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Rheta Johnson: Falling for the same song

 

Rheta Grimsley Johnson

 

I put on the new Iris DeMent album and place the stereo speakers near the window. It's some kind of crime in all 50 states to stay inside during October. 

 

Fall is this mixture of beauty and sadness that takes the breath. The sumac is the color of fire engines, and the falling sycamore leaves the size of small boats. There is water in the branch, but not so much as to disturb the dam that my husband's grandchildren built with sticks last summer. It holds. 

 

Hank the dog has renewed energy and gives the squirrels chase. From my chair I watch, and listen as Iris' trembly voice echoes like life from hill to hill. She's bona fide country, and sounds just right. 

 

Last week I was at the opposite end of this mostly bosky state, down where the ocean laps live oaks and the light has a different and ethereal quality. I can never decide what I love most -- the bright coast or the dark hills. The nice thing, I can visit both. 

 

Fall makes me melancholy. I remember the dear but dead, a population that keeps growing. I can't seem to concentrate on current events, which at my age have a certain repetitious quality. 

 

In my younger, more ambitious years, I'd be writing about the presidential contest, as clear a choice as ever I remember. I would have weighed in on the debates and the debacles, the lies and the noise. Talk about barrels full of fish. 

 

But the white men in gray suits seem to have political commentary covered; the same ones who were writing when I was a newly minted reporter are pretty much still in place on the op-ed pages of America. Propped up for show, like ailing Soviet leaders who won't go away, they wax philosophical. 

 

The political wags I admire most are gone now. Mike Royko, Molly Ivins. What would they say? 

 

I might be inspired to comment if the late Harold Johnson -- the only person with whom I agreed 100 percent politically -- were still around. He would expect and want me to. A wise man who worked in an Alabama textile mill seven days a week, Harold would be characterizing Mitt (if ever there was a rich boy name) as a silk-stocking Republican and wondering aloud why the poorest states in the union are going to rush out and vote for the rich and red against their own self-interest. 

 

Remember Frank Church of Idaho? He's gone, too. When Church ran for president in 1976, he said he lost a primary because the "little people" couldn't reach the ballot box. Now tycoons and radio blunderbusses pick up the mentally pliable little people by the scruff of their necks and tell them what levers to pull.  

 

I keep thinking of that cartoon idiot, Alfred E. Neuman. "What, me worry?" What, me need health care? 

 

I cast my first presidential vote ever for George McGovern, who died the day I wrote this. He had wanted to live to see universal health care. Didn't make it. Turns out McGovern was right about everything: Vietnam, Nixon and, as I see it, health care. 

 

But I can't quite get into high dudgeon on such a fine fall day. Iris is singing her brand of hymns, playing the "pi-aner," as her mother pronounced it. Hank needs a pet on the head. Leaves float by. 

 

Presidential politics will resolve itself the way it always does, one way or another. Four years from now, if I'm lucky, I'll be thinking once more that most of my like-minded heroes are gone to their great reward and won't ever again be bothered with the din and decay of democracy.  

 

Rheta Grimsley Johnson, a nationally syndicated columnist, lives near Iuka. 

 

 

 

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