Most people inherit their religion and their politics. I am not an exception except for the fact that I now am different in both respects from my parents and other relatives. I am now a liberal and a Buddhist. I hope that my beloved parents and my other precursors are not rolling in their graves. It has been a remarkable, if not challenging journey. As with all good journeys, there is a beginning, a middle and an end. Mine is no exception.
I was born in Texas and moved at a young age to a sleepy little Ozark town in southwest Missouri. Carthage, is a small town located about thirty miles east of Joplin. It was founded by owners of the lead and zinc mines of the 1800's. They came to found this as a refuge from the bars and brothels of Joplin and Pitcher, Oklahoma. So they built breathtaking Victorian mansion and a church on every corner of the city's center. Carthage is the county seat of Jasper county and has one of the most beautiful court houses in the middle of a classical town square.
My childhood was much like the TV show “Leave it to Beaver”. I was Walley and my brother Jim was the Beaver. He was always getting into everything with the next door neighbors kids Will and Dan. I pretty much did what an older brother was expected to do-- especially when it came to picking on my little brother.
One thing unique about growing up in Carthage was the number of very successful family businesses. Carthage, in fact, was at one time in the top ten per capita millionaires in the US Carthage is the home of the spring industry for America. If you sleep or sit on springs, they came from Flex-o-lators or Leggett and Platt made in Carthage. Also, we have the largest gray marble quarry in the country. Add to this Tri-State Trucking, Atlas, Hercules Explosive/Chemical plants, and Big Smith Clothing - you have a formidable mix of manufacturing for even a large metro area, let alone a small town of eleven thousand people.
The families that owned these companies provided the backbone of local politics. Yes, you probably guessed, died in the wool right wing Republicans!. My parents were what you could call middle class. My father was an engineer and graduate of the United Stated Naval Academy and my mother was a stay at home mom. Dad worked for a brief for Big Smith Clothing. I remember getting new blue jeans and western shirt in the first few years of my education. At least I did not have to wear bib overalls.
About all I remember of politics and religion growing up is that I was raised Methodist. My mom was Methodist and so were my grandparents on my mother's side. I was told the story that my father was a Presbyterian, but Carthage did not have a church of that denomination at that time they moved there, so he converted when they were married. The kids of the rich factory owner all went to the Episcopal Church. The working class either went to the Baptist or several various small fundamentalist churches.
Church going for me was pretty usual. Every Sunday it was both Sunday school and church.
If you were less than ten years old you usually sat in the balcony at the back of the church so if you misbehaved or started to cry, your parents could quickly take you outside for a quick diaper dusting.
The first president that I remember was Ike Eisenhower. I would lay down on my little kindergarten mat under his framed picture. I found out later that the Catholic kids slept under the benevolent and watchful eye of John the XXIII. Later I found out just how remarkable these two human beings were. The world was left much poorer with their passing.
The first presidential campaign I remember was that of Kennedy vs. Nixon in 1960. Of the little I remember, my family were ardent Nixon supporters. I must admit that I was taken with Jack and shed tears when when he was taken from us. The day that President Kennedy was assassinated, I had played hookey from school. I was at home in bed watching my black and white TV that my grandparents had bought me for Christmas. My mother had left me home alone and was over at my her mother's house playing bridge. Later when I was in college, grandma tried to teach me the game. I must admit that I never thought it was as exciting as Black Jack or Five Card Stud. Anyhow, all of a sudden, Art Linkletter was interrupted and it was announced that President Kennedy was shot in Dallas, Texas. I ran to the phone and called my mother and gave her the tragic news.
From that time on, I and the rest of the world became glued to the television. I hardly moved from the announcement of his death to his state funeral. My parents and grandparents did not say much. As much as they say they hated Democrats and Kennedys, they were too shaken to comment much.
The Johnson years were quite telling. My parents were not fans of him, but whole heartedly supported America's involvement in Viet Nam. My dad was a graduate of the United States Naval Academy (class of 1948). He was always a hawk. My family came from a long tradition of military service. My ancestor General Oliver Shroud served with General Washington and froze with the Contenenntal Army at Valley Forge. His descendant, also named Oliver, died at the bloody battle of Pea Ridge Arkansas proudly serving the Union cause. On my father's side, my great great grandmother and General Ulysses Grant's mother were first cousins. Actually his given name was Hiram. He hated the name and upon enrollment in West Point, wanted to reverse his name to Ulysses Hiram Grant. However, his appointment was mistakenly for Ulysses Simpson Grant. The appointment has mistakenly used his mother's maiden name as his middle one. Often he was referred to as “Sam” by his class mates. Given this honored military tradition, Dad would have been fully supportive of bombing the “gooks” in Viet Nam back to the stone age. This feeling was no different than millions of Americans who bought into the Cold War propaganda of "Better Dead Than Red".
The Bay of Pigs fiasco was totally Kennedy's fault. After all, he withdrew air support from an invasion planned by Ike Eisenhower. If Eisenhower could do D Day, then his plans were more than adequate to take a piss ant island called Cuba! It had to be that JFK screwed it up. 'Nuff said!
The Cuban invasion behind us, not a single word was uttered in support of President Kennedy's facing down of Nikita Khrushchev in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Again, in our family, giving a Democrat credit for anything was a "no-no". After all, Franklin (the Great White Father) Roosevelt was still responsible for all the national and international woes as had he led us all down the path to godless socialism. I remember that my grandfather told me once that he voted for the “bastard” four times and that was enough to cure him of ever voting for another Democrat again. He never told me why he had voted for him in the first place.
In contrast, my great grandmother Pearl was a “Yellow Dog” Democrat. It is said that a Democrat of this persuasion would vote for a yellow dog if it ran on the Democratic ticket. My great grandfather Clayton once ran for mayor of Carthage, Missouri. He came home one evening and announced to Pearl that we was running as a Republican. She looked at him, and without blinking told him that she hoped that he won, but could not vote for him. To preserve peace in the family, I am pleased to say that he won. All hell would have probably broken loose if he had lost by one vote.
I went off to college after high school graduation in 1967. It was at Missouri Southern Community College that I first jointed the Young Republicans. The main reason for doing so was purely political. The college Republicans had some of the hottest girls on campus. I got to participate in a mock state legislature an event that I enjoyed very much. But it was when my father took a position in Denver, Colorado and my subsequent transfer to the University of Colorado in Boulder that I really became involved in politics.
By Stephen R. Lucas