Hi, hello, how are you, won’t you come on in? That’s from a New Riders of the Purple Sage tune, which I guess dates me, as does my shortage of cranial melanin.
I took my first newspaper job in 1980 ($4.50 an hour) in Madison, S.D., where the Red-baiting Sen. Karl Mundt lies six feet under. I stayed 13 years, sired two daughters in an extended fit of holy wedlock and lugged a camera and notebook all over town: to government meetings, school events, murder trials, grip-and-grin photo ops and various celebrations and tragedies, all the while encountering human nature at its best and worst. I learned that everyone has a story to tell, and if I had time to listen I could pass them on.
Then we moved to Wisconsin’s Madison, where progressive freethinkers Robert M. and Belle Case La Follette are buried. I worked as a correspondent, reporter and copy editor for a decade at The Capital Times. Along with newspapering, child-raising continued, including some precious stints as Mr. Mom. Thank you, girls, for the best years of my life. How many times did we rescue Lady Lovely Locks and Maiden Fair Hair from the evil clutches of Duchess Raven Waves and Hair Ball and then celebrate our victory at Dairy Queen?
I was raised religious and can still reel off altar boy responses in Latin. I don’t know if I ever really believed. It was more like indoctrination. And when the parish priest asked me one day while I was filling his Ford at my dad’s Mobil station if I’d lost my faith, I must have mumbled something while looking up at the sign of the flying red horse. What I said escapes me now, but I hadn’t been in church for awhile. But I definitely didn’t say, even in the heady days of Woodstock, that “I’d rather bead my fingers than finger my beads.”
Try as I might I couldn’t trust in a god. Who in their right mind possibly could? People who had never read many books or studied history? My dad would joke that ignorance is bliss and our neighbor was the happiest man alive. My advice now is for people to keep their ignorance to themselves. There’s no need to spread it around. Believe what you will but don’t press it on others or expect tax breaks or prayer breakfasts hosted by public officials.
What do I believe in? Life in all its forms, the glory of nature, the power of music, puppy breath and the ease with which the Atlanta Braves let me down year after year. Maybe if more of their players would make the sign of the cross after stinging the ball into the gap in left center field? But I guess I don’t cross myself after composing a killer sentence, so maybe they should keep it to themselves.
Freethinkers tend to be liberals. The old saw is that liberals have too much faith in human nature and conservatives have too little.
I hope it’s good news that I have too much.