Updated: May 10
“A good deal of our politics is physiological.” - RWE
San Joaquin Valley
Politics. The principles, views and opinions of politics have weaved in and out of my life for as long as I can remember. During these years, politics have stirred anger, provided humor, justified commitments and, for a period of time, held my survival in its hands.
My first recollection of voicing a political position took place after enduring another one of Grandfather’s evening meal monologues. For the enlightenment of a dinner guest, the conversation’s subject matter had centered on the Know-Nothings, a rapidly declining movement in Boston’s political arena due to the party’s weak leadership and controversial views. At the time, anti-immigration, labor rights and religious values were strangers in my 7-year-old world. However, I could fully embrace the term: Know Nothing.
“How many times do ye need to be told, tables are for glasses not… britches.”
“That doesn’t rhyme, Winnie”
“Poetry’s not me callin’, ScottyGarrett.” The cook held out a towel. “But a clean kitchen is. And now that you’ll be standin’ in my kitchen, ye can help dry these dishes.”
Scott slid off the edge of his disputed seating and accepted the assignment with a sigh. Truth be told, drying a few dishes was a fine trade-off in order to spend time with Winnie. “Why does Mr. Harris come here?”
“The man is a business associate of yer grandfather.”
“But why does he have to eat with us?”
“Because the poor man’s wife passed and he, like yer grandfather, appreciates a good meal.”
“Why can’t I talk at the table when Mr. Harris sits down?”
“Hmmmmm. Maybe because ye ask too many questions.”
“Well, if I was a mind-guesser, Winnie, I wouldn’t have to.”
“Well, if ye were a mind-reader, ye cheeky little lad, ye wouldn’t want to.”
Sensing possible exile from his friend’s domain, Scott held out a helper’s hand, hoping the gesture would allow him to stay as more cheeky words which had been bouncing around in his head slid out of his mouth. “What Grandfather and Mr. Harris talk about sounds...” Time was taken to retrieve the headmaster’s word. “…foolish.”
“Does it now?” Winnie’s sly grin accompanied the passing of a wet dish to her assistant. “That can happen when gentlemen discuss politics.”
“Oh.” Shoulders shrugged in acceptance of a plate and explanation. “I guess I won’t be talking pol-lick-ticks in school.” Scott’s voice lowered to share a confidant. “If we sound foolish they make us wear a dunce cap.”
“Ah, if only that held true while standin’ on a soapbox.” A glass traveled from dish washer to dish dryer.
Scott frowned at making a connection between a box of soap and being smart unless it had something to do with Godliness, which seemed likely since the Good Lord enjoyed cleanliness. “Winnie, why do the men Grandfather talks about call themselves know-nothings?”
“A very good question coming from someone who hasn’t walked the Earth long.” Winnie took a moment more than necessary to wash a serving spoon. “These men like to say I know nothing when asked questions they don’t fancy on hearin’ or answerin’.”
“But…that’s not right. Everybody knows something.”
“Then those men are liars.”
“ScottyGarrett.” Winifred MacLoughlin’s slightly soapy hand cradled her young assistant’s chin and raised it to make eye contact. “Ye have a firm grasp on politics and don’t let anyone tell ye differently.”
Along with the comings and goings of a political party's popularity, the level of dissension in politics has been ever changing much like the waters in Boston’s back bay. Controversy’s tide slowly rose through my adolescence, hitting its high mark as I furthered my studies and resolved a commitment.
“I’m enlisting, George.” Scott pushed the recruitment flyer across the pub table. The announcement caught a sip of beer the exact moment it hit the back of his friend’s throat, resulting in a fit of sputtering and coughing.
“Missing your mother’s milk, McCallister?” The catcall came from a group of lads sitting at a nearby table.
George’s response was quick and to the point: a flash of the middle finger and clarification. “Not missing it as much as your mother’s teat.”
Scott rolled his eyes. This was to be an evening of celebration - completing the first year at Harvard without getting tossed out on their ears. “You know, there’s still time to get expelled if we put our minds to it.”
“That wanker won’t be strolling over here. A few weeks ago his mouth called you a Beacon Hill Bastard whereupon your fist defended your family’s honor.”
