Thursday, April 26, 2007


To save energy, Sheryl Crowe suggested we all use a single square of toilet paper, because toilet paper comes from lumbered trees and takes energy to process. By cutting down on toilet paper, from huge wads to a single square, we could save millions of trees and tons of electricity.

I have pointed out that my grandchildren singlehandedly use up a grove of trees in one bathroom visit. They are fond of rolling toilet paper over their arm as though they are winding up an electrical cord. This, then, is sent down the toilet, usually plugging it. Thus, gallons of water flow over the bowl onto the floor, as I desperately plunge and plunge.

This all takes me back to memories of the farm and the Outhouse we used there. It was a lean-to affair, sidling up to the cow barn. For some reason, there was a big glassless window looking out over the cow's stanchions, a window big enough for girls to climb out of and make their way to the orchard. This was especially handy when it was time for some housework. We would shinny out way out the window, watching for nails in the rough wood, wind through the cows and the cow dung, and take off for more pleasurable pursuits than doing dishes or some other tasteless chore.

We never used toilet paper, because it took money and no one ever had any money. We used old newspapers or magazines. Looking back, we were true recyclers. This method had one other attribute. It provided plenty of reading material while one was sitting there. I received a good portion of my education while sitting in the Outhouse, reading old newspapers.

No matter how destitute we were, money-wise, Pop had to have his newspaper. It was the old Detroit Times, now defunct, a Hearst newspaper. The owner of this newspaper chain, William Hearst, lived in a mansion, San Simeon, with Grecian statuary and Italian marble, while Pop, here in Michigan, sat in his old green upholstered chair with one arm falling off, his pipe clenched between his teeth, reading every article slowly and carefully.

His favorite columnist was Westbrook Pegler, who was as conservative as you can get. Since Westbrook Pegler hated Franklin Delano Roosevelt, so did my father. Here is FDR, a liberal man, starting Welfare and other programs to help the poor, and here was my father, as poor as a churchmouse, if churchmice are truly poor these days and not enjoying Faith Based victuals, but anyway, there he was, soaking up Pegler's conservative values.

It is strange how this country has always been divided in political ideology, which has grown to huge proportions in today's world. Republicans today use the word "liberal" as though it is a piece of cowdung rotting in the field, and Democrats consider all Republicans to be corrupt. My father, with his Republican values, read Westbrook Pegler, while my mother, a Liberal, worshipped Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

When Roosevelt died before WWII ended, I remember being in town and hearing the news while listening to two women talking in a store. Shocked by the fact that they had said the president had died, I hurried the two miles homeward to tell my mother. She had heard the news on our battery radio and was sitting in the kitchen, crying. It was a time of mourning for her, because she still had sons in the military and was worried about them making it home safely, with the beloved president gone.

How we depended on him! That powerful, clipped, New England voice, patrician to the core, that brilliant intellect, that firm leadership, this man who believed in helping the poor despite his life among the ancestral wealthy, this man who had surmounted obstacles most people wouldn't have survived, his formerly handsome body now confined to chairs.

It is said that the populace didn't know that FDR was crippled, but that is false. We knew. We knew of his courage, of Eleanor's careful nursing, of her encouragement of his ambitions, which he thought were lost as the disease debilitated his body. We knew he was nursed, propped up, almost helpless, but we didn't care. It was the voice we needed. It was the voice that carried his thoughts to the world and led them on a courageous path, those glorious, courageous thoughts that wiped all fear away and replaced it with determination.

Then, too, there was Churchill, Roosevelt's friend, he of the oratorial splendor. That little, chubby, pink-cheeked man could bring tears to the eyes and a flaming anger to your soul in the speeches that he gave. I don't know what has happened to men or women who can strum the heartstrings and fire the imagination with the use of words, but they seem to be extinct.

We lived on a farm in a rocky remote area far from the center of things, two miles from a little town, a huge family enjoying ballgames and picnics when the weather permitted, or clustered in the stove-warmed living room when it didn't, and despite the fact that we were removed from the world, our futures were shaped by that war. It was the war that taught me caution, that one doesn't rush into a path of death and disaster without careful thought, without trying every means possible to avoid conflict. It was war that taught me not to fear, because fear drains courage from the mind and replaces it with cowardice.

"We have nothing to fear but fear itself!" was the rallying cry. Light years away from our President today, who preaches fear as though it were a religion. I don't know how many times I have heard a Republican warn me that terrorists are lying in wait in my closet, under my bed, around every corner. We have become a shivering mass of fear and it has fueled an unjust war in Iraq. Caution is a good thing and one must always be alert. But, using fear of terrorism to mask injustice is very wrong.

So, in my memory, Pop is reading the Detroit Times in his easy chair, his pipes lined up on the old victrola top beside him. He doesn't believe in Welfare, this man who has plowed his fields and grown his corn and lived on the fruit of his labors. Then, in the kitchen, there is Mom, trying to feed a hungry horde with a scant amount of flour and sugar, boiling the vegetables from her garden on the top of the woodstove, battling smoke and searing flames to restock the wood.

When the Church Basket arrived, as it did twice a year with humiliating regularity, with its plentiful supply of bananas, chocolate cookies, and peanut butter, we children would dive into these goodies with the greedy delight of hungry mice. Mom would store the provisions with a sigh of gratitude. But Pop, true to his values, would snort in derision and stalk to the barn. He never understood why it is hard for mankind to live on bread alone. He never yearned for the sweet, tantalizing lure of candy.

Yet, despite his conservatism, Pop was a generous and liberal man. When company arrived at the farm, he led them to the house and insisted upon sharing our scant supply of food with them. If a man needed a boost, Pop would open his wallet and give him a portion of that meager supply of funds. He would help a neighbor plow a field. He loved children and animals and gave them meticulous attention and care.

I have often thought that the people today could learn from someone like my father. He was conservative, but generous. He was proud, but humble. He was understanding, but firm in his convictions. He would have been a marvelous example of a Unity ideology, a mixture of beliefs that would please the conservative, yet bring joy to the heart of the liberal.

But that probably won't happen, this unity. We have a portion of the country that believes in conserving toilet paper to save energy, and another portion that scoffs at the very idea. We have a portion of the country that believes in Global Warming, and another portion that continues to scoff.

I guess we'll have to learn the hard way. We did, back in World War II. It taught us that peace is priceless. Sometimes these lessons have to be taught again and again!