The first sign of my future political leanings came when I was about four.
I was in the waiting room at my pediatrician's office, with my parents. It was after dark - how far, I'm not sure, since I very much doubt I knew how to tell time - and I was there for a routine flu shot. Dr. Gourash, a jolly little woman with a crackly voice, a smoking habit that would have put a blast furnace to shame, and a waiting area stocked with old issues of Highlights, Golden Magazine, and Children's Digest, was one of the very few doctors who had night hours at her home/office, which is why my father was able to accompany Mum and me to the appointment. She was also a true pioneer in her profession; her immigrant family had not approved of her plans to become a doctor, so she'd first had to work her way through a nursing course, then work her way through medical school while putting in full shifts at an area hospital.
Exactly how she managed to do this without cracking like Humpty-Dumpty taking a header off the Great Wall of China is not clear - I never thought to ask while I had the chance - but do it she did, and by the time my mother's due date approached and she and Dad were shopping around for a doctor to care for their forthcoming child, Dr. Gourash had a reputation as one of the finest pediatricians in the South Hills. She kept up on the latest research, was a believer in fresh air, exercise, and letting children develop as they should, and spent enough time on each visit that the families she treated came to regard her as a friend as well as a physician.
If that weren't enough, she also had an autographed picture of Gregor Piatigorski, acquired during the days when she'd actually had enough spare time to study the cello.
I knew little of this on that long-ago night. What I did know was that there was another child in the waiting room, a little girl who could not stop crying, and that I wanted to help.
Dr. Gourash was in with another patient, so there was no way for her to intervene. The little girl's mother was trying and failing to distract her, but she was so young, no more than two, that she couldn't articulate whether she was hungry, cold, frightened, or simply bored. And since she couldn't tell her mother why she was so upset, and her mother wasn't a telepath, her wails only escalated in volume and pitch.
Dad made an excuse and went out to the car because he'd allegedly forgotten something. Mum, who had deliberately chosen to teach high school because she wasn't much good with very young children, valiantly tried to read me a story, but the other child was so loud that she would have had to shout to be heard. The little girl's mother started to scold her, which only made things worse.
That's when I got up, walked across the waiting room, and gave the little girl my Gumby.
Gumby isn't very well known today, but back in the early 60's this small lump of green clay and his bright orange horse Pokey were all the rage. Their stop-motion cartoons were on television, their toys were in all the stores, and their fans, mostly youngsters under the age of six, were legion.
I was one of those fans.
My only doll was an old Penny-Brite (Mum didn't approve of Barbie because she had breasts and was thus much too advanced for a pre-schooler), who mainly stayed in my room. I much preferred stuffed toys, who were the perfect size to have Mum's scarves ties about their necks as field-expedient capes so I could play superheroes with them, the occasional toy truck, or bendable action figures of rubber or another soft material. Among the latter were a Batman (of course), a Robin (ditto), and both Gumby and his buddy Pokey.
I'm not sure why I brought Gumby with me that night. I might have been going through a "don't you try to separate me from my ___!" stage, or he might have been the nearest toy that fit in Mum's purse. Either way, I had him, and had been quietly playing with him as the other child screamed and Mum did her best to read aloud.
As I said above, I was only four or maybe five that night. Children that young don't necessarily think like adults. Their impulses are closer to the surface, and whatever instincts they have, for good and bad, are much more likely to be expressed in action rather than thought or word. It's hard to know what they'll do next, and bright children, those with intellects that outstrip their emotional or physical age, are even less predictable.
This may be why Mum sat there in stunned silence when I slid out of my seat, toddled across the room to the crying child, and handed her my Gumby.
I might have said something, or not; if I did, I certainly don't remember it. All I knew was that a child who wasn't much younger than me was terribly upset about something, and I wanted to help. And since my Gumby made me happy and gave me joy, maybe he'd the do the same for her.
The other child looked up at me, hiccuped, and then grabbed Gumby out of my hand and clutched him to her chest. I turned around and toddled back to my chair, and before Mum could so much as utter a single word either to me or the other mother, Dr. Gourash called us in for my appointment.