Scott’s sideways glance confirmed it was indeed the blowhard whose offensive remark referred to Harlan Garrett’s position on Union preservation which irritated those born and bred Bostonians who still sympathized with the secessionist states. Several years into the war and obviously this cockalorum’s opinion had not only remained unchanged but now suffered from memory loss as his mates were reminding him why he should stay seated.
“To arms! To arms!” George snatched up the leaflet. “Your country calls! The Union must be and shall be preserved!” The paper got tossed aside in favor of a pint. “This war would’ve ended soon after it started if it weren’t for the stinking politicians mucking it up.”
Scott mostly agreed with his friend’s statement. The term compromise fared well in political speeches but not with governing results, even though northern and southern views on Negros were similar in many ways. However in Scott’s mind, the institution of slavery would never be debatable. He despised it and the practice should have no place in society.
It had also become clear early on neither Lincoln’s nor Davis’s administration knew how to cope with financing the war, proof being both relied heavily upon borrowing. Muckery, indeed.
Even with all the political blustering and blunders tied up in a neat package labeled The Cause, one commitment stood alone for Scott. The Union must be and shall be preserved. “It’s the right thing to do, George, and you damn well know it.” A finger tapped the flyer’s illustration of man and horse. “Cavalry. That’s where I belong.”
“Ho, ho, Lancer. More heroic to be shot out of a saddle?” McCallister sipped his beer and studied the colorful rendition of a soldier riding valiantly into battle. “Remember when we got nabbed in the Howard Theater balcony and your grandfather’s head exploded?”
“Well, that will seem like a goddamn firecracker when you tell him about this.” George held up the recruitment handbill, clearing up any possible confusion regarding what this was. “The man reads the newspapers.”
“I wonder if Tillie is still twirling.” Pondering the woman’s talent inspired a new commitment. “We best catch a show before signing the enlistment papers.”
“Oh hell.” A smile of comradery spread across George’s face followed by a slammed fist to the tabletop. “Why not.” A beer mug raised. “Here’s to us!”
Scott’s pint joined his friend in completing the toast. “Two future generals saving the Union and preserving its tassels.”
Politics prompted uncertainty during my darkest days of serving the Union, with its rumors of prisoner paroles, exchanges, furloughs and executions. Politicians tried, in vain, to calculate an officer's value or a soldier’s worth. In the end, I was fortunate that politics paved the way back home.
In sharp contrast, politics have delivered me humor beyond the occasional partisan cartoon. My little cousin’s arrival saw to that.
Her butchering of a Founding Father’s quote is never a disappointment. And her vision of my status as a famous politician for the people and changing the world brings a smile. I must admit, the thought of giving Will Jenkins a mayoral run for his money remains an amusing, yet lingering brain itch.
Along with humor, Kinsey has also provided me with political food for thought regarding women’s rights. Truth be told, I had bouts of brief indigestion in the beginning while dining on her ideology of a free-thinking female
Scott’s strides carried him toward the hacienda’s kitchen. The conversation with Johnny had ended with quite the revelation regarding a long ride, a hot day and questionable behavior at Martin’s Lake, thus demanding a discussion with Little Miss Independent.
“Where is she, Maria?”
"Ninita, she's out back with the laundry."
Finding Kinsey struggling to hang a large wet blanket, Scott positioned himself opposite his cousin to assist in smoothing it out on the line.
A grateful voice filtered through the barrier of soggy material. “You came just in time. That bugger was putting up a fight.”
“You’re my hero.”
"Talk to Johnny?”
“What did he say?”
With two fingers Scott slowly pulled down the clothesline far enough for the guilty party to observe the displeasure displayed on his face. “Skinny-dipping.”
Tears begging forgiveness were nowhere to be found. Instead, the young lady went on the offensive with a scowl. “Nothing. Happened.”
“Other than removing your clothes?”
Grabbing a basket, the indignant swimmer marched down the line of laundry leaving her accuser behind.
A swish of petticoats disappearing behind a hung sheet replied.
