Whilst working on the east coast, my sweet twelve year old chocolate lab got slammed by a car. Astonishingly, the only harm she suffered was a broken leg. This meant a cast for six weeks, which in turn meant I had to drive rather than fly with her to my home in the Rockies where it was my intention to spend the next few months. Not particularly up for doing the long haul solo, I reached out to my cousin to see if he’d consider doing the drive with me. He had not long before buried his Mother, my aunt, for whom he had been tireless, primary caregiver for 15 years. His generosity and sacrifice of those years cannot be underestimated. He’d been saying he wanted to do a road trip for some time now and very kindly, as is his nature, took me up on the proposition. As soon as we hung up, relieved as I was to have company for the trek, I wondered how on earth we would manage 30 hours in the car with civility seeing as we are at opposite ends of the political spectrum? A few days later off we set…cousin Elmer, his dog, my dog, hoping for the best. Soon as he started the engine the born again Christian music station came on. Hurdle number one. We happily compromised on a 70’s rock station as we negotiated our way, ironically, out of our nation’s capital heading west. Our route took us deep into the ancient hills of West Virginia…stomping grounds of our ancestors, playground of our Mother’s childhoods. Our conversation flowed as if in concert with our route. Cousin Elmer, keeper of our family lore, talked easily of eccentric, beer brewing, spinster aunts and their occasional basement explosions. Tales of survival, of fortunes won and lost, of what had happened to our Grandfather’s gold coin collection, of just why Uncle Jack had shot himself in the head. Mysteries solved, half heard stories fleshed out. With every unraveling he effortlessly built the common ground between us.
Blue grass country gave way to flat plains and wheat fields. Driving through these communities we were both taken by the prevalence of obesity as well as by a tangible sense of malaise, anger and fear, masked in a thin veneer of outward civility. Even if we had diametrically opposed solutions to world problems, we shared a mutual sorrow for and fierce love of country.
Before long the Rocky Mountains loomed and our destination reached. I ruined his first morning at the house by turning on my preferred tv news channel. He must’ve involuntarily blurted out “Bullshit!!” 20 times. The hi lite of his talking back to the tv (as indeed I do when I hear a view contrary to mine) was when a newscaster labeled a leading politician “divisive” and Elmer trumpeted back “He is not divisive. He knows what the American people want!” (Me…”Count to ten.”) Elmer was even more disappointed when I told him we do NOT turn on the channel of his preference, in my house. Bless him…he abided by the rule.
On a subsequent night of his stay, we were due to attend a cocktail party. Elmer had nothing but T-shirt’s and baggy jeans in his duffle bag. Mercifully between a shirt Uncle Butch had left behind, a pair of my son’s pants and a jacket of my Dad’s…I got Elmer presentable. Glued to the tv all day he had one last show he wanted to watch at the very hour of our departure. Nothing would do but what we would watch it…Robot Warrior or some such. We watched. It was perfect. Kids, brilliant kids had designed 3-500 pound fighting robots which, prompted by remote control, entered the caged arena for combat and fought to the “death.” Culturally it was akin to a bar room brawl yet in a 21st century framework. Elmer’s running commentary and enthusiastic sound effects to every robot crash were worth the wait.
Finally unglued him from the tube and off we went to the gathering where he, beer bottle in hand, charmed with his country twang the guests largely made up of surgeons and 2-3 Star Air Force Generals discussing the finer points of peanut butter and jelly on white bread sandwiches. He was the hit of the party.
A few days later he loaded up his car for the return journey east. We had a tearful farewell. In those tears shed was all the worry I‘d had about our potential conflicts. We’d managed. We’d better than managed. We’d found our synchronicities and where we couldn’t, grace notes had prevailed. In spite of our great differences of opinion there was plenty of common turf established in which seeds of shared values could and now will continue to grow. May somehow that spirit prevail.