Back in March, when my husband and I moved to Florida, we stopped to visit one of his brothers in South Carolina. He was living with a friend who owned a ranch west of Route 95, in addition to a beautiful home near the ocean. We were invited to spend the night by the ocean.
We arrived shortly before sunset. Our host offered us real drinks. My husband had a scotch, on the rocks. I passed on the real drink, opting for a glass of Pinot Grigio. I’m a wino, no getting around it. I know what I can drink and wine is my drink. Normally cabernet, because it never gives me a hangover, but my host said he had no reds. He rummaged around in the kitchen for a while, until he finally unearthed a bottle of Pinot Grigio from the fridge. “I’m sorry, this is all I have,” he apologized. He handed me a full glass and the bottle. ”Sorry I’m not much of a host,” he added. “My wife is out of town and I am so lost without her.”
I loved the cork. It was topped with a multi-colored glass bauble. When I pulled it from the bottle, a long thin icicle emerged. It was cold to the touch and had kept the wine perfectly crisp and icy. My host kept apologizing for the already opened bottle. “I am so lost when my wife is out of town,” he said again. His wife was up north, visiting their sons.
We watched the sun set over the salt marsh, the smooth cordgrass vaguely reminiscent of driving through the prairie. We spotted several egrets, herons and other waterfowl. Somehow we got to talking about Lewis and Clark until my brother-in-law veered off course, and we were discussing birthing calves. Earlier in the day, we had met an egg farmer who took great pleasure in teasing my brother-in-law about learning how to birth calves from a book. Defending himself, the BIL explained how accurate the book was and how it had been very beneficial to a novice cattle farmer like himself. The egg farmer replied with a sly smile, “I ain’t seen no calves come out of that book yet.”
I told a story about my friend’s daughter who was dating a traveling wind technician. He had recently left his job to return to his family’s cattle farm in South Dakota. My friend’s daughter went out to visit her boyfriend during birthing season. She’s a tiny little slip of a thing, petite and pretty. She had recently cut off her dreadlocks. With her pixie haircut and small frame, she has a look of Jean Seberg or Edie Sedgwick. She was a natural at birthing calves. When a birth was going awry and it seemed there was no hope for saving the calf, she would slip her slender arms up into the cow and help to manually deliver the baby calf. She saved six of them on her visit to the farm.
We then segued onto the subject of my book. Somehow it came up that I had written a book and quit my job, which led to our selling our house and moving to Florida. My host was extremely interested. He wanted to know what the book was about. “It’s a love story,” I told him. “What kind of love story?” “Well, it’s a love story with a point a view. It’s about a middle class couple, much like us.” I pointed to my husband, who rolled his eyes and gave me a Don’t Get Started on Politics look. “They are struggling to stay afloat in today’s economy, pay the bills, keep their health insurance…” I was trying to be vague, speed things up, as I noticed my husband fidgeting. “And still keep their romance alive. It’s a love story.” I finished with a flourish.
My husband attempted to move the conversation away from politics. “How long have you owned this house?” he threw out into the conversational round robin we were engaged in. Our host didn’t answer his question, he was already onto health insurance and the economy. I vaguely sensed he might be a Republican. But a kind, hospitable Republican, who then invited us to dinner at an upscale restaurant, his treat.
We dined on perfectly cooked steaks topped with lump crab meat, warm buttery rolls and fresh vegetables. The guys drank more real drinks and I got a cabernet or two, or maybe it was three. My host was still interested in engaging me in political debate. My husband kept gently kicking me under the table. I was hesitant, an unusual situation for me to be in, because I have never been one to shy away from a rousing political discussion. But he was putting us up for the night, wining and dining us, and was truly entertaining, funny and well-informed. He didn’t have the usual dogmatic attitude of so many people when discussing politics. That “I’m right, you’re wrong” attitude. Or that condescending line I’ve heard so many times, “Wait until you make some real money.” (Such as when I sell the movie rights to my book, possibly, maybe, never?) “You’ll become a Republican.” Really? Just like that? Like politics is all about taxes and wealth? Well, actually, from my vantage point, that is what Republican politics are about. But he said none of that. He was truly interested in why I believed what I believed.
I told him about my father, the U.S. history teacher who spent thirty two years teaching the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I told him about the family vacations, to places like Mount Vernon, Monticello, Valley Forge and Gettysburg. The alcohol was loosening my tongue, so I got onto the story about the morning when I was eleven years old and my sister woke me with the news that Robert Kennedy had been assassinated. I remember smacking her with my pillow over and over again, screaming, “You’re a liar. It’s not true, it’s not true.” I told my host that I believed liberalism died that night in Los Angeles. But not for me.
He clearly had developed an unreasoning fondness for me. I used those exact words when upon leaving the restaurant, my husband pulled me aside and kindly but firmly told me to stop discussing politics. “He’s the one who keeps bringing it up. I think he’s curious. He told me he’s never met anyone like me. He seems to be developing an unreasoning fondness towards me. I think he’s enamored with my passion for politics.” My husband rolled his eyes.
Back at the house, we talked about his wife and his sons. Then, despite our political differences, he told me this. “You are a lunatic. And I mean this in the most affectionate and kindest of ways. My wife is a lunatic too. I think you would like her. I have never spoken to anyone, at such great length, with your political views.” Before we retired to bed for the evening, he said, “I have never enjoyed disagreeing with someone as much as I have with you.”
The next morning, we woke to the news updates on the Boston Marathon bombing. My husband and I were planning to hit the road early, but sat glued to the TV. We had met while I was living in Boston. It was our city. Our host joined us. He too became mesmerized with the breaking news, then asked, “Do you always watch MSNBC?”
I couldn’t help myself, I laughed out loud and jokingly asked, “Do you want to switch to Fox?” He laughed too. “No, no. I didn’t mean that. I’m not really a Fox guy but…It’s okay, leave it on MSNBC.” My husband, always in charge of the remote, changed to CNN. We continued to watch the TV in silence.
There’s one detail I’ve left out here. At some point during the dinner, my host revealed the astounding fact that while a student at Yale, he had been roommates with George W. Bush. I had spent the evening with a friend of W’s. Slept in his house, drank his wine, shared stories of our lives. People who know me really well will never believe this. All I can say is, it was a stupendous evening, we had a lovely time, and if only our politicians could share some real drinks, some friendly banter, and a laugh or two, Washington might be able to get this country back on track.