Being ignored raised an eyebrow and sent feet moving. Catching up, Scott steered his cousin away from the kitchen door and towards the barn. “You and I are having a very necessary talk.”
With the hayloft cat as a witness, the introduction of a stern reprimand managed but one word -“Kinsey”- before the first verbal shot fired.
“Your time at the lake with Madeline and Maura versus mine with Johnny - please Scott, tell me the difference.”
“Is your last name McGuire?”
“There’s the first difference.”
“Oh, I see. I am being forced to live under the suppression of the double standard. I think not!”
A shoved basket hit Scott’s mid-section with more force than expected, resulting in a mouthed oooomph while his hands grabbed hold of wicker handles. Whipping her hair with an abrupt turn, his assailant left the skirmish in sun-filtered barn dust victory.
Double standard. Scott had noticed the coined phrase appearing more frequently in the newspapers. Conceding to frustration, he dropped-kicked the basket across the floor. The woman’s suffrage movement had just landed at Lancer.
I’ve lost count of the times politics, in some way or form, have changed my convictions, altered my decisions or influenced events in my life. Although, one occasion I thought unlikely for politics to touch would be a wedding guest list. That is, until today.
“Have I asked a difficult question, gentlemen?”
Kinsey’s query followed her previous unanswered question of what have I missed. Guessing he had a look on his puss, Scott smiled and resumed pouring his cousin a lemonade. “No. Not difficult. I’m simply deciding where to begin.” As soon as the words left his mouth, Scott knew the nature of the young lady’s response. Her playful smirk validated it.
“A wise man once stated a good place to start would be at the beginning. I may be mistaken, but I believe those words of wisdom came from your father.”
Scott’s chin dipped with a grin. “No, little one, your memory holds true.”
Clearing his throat, the fiancé dove in. “It’s come to light there may be a small glitch in our wedding guest list.”
“Well, let the record show I wasn’t in favor of Johnny’s choice.”
Seth's brow seesawed. “Johnny’s choice?”
“Escorting the McGuire sisters… twins...” Illumination from Kinsey was inevitable. “Hussies.”
“Hold up.” Scott raised an open palm. “Wrong beginning.” Observing curiosity splashed on Westcott’s face while mouthing the word twins, a nod of confirmation was given along with a change in the discussion. “The former California governor and his wife. Let’s start there.”
“The glitch is the Stanfords? I hardly think so. Jane is a lovely, gracious woman. One shouldn’t hold it against her that she married a politician.”
“Politician. Excellent.” Seth rubbed his hands together. “Now we’re getting somewhere.”
Scott had to admire Westcott’s positivity, short-lived as it may be if Kinsey’s narrowing eyes were any indication. “Freckles, situations can occur where social status and political jockeying run into each other. The phenomenon isn’t just exclusive to Melbourne.”
“The starting point of your beginning, sir, needs to be drawn a bit clearer. I’m struggling to see it.”
“Right.” Scott sharpened his imaginary pencil of words. “I believe a wise woman once stated it would be advantageous to have Jane Stanford neatly tucked in our purse since Leland Stanford resides in the back pocket of …George West. Correct me if I’m wrong, but those words of wisdom came from my little cousin.” A smile was given to soften the impending realization which didn’t take long to surface.
“Nooooooo.” Kinsey’s brow, aimed at Seth, took a turn in raised surprise. “That bragging bloke thinks he should be included as a wedding guest?”
“Little lady.” Westcott gathered up a female hand with his own. “That bastard and his brass balls won’t set foot on our land without your permission.”
Silence filled only with the occasional lowing of cattle finally produced a sly grin that Winifred MacLoughlin would approve of to grace Kinsey’s face. “Come now, Mr. Westcott, let’s not find fault with the gentlemen's anatomy due to my oversight. I shall pen an invitation this afternoon. However, if he bestows a case of El Pinal vino as a gift, the man shall be immediately shot.”
“Seems reasonable.” Seth tossed a glance across the table. “Anything to add, business partner?”
Crossing his arms, Scott leaned back. “Kinsey Rose, ye have a firm grasp on politics and don’t let anyone tell ye differently.”