Thomas Wolfe discovered that he could never “go home again” to his mother’s Asheville boarding house in North Carolina after becoming famous for candid record-keeping of his youthful experiences within that Southern community. James Dean and his LIFE photographer got denied access to the Fairmount Junior-Senior prom, held at Jimmy’s former high school, for a photo shoot the year that GIANT, REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, and EAST OF EDEN were released, since he no longer qualified as a “local” lad. I love both Tom and Jim. Devoured all of Tom’s ‘s novels. Viewed each of Jimmy’s films. Appreciate their talents. An unwelcoming attitude toward either by hometown folks is startling information, astounding my sensibilities.
Maintaining a sense of humor, when dealing with human nature, is crucial for a balanced life; mine, carefully crafted due to bouts of hurt, remains usually intact. Not lately. Maybe not for a good long while. The month of May commenced in a stumbling fashion of fits and starts — three hearts broken into tiny pieces. The mending will require passage of time.
My husband vied for this town’s mayoral seat. Lost miserably. Odd. He’s cordial, intelligent, experienced in local legislation, crustily fiscally conservative, moral, responsible, seasoned in the ways of the world. The candidate enjoyed gratifying support of steadfast chums, a wife of nearly half a century, several enthusiastic family members, and — very impressively — a talented, popular, highly educated gentleman of a son who artfully headed up a superlative, inclusive campaign. Don’s eagerness to serve, his delight in rubbing shoulders with the public, and his good deeds qualified him as MR. NICE GUY in countless eyes.
Once we embarked upon this path, we judged the course as understandably that of a roller coaster. Enervating three ring circus, though, never entered our minds until the merry-go-round spun beyond a reasonable speed. Frenzied passengers climbed aboard the same ride and insisted that we dismount. A detailed account of this aborted journey may follow one day, but the bruises appear too fresh and the cuts still sting.
Observation, empathy, diplomacy, friendliness, sharing information, answering sensible rather than loaded or programmed questions, shaking hands, and hugging became staples within an intense 10 week time frame. Intimidation, jealousy, misinformed competitiveness, time wasted on petty non-issues, and insincerity also emerged to an inordinate degree. Camps formed; strings got pulled; Facebook stalking and combativeness poisoned informal dialogue, preventing instructiveness. Moments of fun turned sour, interrupted by nosiness, accusations, and pouting. Meaningful, clear messages, which might have signified something productive for us all, fell flat.
Sharing remembrances of coming of age locally, although unable to boast of coexisting on a first-name basis with Chief Little Turtle or Colonel de la Balme nor serving during any wartime nor attendance at the most popular church in town, I truly consider myself a native of some long-standing, nevertheless. That fact being both a plus and a minus, I revere many past folks, places, buildings, common experiences and local events just as I recall some biases, puzzling dissidents, obvious anonymous-es, a few giant egos, mistreatment of underdogs, unbridled gossipmongers, and deviant power-plays for which our community should be quite ashamed both now and once-upon-a-time.
Don’s run for school board, my two attempts at the same, his winning of two city council terms and his primary victory as a mayoral candidate, several years past, attest that both of us had that “fire in the belly” as well as a curiosity about learning, governing, and becoming an essential part of the place in which we live. This is to be encouraged in all citizens. Do we not welcome input, interest, talents, creativity, problem-solving, brain-storming, service? Seeking board positions and public offices should be an inclusive proposition where no one ever, ever feels discouraged or thwarted from enthusiastic participation. In a small town, king-making is absurd — Tammany Hall game-playing, corrupt rail-roading, or mindless barring of outsiders rank as the corny stuff of a bad Southern Gothic dime novel.
Milling about distributing home-made fliers around town the week-end prior to election day, I unabashedly enjoyed a spirited conversation with sweet Joe Long who offered me a Fudgesicle as if we were both little kids from a long-ago era. Mr. Long casually, without fanfare, mentioned that he had served during World War II on D-Day at Omaha Beach, both a near-fatal head injury to the back of his skull and a Purple Heart his ever-present badges of courage. I surmised that I might soon give him a call asking to interview this effervescent individual and his gracious, hospitable wife.
Mr. Long fought in his youth for our freedoms and for our workable, fair-minded democracy and in opposition to tyrannical manipulation or exploitation of citizens/cultures at home and abroad. As we spoke on that sunny afternoon and the Longs indicated their fondness for Don, I would have never guessed that within a handful of days I would question whether our local election had indeed measured up to the standards our forefathers once established, and for which our nation’s soldiers had fought repeatedly, and would instead recount the disillusionment now harbored inside three hearts which eagerly wished to contribute to this community. Don’s. Roy’s. Susie’s.
Our love and appreciation we extend to those individuals who improve our town in quiet ways, seldom receiving recognition, and who simultaneously impart acceptance and tolerance toward their fellow beings all over the globe. We met many special souls as the three of us campaigned for Don. Your unconditional friendship, regardless of your votes, we shall remember always.
“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” ~ Robert Kennedy