Friday, August 04, 2006

Dissent is the highest form of patriotism--Thomas Jefferson

This was going to be a rant about patriotism; who owns the word; who has highjacked the concept, but I've changed my mind.

This is about my Dad. I looked in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, 1940 edition, for the Jefferson quotation. (I like to verify things when I can. If I have a book to look in, I will, before trying google.) This book was my Dad's. On every single blank space on all of the fly leafs, he had written or pasted cutouts of other quotations that grabbed his interest. From Don Mclean(American Pie) to Sartre to Henry Gibson (Laugh In) there must be dozens of them.

I never used this book while living at home, but took it with some others after he died . PDB (look him up. found this book extremely fascinating, and it lived with him as he grew up.

I should mention that Dad wrote in the margins of every book he owned, and every magazine he read. He would sit in front of the TV with the rest of us and watch Ozzie and Harriet or Lawrence Welk, with Time Magazine on his lap and a fountain pen in his hand. I think he was a lot smarter than us. When he lifted his head to pay attention to the show, he just couldn't stay with it.

My Dad was a reader. He grew up as a reader and was encouraged by his Mom and Aunt. He was also a keeper of a journal, and in later years, the journal turned into family letters.

But the wide variety of quotations that he thought fit to paste or write into his Bartlett's tells much about him. I knew he was a life-long Democrat. He had a federal job and then a federal pension. But he judged the candidate as an individual, and voted for some local Republicans because he thought that they had local interests as a priority. He couldn't bring himself to vote for Nixon or Reagan, but despaired about the poor quality of the Democratic candidates.

Back to the quotes:

"And so I hold it is not treason
To advance a simple reason
For the sorry lack of progress we decry.
It is this: instead of working
On himself, each man is shirking
And trying to reform some other guy." Harvard professor Babbit

"I am goddamned tired of listening to all this babble for reform. America is a hell of success." Joseph G. Cannon

"I was a lonely, teen-age broncin' buck
With a pink carnation and a pick-up truck." Don McLean

Sometimes he was really hard to figure out. He took me fishing; he supported my interest in sports. He could be really hard on me about my homework, getting it done, getting it right; I had to keep my shoes shined and wear my suit on Sunday. When I did something really stupid, he couldn't understand why I did it. At times I sneered at him as teens will. Other times I was in awe.

This story may take a while to set up, but it shows much of his character. I played baseball as a kid in our L.A. suburb. This was pre-Little League in our area. We had no tryouts. All the names went into a bin and were drawn: 15 kids to a team. We had caps and tee shirts with our team name, and had to return the shirt at season's end. The rules were regular baseball rules. Runners could lead off; pitchers had to pitch from a stretch with runners on base. We all learned what a balk was. We played 7 inning games. Each kid had to play at least 3 innings. A pitcher could only pitch 4 innings. So with this rule, most managers started their best pitcher and let him go 3 innings. Then that kid would play at some other position until the seventh inning, when he would come in and finish up the game. Any player who left the game had to stay out.

So one afternoon our team was getting killed 15-0; did I mention no mercy rule? My Dad was a parent helper, coaching on third base this day. We couldn't get a sniff of a hit against their best pitcher. When he left to play right field and we faced another pitcher, we got a few hits and some fly-outs, but no score. In the 7th inning they trot out this monster pitcher again. (I don't think anyone checked his birth certificate.)

Dad was livid. "Hey, let the kids try to hit! You're winning 15-0! What's with bringing this kid in again? and several other choice phrases. Dad, above all, wanted the kids to play and have a good time. I didn't think he was very competitive. How wrong I was.

Their catcher was not very good, and couldn't really handle those pitches, just as we could not hit them. Lots of passed balls and dropped third strikes gave us a number of base runners, but all were still there when out 3 came.

So here we are, bottom of the 7th. I come up and strike out, but get to first on a passed ball. I eventually ended up on third. Always the observer, Dad said to me: "The pitcher and catcher are really very cocky, and not paying any attention to you. The catcher just lobs the ball back every time. Just walk off the base and down the line when he throws the pitch. Take off for home when the catcher lobs the ball back." So I did what he said, and stole home. We lost 15-1, but because Dad wanted a little consideration for the kids, and didn't get it, he settled for a little justice. He cost that other team a shutout.

He thought more about others than himself. He went to all the ball games my nephews played in, just as he did with me. When I left home, he would look for neighborhood kids to take fishing.

But the variety of those quotes? I wish I knew what he was thinking when he pasted and penned them into that book. Obviously he thought them all important. But which did he agree with and with which did he disagree? I think I know, but he was private that way. I guess I'll never really know. We should have talked more. But I'm a lot like he was, we can be enigmatic, private and erupt at times.

I know it drives the whole family crazy. It's who I am and who he was.


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