Of Birds, Grandmothers, and Eisenhower Republicans

Continuing to write chapters in my head from the unwritten book entitled Pig Trails and Rabbit Holes, I find myself meandering along a twisting path and disappearing into Alice’s rabbit hole, again. Maybe I’ll encounter a hookah smoking caterpillar. The Mad Hatter has already taken up residence in my head.  A bit of hashish might calm him.

It is a dark, raw, and dreary day here in the foothills of the Blue Ridge.  It is the kind of day rabbits and wild pigs should be tucked safely in their burrows, huddled together for warmth.  I am warm, sitting in front of a fire, watching my birds gorge themselves on sunflower seeds and suet. You can add a squirrel or five and an occasional “Chester”, a name my wife has given to the ground squirrels that seem to be multiplying at an alarming rate.  All are eating me out of house and home.

I’m drawn to thoughts and mental photos of my Grandmother’s bird feeders.  I don’t remember squirrels in attendance but there were plenty of little chipmunks around. 

My grandmother would be proud of my collection of avian acrobats.  Cardinals, woodpeckers, titmice, nuthatches, chickadees, and sparrows have been joined by gold and purple finches, their spring mating colors beginning to show. Cardinals are pretty but they are mean.  They take nothing off anyone, not even the squirrels.

Below the feeders, towhees, robins, doves, and a brown thrasher dig, waiting on “manna” from heaven to fall from the feeders.  Same with two chipmunks.  Where are the mockingbirds and catbirds?  I really must get a platform feeder with some fruit offerings.

On clear days my Red Tails cavort, riding the thermals and gleefully whistling to each other. But it is not a clear day.

Yeah, Nannie would be proud…until the impeachment trial lit up on my TV screen.  I doubt she would have any pride in anything I watched and I should have stayed tuned into the chipmunks.

My grandmother was an Eisenhower Republican.   Maybe I am too…or a Kennedy Democrat.  I know that Eisenhower nor Kennedy would recognize their respective parties today.  I also know the transition didn’t occur over night. It has been a treacherous highway we have traveled and appear to continue to travel.

As I researched “Ike’s” childhood and early life, I realized how similar my grandparent’s forefathers and mothers resembled the President’s.  Their forbearers, German, Scot, Irish and English, probably arrived in the New World via Pennsylvania like my forbearers.  My forefathers and mothers headed South through Virginia, North Carolina, to finally South Carolina and a hard scrabble existence as farmers, drummers, and cabinet makers. There might have been a huckster or two among them.

President Eisenhower’s forbearers headed to Virginia and then west to Kansas, south to Texas and then back to Kansas.  His family lived in poverty as hard times struck the mid-west.  Ike worked on a dairy along with his brother, helping his mechanic and dairy farming father scratch out a living.  There are a lot of similarities when faced with a hard scrabble life.

When I was a child, my grandmother forced me to read.  My grandmother’s tutelage was fully supported and enforced by my parents.  Sometimes quite painfully enforced. During summer vacations I would be led to meet the county bookmobile and forced to pick books to read.  It was decided I would pick three, all to be completed before the ancient, converted school bus returned two weeks later. Over time I found myself picking four or five books on my own.

I remember one choice chronicled Eisenhower’s early life.  How he almost lost his leg to a freak football injury.  Refusing an amputation, he somehow survived and grew up to be General Eisenhower of WW II fame and the Thirty-Fourth President of the United States.

He was a heroic figure and, despite the warts we all have, I understand my grandmother’s adulation. He certainly wasn’t perfect, and with twenty-twenty hindsight, it is easy to see missteps as he dealt with the recovery from WW II, the escalating Cold War, and building Civil Rights movement.   It should also be easy to see his positives. Despite not being able to stop nuclear proliferation, it was one of the most prosperous times both economically, scientifically, and artistically.  In some ways it might have spoiled us.

The first election I remember was the 1956 election, Eisenhower running for a second term against Adlai Stevenson.  It had no significance for a six year old. I was still playing cowboys and outlaws. I remember it because my grandmother seemed to be concerned.  She left her radio on all night awaiting the election news.  From my bed in the corner of her room I remember her whispered prayers. She shouldn’t have been worried.  It was a landslide for Eisenhower.

