Hers is not an unfamiliar story to me. She's a boomer, came of age in the late 60s, spent most of her life as a Democrat, unlike her parents who were kids during the Depression and never forsook the conservative Republican values they both espoused.
In a sweet remembrance in the Washington Post, Pamela Constable, a Post staffer whose stories have carried by-lines from Iraq and Afghanistan, remembers her parents, died-in-the-wool conservative Republicans, WASPS, who would undoubtedly, she says, be appalled by Donald Trump, not to mention Tea Party loud mouths. Her parents believed in politics and conservatism, she says, but the uncivil character of today's discourse and the stultifying dedication to principle some right-wingers espouse would, she says, have left them cold.
But Constable's memoir is warm and encompassing because what she came to see, she says, through her parents' later years especially, was "how loss and sacrifice had shaped both my parents, creating lifelong habits of thrift, loyalty, perseverance and empathy for those who suffered, despite an unconscious unease with other races and classes that I’d always found hard to forgive." She came to understand her parents far better than she once had. She could have been describing my parents and me.
I remember my mother's stories about her father, a blacksmith, coming home at night during the deep dark days of the Depression and putting his head in his hands and crying because he simply didn't know where his next dollar was coming from. Farmers had no money to pay him for services rendered, and he really couldn't stop sharpening their plowshares or the entire economy of the region would suffer more horror than it already had manifest.
My father remembered how he and his nine brothers and sisters would receive gifts of food and produce, some left without acknowledgement, when the members of the church where his father was pastor couldn't pay him anything. It's not particularly difficult to hold fast to really conservative ideals of "thrift, loyalty, and perseverance" when what shaped your own young life was palpable want answered only by a beautiful, tasty orange, a bag of peanuts, and a chunk of hard candy after the Christmas Eve Sunday School program. That, and little more, was Christmas.
By the time the war ended, my father had spent most of four years away from his wife and their two little girls. He never talked much about the war years, not because he shielded himself from horrifying memories but because from his vantage point on the LT-59, a tugboat, he never been in a sea battle or came anywhere near the skirmishing that went on all through the skies of the South Pacific. He'd met real heroes and really couldn't think of himself as one of them.
After the war he built his house largely with his own hands. I remember when he put a shower in our tiny downstairs bathroom and taught me how to use it. I couldn't have been more than six or seven. When we came dripping out of this wondrous thing, he wrung out the washcloth tightly in both fists, then rubbed the water off his body. "You do this first," he told him, wielding that washcloth, "and you save wear and tear on towels."
He was shaping my life with that washcloth, as he did in many ways.
By the time he died, he left his wife--and his children--far more than she or they needed. He'd become thoroughly middle class, and a deeply committed conservative. That's where we parted company.
But what I loved about Pamela Constable's Washington Post remembrance of her parents was its final commitment. "After years of joking that we cancelled out each other’s votes," she writes, "I realized that the values that mattered the most to me, especially a fundamental respect for the dignity of all people, were those I had learned from them."
While my own parents became increasingly conservative and I became increasingly liberal, what they taught me is a good deal more basic than party loyalty or a unswerving commitment to free market economics. My parents believed what they did because of an abiding commitment to this gospel truth: that we're all--everyone of us--image bearers of the Almighty, that everyone has somewhere in him or her a bit of the divine, nothing less than the image of God.
I don't know about Pamela Constable's parents, but the most important lesson I learned from my parents was truth imbued by their deep Christian faith--that somewhere in all of us is something more than DNA, something astonishingly of our Creator God.
My father's birthday is coming soon. He'd be 98. His son, sad to say, considers himself an independent but thinks like a Democrat. Still, I am forever grateful for what he and Mom gave me, the belief that every one of us carries the image of God.