Faithful readers of this column (which I certainly hope you all are) know that I am from Tyler, Texas. A small city more Southern than Southwestern. And while most of my anecdotes about growing up there have to do with a gay boy growing up behind the Pine Curtain, today’s story centers on Mother.
She and Daddy moved to Tyler when they were expecting me. (What they were expecting and what they got were probably two different things.) So while I was born and reared in Tyler, Mother was not. She was a grown woman dropped into a 1950’s setting of ladies’ clubs, churches and bridge groups where many, if not most, of the other ladies had known each other since the cradle. Of course, that didn’t stand in her way, and thirty years later, she had established her own network of friends.
Toward the end of that time, I called Mother one evening to settle in for a chat when the rates were lower. (Surely, I’m not the only one who remembers timing phone calls to save money.) By then, Mother was a widow, and I was living in Dallas and waiting for Karl to come home from his last tour of duty before retiring from the Navy. I asked her what she had done that day, and Mother told this story:
“Oh, honey, I had lunch with Elaine and Virginia and Pat. And those two, Virginia and Pat, just never get along. After Elaine dropped them off, I asked her, ‘What’s with those two? If one wants to go Luby’s, the other one wants to go Wyatt’s. If Virginia suggests the Petroleum Club, Pat wants to go to Willow Brook.’
And Elaine said, ‘Oh, Emma, when we were in high school, there was a boy that Virginia wanted to date, but he never asked her out. So when he asked Pat to go out a few times, Virginia took it hard. They’ve been at loggerheads ever since. But you wouldn’t know that, being a newcomer and all.’ Can you believe it? Thirty years in Tyler, and I’m still a newcomer!”
Fast forward another thirty years or so, and here we are.
Not to trivialize the differences, but the polarized state of affairs in the United States today reminds of lifelong conflict between Virginia and Pat. There seems to be two sets of Americans who can’t agree on anything. Black lives matter vs. blue lives matter. Internment camp vs. summer camp. Fox News vs. CNN, MSNBC, and the rest of the mainstream media. Hillary vs. Trump. This administration vs. every administration that came before it.
It’s gotten so predictable and downright tedious that it’s easy to guess how both sides are going to spin any issue or news story that comes down the pike. Liberals no longer have a monopoly on knee-jerking; the Trumpites have that jerk action down pat. Perhaps we should all watch cable news with a two by four across our laps so we don’t end up knocking out all that dental work.
And just like the conflict between Virginia and Pat, it didn’t start recently. It didn’t start with Donald Trump. Or Obama, Bush or Clinton, for that matter. It’s been going on as long as I can remember, back when “America, Love It or Leave It” foreshadowed “Make America Great Again.”
Sometimes it feels like living in a mash-up of Groundhog Day and The Shining (“You are the caretaker—you’ve always been the caretaker.”) Every time a politician says, “This is not who we are” in reference to the issue du jour, a backward glance at our history might cause an objective observer to think, “Well, if you have to keep telling me this is not who you are, maybe it is who you are.”
So let’s work on not being Virginia or Pat. Perhaps we should seek understanding, like Emma, so that we can be more like Elaine, who actually understood. Then armed with that understanding, we can say to the ladies, “Forget the cafeterias and the clubs. Let’s go to Loggins.”
(If you didn’t get that last reference, it’s because you’re not from Tyler.)