I don't recall the rest of the night - there are times I have trouble remembering what I had for breakfast, let alone something that occurred almost half a century ago - but I do know that the other child kept Gumby. I hope she loved him and played with him until it was time to pass him on to someone else, but I never saw him, or her, again.
Dad was able to find me a new Gumby (Pokey was lonely without him) and life went on. Soon enough I'd graduated to another toy (most likely a set of plastic dinosaurs purchased on a trip to the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, which starred in a series of Christmas pageants until my new puppy chewed the allosaurus's head off and I had no one to star as the Virgin Mary), and soon after that we moved to Cleveland and I found that there was more joy in books than I'd ever found in toys.
I never forgot Gumby, though. Neither did Mum. To her dying day she maintained that she'd never seen a child so willing to give up a toy to comfort another child, or so sanguine when her little friend was not returned. "It was remarkable," she told my aunt, and I suppose it was, but to me it was a no brainer. The other child needed Gumby more than I did, nothing more.
I'm not going to say that it was inevitable that I'd become a Democrat based on me giving away a toy when I was a kid. My family was old-school Midwestern Republican on both sides, with Mum insisting that the last honest politician was Bob Taft and both parents supporting Nixon until his involvement in Watergate was blatantly obvious. I registered as a Republican initially, considered joining Edward Brooke's re-election effort my freshman year of college, and didn't actually become a Democrat until the late 1980s or early 1990s.
The seeds were there from the beginning, though. My parents believed in a good education for every child, honest government, and the power of science and medicine. Dad might have been a college administrator and thus middle management, but Mum was a committed member of her local teacher's union, to the point that she was willing to spend the night in jail defying an injunction that would have forced her back to work during a contentious strike. Both were mainline Christians who made sure that I went to Sunday School and learned my Bible, but they insisted that belief be balanced with reason, and saw no contradiction between the King James Bible that we read on Christmas Eve and my desire to be a scientist.
It wasn't just my parents who raised me this way. My aunt may have been about as political as the late and much lamented Malfoy-the-cat, but her brothers were another story. My uncle Oscar, who'd risen from nothing to become the senior partner at Pittsburgh's most prestigious accounting firm, was appalled by supply side economics and the way the new tax code skewed toward people like him instead of his sisters, and under his aegis Main Lafrentz was one of the first white collar firms in Pittsburgh to hire female and non-white CPA's. I don't recall my uncle Lou ever bringing up politics, but I know that he worked with people of all ethnic backgrounds at the steel mill, and earlier had served in an ethnically if not racially mixed unit in the service. And of course Lou, a tough little man who loved golf, my mother's dogs, and his Army buddies above all things, had been one of the men from a tank destroyer battalion who'd been part of the advance guard at Dachau, so he'd seen first-hand the ugly results of racial and religious bigotry.
Fairness, equality between the races and sexes, the right of women to control their destinies and work alongside men in their profession of choice, serving one's country whether the call came in the form of a draft or a jury summons or a ballot - this is how I was raised. "Feminist" was not a dirty word in my house, even if Oscar never understood why the ERA was necessary (I'm not sure he believed Mum when she pointed out that not every business owner was as fair-minded as he was, and if he didn't it was purely because he was free enough of prejudice that he could not comprehend it in others), and the only emotion anyone expressed when I chose to attend a women's college was pride that I was smart enough to be accepted at one of the Seven Sisters in the first place.
I think this upbringing is why I eventually broke with family tradition and registered as a Democrat. It was a gradual thing - my first vote was for John Anderson in 1980, and when I moved to Massachusetts after college I initially registered as an independent because I didn't want to limit my options - but bit by bit, year by year, I could see the sort of Republicanism that had been my family tradition slipping away. Reagan soaking the poor to aid his rich friends like the Bloomingdales…Jerry Falwell demanding that his private beliefs become the law for all…Oliver North claiming to be a patriot while selling arms to our enemies and letting his Marine brothers die in their beds…it seemed that honesty, and sanity, and a concern for anyone but the wealthy and powerful were more important than community and prosperity for the whole country.
