Friday, September 17, 2010


The Tea Party Ideal

When I was very young I had a grandmother. She lived on a farm. Her son, her oldest child, lived with her on the farm and ran it. The farm had a creek, fields, horses, cows, chickens, and maybe even some pigs. I don't recall most details of that farm. I get it confused with the farm of my Aunt Ruth. She and her husband had a farm. She was a grandmother. Her son lived nearby on another farm and he had a wife and several children. Her daughter lived on another nearby farm and she had a daughter. Aunt Ruth and Uncle Ray were grandparents.

They had a nice farm. It was near Boone, Michigan. They had an electric generator powered by a one-cylinder gasoline engine. The generator charged a battery bank. The battery bank supplied electricity to the house to operate lights and an electric refrigerator. There was also a windmill that operated a pump. Some of the water from the pump was stored in a tank in the upper storey of the house. That tank provided water for the kitchen sink. There was a flush toilet also. When my second cousin Eleanor was about five, she went into the toilet, locked the door, did her business, and remembered how to unlock the door to get out. Aunt Ruth marveled at her granddaughter's perspicacity.

I stayed with Aunt Ruth and Uncle Ray one summer. It was 1935, the summer that Will Rogers and Wiley Post died in a plane crash in Alaska. I loved the farm. At the time I didn't, but now I know that I did love pulling the weeds and feeding them to the pigs. The farm was like heaven. I thought that Aunt Ruth and Uncle Ray were very rich, much richer than my own parents who lived in a rented house in a little village near Grand Rapids. In our house we had electricity but no running water and no flush toilet. We had two hand pumps in the kitchen, one for well water to drink and use for cooking and one for cistern water for washing clothes. I knew that when my parents were young they lived on farms. It must have been wonderful for them. Somehow they had lost something and had been forced to move into the village.

If I had done nothing of an intellectual nature since those days, I would now still have the dream that motivates members of the "Tea Party" movement. According to the dream, things were once nearly perfect. People lived on farms and were rich. The took care of themselves and helped their neighbors at harvest time. Government was far, far away and did very little except maintain roads and collect taxes. Nobody thought anything about universal health care. We had universal health care. When you were sick, you went to the doctor and he treated you. He would give you a bill for services and you would pay it whenever you could. If you didn't have money you would give him food - eggs, milk, vegetables, whatever you had that he and his wife could use. When you were old, you would continue to live on your farm and one of your children would take over the farm and work it. When your time came, you would die at home surrounded by your children and some of your grandchildren.

Life was good in those days. Tea Party dreamers would like to have it back, even though those now living probably never experienced life as it was to our grandparents when they were young. My generation, the village children, never lived as our grandparents had lived. We never experienced the hard work of farming. We never experienced the dangers of living and working on a farm. We were never gored by an angry bull or kicked by a frightened horse. We never fell out of the hay loft in the barn and broke our collar bone. We were not taken from a life of very hard work at the youthful age of 64 as my mother's father was. We never experienced typhoid fever epidemics due to burying our sewage in pits and then drinking the water from nearby wells. In our dreams these difficulties didn't exist. Life was full of sunshine, weeds for the pigs, gathering eggs from the chickens, up at daybreak for a hearty breakfast, and so on.

I envy the Tea Party fans their dreams. I wish life could be like the dream. Of course, it can't. In fact, it never was.


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