Despite the duck and cover drills in case of nuclear attack I experienced as a child, I can’t help but wish an Eisenhower incarnation had been elected to deal with Covid-19 and the social unrest we are experiencing.  I liked his attitude of diplomacy first. I know today’s responses would have been different and so would the outcomes. 

I remember or studied later his responses to Polio and the Salk vaccine, Sputnik, McCarthy, fireworks in the Middle East and Asia, carrying out Truman’s executive orders desegregating the military, an interstate system…even if was built to move the military rapidly from one place to another.  A response might have been the wrong one in hindsight, but there was a response, usually with diplomacy first. There was no inactivity. 

Then maybe I’m deluding myself.  Is it the differences in Presidents or the differences in Americans? 

I still think I’ll characterize myself as an Eisenhower Republican…or a Kennedy Democrat.  I just heard a squirrel land on my bird feeder…or was it my grandmother spinning in her grave.  She was not a Kennedy fan, at least at first. He was a rich, Massachusetts’s Catholic after all.  Unlike Eisenhower, my grandmother grew up in a world so different from Kennedy’s it might well have been another planet. I doubt she was a Nixon fan either as history played out.

Oh well. The rain has slacked off and my bird feeders need to be refilled. It is another day and there will be no trial coverage. Since there is a chance of winter weather on Tuesday my grandmother would agree that I need to make sure my wood stores are replenished. “Yes ma’am, I’ll get those bird feeders first.”

For more pig trails and rabbit holes https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR3oAjNYooKiVzCcXTBVNofhw-T3ZwvoWeD90Y-Uv_KI1Y8lpyLBOC-HK2M

The image of Eisenhower is from Wardlaw Museum, University of St. Andrews.

TRANSITION OF POWER

This is the day that power is transferred from one President to another, something which has taken place since George Washington turned the keys to the office over to John Adams in 1797. Interestingly, inaugurations were held on March 4 during those days rather than January 20…well maybe not that interestingly. I pray that despite all the indications to the contrary, this too will be a peaceful transition of power.

The first election and inauguration I remember was in 1956 and I remember it well because of my grandmother’s interest and concern. My grandmother was a Republican and seemed to be quite worried that a mid-western Democrat might somehow steal the election from the incumbent Republican. With 2017 twenty-twenty hindsight, I wonder why she was a republican, living in the South in 1956. At the time, I didn’t understand what it meant to be a member of the party of Lincoln in the South, or on this day sixty-one years ago, the party of Eisenhower. With 2017 hindsight, I doubt Lincoln, Eisenhower or my grandmother would even recognize the Republican Party of today.

She had great regard for Dwight Eisenhower, a well-deserved regard I would guess. Most of the people had high regard for Eisenhower because he defeated Adlai Stevenson quite handily…twice, after having defeating the Nazis, once, during old WW II. The anomaly of course was a South that normally voted Democrat during those days and this year it did again. The only break in rank was Texas and Louisiana. South Carolina’s eight electoral votes went to Stevenson who captured seventy-three total electoral votes, most from the deep South. Eisenhower garnered four hundred and fifty-seven. That Mr. Trump is a landslide.

I have snatches of memories from those early years, one IS the Election of 1956. During those days, my little brother and I stayed with my grandparents at night because of my parent’s shift work at Springs. My grandmother’s bed in one corner of the bedroom, mine in the other and my little brother’s crib in between. On the opposite side of the room from our beds was a woodstove, allowed to die during the winter night and then resurrected in the morning. This night the old RCA radio had been added, pushed in next to my grandmother’s bed. This so my grandmother could keep up with the election results during the pre-computer days of hand counted ballots and a media that didn’t include internet or satellites.

The election process and its “the peaceful transition of power” were a big deal for my grandmother. She had participated in the very first election that allowed women to vote in 1922 and would continue to exercise her hard won right until she died in 1999.

I can’t help but wonder what she would think of “the peaceful transfer” in 2017. I have an idea she would be stoic…suffering in silence as she did when a Yankee, Roman Catholic, Democrat won in 1960. She was always big on being stoic…”it is better to keep your mouth shut and let people think you a fool than to open it and remove all doubt” unless my brother or I screwed up, then she wasn’t too stoic and we would find ourselves doing the suffering, not her. My guess is she would have said “this too shall pass” which is the philosophy I shall take. I’m just not sure about keeping my mouth shut.

For more of Don Miller’s unique (odd? bizarre?) views of life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time, try http://goo.gl/lomuQf