Living in a state that was a Democratic stronghold only accelerated the process, and by the time I moved back to the Pioneer Valley I had bowed to the inevitable. I told Mum (who in turn told me not to breathe a word of this to Oscar, although I'm pretty certain he was well aware of my political leanings), took out a subscription to Mother Jones to get the Official Ronald Reagan Doormat, and have only voted Republican twice in the last thirty years.
I wish my change of registration hadn't been necessary. The Republican Party of my childhood was far from perfect - the acceptance of Nixon, and Reagan, and Goldwater make that crystal clear - but if you had told me that by now belief in education would be replaced by insistence on charter schools and creationism, that acceptance of Edward Brooke and Dr. King had been replaced by dog whistle appeals to Dixiecrats and signs depicting the President of the United States with a bone in his nose, that patriotism was now firmly melded with a type of religiosity that preached the subjugation of half the human race, the conservationism of Teddy Roosevelt destroyed in favor of subsidies for oil companies and the rape of our national lands, that support for equal rights would be replaced by calls for women to submit to their husbands and a total ban on abortions…I wouldn’t have believed it for a moment. My parents didn't support any of this, and if they were still alive I do not for one instant think that they would have changed their minds to accept bigotry, misogyny, bad science, and the destruction of our forests and fields for profit as part and parcel of their vote.
Most of all, my parents believed in sharing what they had, and in the proper place of government in our lives. Mum was able to pay the bills and give me pocket money for college thanks to the Social Security benefits I received after Dad's death. We always gave money to charity, whether it was the Humane Society and the March of Dimes (Mum) or Amnesty International and MassEquality (me). We never mocked the poor or wondered why they couldn't "pull themselves up by their bootstraps," and at least once Mum took a troubled student into her home to spend a night or two when her family situation became intolerable. We were never out on the barricades, but quietly working behind the scenes, giving what money we could, and most of all voting our convictions…oh yes. Always.
So…to answer Alyosha Karamazov's question as to why I am a Democrat:
I was raised that way.
Even though I grew up a Republican.
So…what is your story tonight, my friends? Did you give a toy to a less fortunate child? Watch the party of your childhood slip away thanks to greed and the perversion of faith caused by the lust for power? Are you a red diaper baby? A lifelong Democrat? There is no mockery here tonight, so gather 'round and share….
Readers & Book Lovers Series Schedule:
|DAY||TIME (EST/EDT)||Series Name||Editor(s)|
|SUN||6:00 PM||Young Reader's Pavilion||The Book Bear|
|2:00 PM||What's on Your E-Reader?||Caedy|
|2:00 PM||Bibliophile's Wish List||Caedy|
|Sun||5:00 PM||Political Books||Susan from 29|
|Sun||9:30 PM||SciFi/Fantasy Book Club||quarkstomper|
|Bi-Monthly Sun||Midnight||Reading Ramblings||don mikulecky|
|MON||8:00 PM||Monday Murder Mystery||michelewln, Susan from 29|
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|TUES||5:00 PM||Indigo Kalliope: Poems from the Left||bigjacbigjacbigjac|
|alternate Tuesdays||8:00 AM||LGBT Literature||Texdude50, Dave in Northridge|
|alternate Tuesdays||8:00 AM||All Things Bookstore||Dave in Northridge|
|Tue||8:00 PM||Contemporary Fiction Views||bookgirl|
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|Wed||8:00 PM||Bookflurries Bookchat||cfk|
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|Thu (first each month)||11:00 AM||Monthly Bookpost||AdmiralNaismith|
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|FRI||8:00 AM||Books That Changed My Life||Diana in NoVa|
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|Fri||10:00 PM||Slightly Foxed -- But Still Desirable||shortfinals|
|SAT (fourth each month)||11:00 AM||Windy City Bookworm||Chitown Kev|
|Sat||12:00 PM||You Can't Read That! Paul's Book Reviews||pwoodford|
|Sat||9:00 PM||Books So Bad They're Good||Ellid|