Cumberland Times-News

Jim Goldsworthy - Anything and Everything

March 10, 2012

Life wasn’t always easy, but it was good

If I were a liberal Democrat, instead of a moderately conservative Republican, I would be loving life right now.

The people who are running President Obama’s re-election campaign really don’t have to do much. The Republicans are doing it for them — actually doing a better job than the Democrats themselves might.

And as far as people like Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher are concerned, you don’t have to be a liberal or a conservative to be a jackass. You just have to be a jackass.

If November’s election returns Obama to the White House and some people wonder why, one explanation might be that ... it was a Fluke.

That I am a moderately conservative Republican is an inherited condition.

Grandfather Goldsworthy was a conservative Republican. One of his closest friends, the late Congressman Harley O. Staggers Sr., was a liberal Democrat — as are his sons and daughters, who are my good friends in spite of our relatively insignificant philosophical differences.

Like our forebears, they and I agree upon more things than we disagree, and what we agree upon is far more important.

For as much as Harley Sr. and my grandfather sometimes argued like Ralph and Alice Kramden, it was business — not personal.

That doesn’t seem to be the case in politics these days, a fact that the younger Staggerses and I lament.

Daughter Susan reminded me not long ago that her father used to say, “Politics ends the day after the election, and that’s when governing starts.”

Not so much, any more. Nowadays, even people who should be political allies are at each others’ throats.

It would have been enlightening, to have been around when Harley Sr. and my grandfather were discussing politics. I can only wonder what they talked about.

The classic definition of a conservative is someone who wants things to remain the same, while a liberal is someone who wants things to change. What they mean now, I’m not sure.

Fifty years ago, I would have been considered a liberal, because I was (and remain) a person who favored civil rights, equal opportunity, equal rights aand equal protection of the law for all people ... things I learned from my parents, who taught me that race, religion (or lack of one), gender (and its orientation), political philosophy, clothes, economic status and degree of education and literacy do not make one person better than another.

The conservative part of me comes from being raised under what are called “traditional American values” that include love for — and loyalty to — family and friends, faith, patriotism, education, work ethic, civility, courtesy, respect for other people, integrity, generosity toward those who need it, and so on — including, especially, frugality.

My grandfather was a barber. During The Depression, the bank allowed him to pay only the interest on his mortgage because that was all he could afford — a few dollars a month. The bankers needed the money and trusted him for it; he didn’t disappoint them.

At one time, there were eight people living in his house (which had only one bathroom): himself and my grandmother; my great-uncle and great-grandfather; my (eventual) father and his brother and sister; and a young girl who kept house in exchange for room and board.

Granddad managed to feed all of these people, maintain his home and barber shop, own and drive a car and send all three of his children to college. Life wasn’t always easy, and sometimes it was hard, but it was good. They occasionally went on Sunday drives and to movies or to the drugstore for a soda.

And, as he also realized and told me, “Some people I know don’t have a pot to (relieve themselves) in.”

Nobody gave him a thing. He started life in a coal mine and never learned to read or write. I have postcards he sent to my grandmother (who at the time was his girlfriend) after dictating them to somebody who wrote them on his behalf.

My grandmother had to teach him how to sign his name, but as Uncle Abe (who worked for him in the barbershop) said, he knew how to count money.

“Every time we came up a dime or a quarter short,” said Abe, “it was my fault. One day when Dad blamed me for our being light in the till, I’d had enough of it and said, ‘Now, listen, fella ... ,’ and that was it. I got fired.

“Fact is,” he said, “I got fired more times than a French 75.” (That’s a 75-millimeter French cannon of World War I and II vintage, which, as an Army medic in Europe, my uncle knew about.)

Things always got patched up, and Abe was back in the shop the next morning. He inherited the place after Granddad died and ran it for a couple of more decades before retiring to work part-time at home as the oldest practicing barber in the state of West Virginia. His wife, Aunt Frances, was a teacher, and they put both of their children through college.

My parents were teachers who retired in 1971. They never made a great deal of money, and for much of their careers were paid only nine months out of the year.

We ate cheap, but nutritious, food. Our biggest luxury was two weeks’ vacation each year with my grandparents and other relatives at the beach and boardwalk in Wildwood, N.J.

My parents spent their money wisely. Christmas was everything it should be, and while I rarely got the things I wanted, I always got the things I needed. They had a nice home and always had a nice car, and they put me through college.

My mother once described herself as “a poor girl from McCoole.” Her father worked in a hardware store, and at least one of her grandparents was a coal miner. She was among the top one percent of America’s college students and one of the most accomplished people I’ve ever known.

Some of our leaders undoubtedly had the same upbringing we had. They know about civility, hard work and wise use of one’s resources.

I wish more of them were like that.

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