any of her Supreme Court appointments.  This explains why they always lose up against her.  Like the Bourbons of old, they have forgotten nothing, and they have learned nothing.

So, would all this suggest a vote for Clinton?  Well, not for me, at least.  We have multiple avenues to not vote for Trump that do not require voting for Clinton.   For let’s face it, she represents nearly everything that is wrong with our system, as well as everything that people despise about our governing elites.  After being in the political arena for so long, it is almost sad that her main selling point is that she is NOT Donald Trump.  She may well get us into a war with Russia.  But if she does, it will be because of her ideological worldview, one who remains wedded to a dangerous, confrontive, and increasingly outdated and discredited foreign policy.  But Trump could just as easily get us in a war with Russia, as well.  All Putin would have to do is to publicly repeat the comment many have made before--that Trump’s hair looks like a wolverine crawled up on top of his head and died.  Again, with Trump everything is personal.  I would prefer to take my chances with the first scenario.

If Trump were to win, I believe things would start to come apart, probably starting with a stock market crash.  That would not be good.  If Clinton wins, things will stay as they are.  And that is not very good, either.  To look beyond this particular election, our Great Experiment may be winding down.  Winston Churchill, I believe, once quipped that democracy was the worst system of government in the world....except for all the others.  The applicability of this axiom may be nearing the end of its lifespan.