I had a curious experience the other night while I was watching the Democratic National Convention. Specifically, I found myself possessed of a memory, a rather beautiful one, nostalgic and sweet, and somehow not sad, as is usually the case in such memories.
As I listened, first to the Republicans endorsing Biden …putting love of country above party…and then to Michelle Obama’s extraordinary speech…I recalled something I had long forgotten, and should have not forgotten, for it is dear and precious.
It was when I was very young, a child, and my mother and father would take us on visits to my grandparents’ house. They lived in Wichita, Kansas, in a rambling wooden home with a lovely basement where my grandfather had his office, and which seemed to me as magical as a lost continent, perfect for exploration and adventure. I spent hours down there, and I think the very last time I was unequivocally happy was in that room…I mean, happy in the untroubled childhood sense, before you learn self-judgement. I remember pretending to be an airplane, with chopsticks I’d found in either hand, as propellers. And I soared over the Kansas wheat and the New Mexican sage.
Then there were the nights. Those may have been my favorite. Sitting up way past my bedtime (we were on holiday, after all) with my grandmother on the screened-in back porch after dark, eating her homemade icebox fudge in the lingering Kansas heat, and watching…the fireflies. The fireflies in all their thousands, just outside the screen, in white and green and blue and a hundred other colors, flickering there, rivaling the stars….
And I remember, too, my uncles, aunts, and cousins. I had no family to speak of in New Mexico, where we were living. I was an only child. So it was an extraordinary thing to be suddenly among people…some of them relative strangers…who were somehow connected to me in ways that were primal but inexplicable. Some of the cousins were quite delightful, one …quite the reverse. But such is the normal lot of humanity. In every deck you have a joker. And, that person, in the end, grew up to be a friend.
The aunts and uncles were, mostly, very nice. They were (literally and otherwise) avuncular, and whatever it is which is that word’s female equivalent. (I looked it up. It is, technically, “materteral.”)
But there was an issue, and it was political. Where my parents were quite liberal, and even my grandparents were surprisingly moderate…my uncles, were not.
They were conservative to the extreme. I remember hearing kitchen table debates between my parents and them…over race, Vietnam, feminism, and more. The gulf between their opinions and those of my parents’ was vast…
Yet…they were never uncivil. There was no yelling. No invective. No declarations of private war.
Which is why I recalled those times, those visits, when I heard the speeches at the Convention. For just a moment I was back there, where there was real civility, where screaming fury was not the norm, and the hero of my uncles was, for his gentleness, not Nixon but Eisenhower. He was, after all, like them, a Kansas boy.
And I was grateful. I was grateful to the Democrats, and to Michelle Obama, and to the Republicans who addressed their rivals, now allies, at the Convention. I was grateful for their giving me that moment of return, of memory…
True, a few moments later, I was returned to the less well-mannered present. I made the error, you see, of reading comments about the convention on social media…and was at once in a world of hatred and lies so crude … particularly about the former First Lady…that I will not repeat them here.
But, still, while it lasted, it was glorious and fine…
And I loved it more than I can say. That return, however brief, to the time of fudge and fireflies…
In the sweet and comfortable…and civil…Kansas dark.
The Comfortable Dark
Copyright©2020 Michael Jay Tucker