I can’t remember the first family vacation my parents took me on. It was summer and there’s a photo recording the event. Standing in front of a whale with a wide open mouth, I am wearing a little sundress, a diaper, and those shoe polish white shoes babies wore when they first learned to walk. It is the summer of 1958, I am sixteen months old, and I think I was supposed to walk into the whale’s mouth but I’m frowning and look skeptical.
When I asked my Dad about this photo, he said it was most likely taken in upstate New York where we also visited Fort Ticonderoga. Of course we did. My dad was a U.S. History teacher and over the next seventeen years I traveled every summer to lakes and theme parks, cities and small towns, from Maine to Michigan, and Old Orchard Beach to Daytona Beach. By the time I was seven, my two sisters and brother had joined me.
There were always backseat arguments, some started over rowdy singing of songs like 99 Bottles of Beer On The Wall – all of us in the back of the station wagon, not one of us wearing a seatbelt. Someone would inevitably get carsick, often before we had even crossed the border leaving the small state of Rhode Island behind us as we set off on our summer adventure.
One thing was constant on those trips. A history lesson was always involved. U.S History, the subject my father taught for thirty two years at the high school we all attended. The places he brought me – Valley Forge, Hyde Park, Mount Vernon, Thomas Edison’s home, Monticello, Washington D.C. so many times I’ve lost count – and the lessons these places taught me made a very large impression on how I see America. How I define democracy. What freedom for all means to me.
Flash forward to western Connecticut to the Inn where I live and work in the valley of the Berkshire Mountains. Last night we had only one guest staying with us, a young man from Chicago traveling on his first ever business trip, a philosophy major/former waiter turned bookseller. The books he sells are overstocks, over ordered under sold books printed in the days before self-publishing and books on demand, although I can imagine a few copies of mine ending up in his hands some day.
With no clear idea of what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, he was waiting tables to pay his school loans and spending a lot of time at a small local bookstore drinking coffee and reading esoteric, obscure books on thought and philosophy, history and art. The owner eventually got to know him rather well, hired him as a salesman, and sent him off on his first road trip.
Landing in D.C. for the very first time, he checked out some of the sights in his free time. Traveling north he avoided the highways. He took a scenic route to the inn, passing through the small towns north of here on his drive from Boston. I could see it in his face, the love of the open road. He was bitten by the bug. Driving around this amazing, diverse land can do that to you.
We sent him off to dinner at the pub down the road with the promise of a blazing fire and a glass of wine when he returned. Late into the evening, having traveled many an American mile ourselves, we shared our stories and he shared his. Somewhere along the route we passed through Iowa and there was a pause in the conversation.
We are innkeepers. We are here to please, to make your stay enjoyable. At the Inn I keep my opinions to myself, unless someone opens the door and agrees with me. If they don’t, I politely smile and nod my head. It happens a lot. People are anxious, people are concerned about the future, but there’s so much division they’re almost afraid to speak, at least at an Inn on vacation where they are spending their hard earned money and trying to forget all that.
There have been a few discussions, most recently with a retired teacher and his wife who works in the HR department of a company where let’s just say she’s seen a lot of changes over the years, not all in favor of the human resources.
We were chatting about what we would do in retirement for they were only a few years older than us. The husband hesitated. He got that look on his face. Dare I Bring Up The Subject of Politics look, and then he said, “I think I’m voting for Bernie.” A huge sigh of relief swept through the room. The Okay We Can Talk kind of relief, so there we went, agreeing and dreaming and talking about the possibility of What If.
It happened again last night. During a quiet pause our young guest looked from Rich to me as if sizing us up. He’d heard our stories of job changes, travels, and rock concerts. He smiled and said, “I really like Bernie.”
“I do, too,” I almost shouted. My husband, who does not often get lost in a political discussion, simply nodded his head and off we all went dreaming about the possibility of What If.
This morning we wished the young man safe travels and good luck at his sales call. As he stepped out the door, he said, “Go Bernie” and I gave him a thumbs up.
I am trying to stay away from the TV today. I caught some Morning Joe and saw Bernie is leading by a very small margin in the latest Quinnipiac poll. With that bit of optimism I shut the TV off. It is all just speculation anyway, not a single vote has yet been cast. I have a room to clean, laundry to do, a tax return to finish so I can file a FAFSA form by February fifteenth.
Don’t ask me how my mind works, how it leaps from summer vacations to U.S. History to the caucus in Iowa as I unfurl a clean white sheet across the bed. It’s a connected jumble of life lessons, history learned, places I’ve traveled, and people I’ve met leading me to think about last night when I found myself telling the story of the noble train of artillery. A tale from American history set in the winter of 1775-76 when the Continental Army moved captured artillery from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston, crossing the Berkshire mountains not far from here.
Pulling sixty tons of cannon during a brutal winter season with only ox-drawn sleds, horses, and brute manpower the Continental Army, led by Henry Knox, pulled off what the historian Victor Brooks called “one of the most stupendous feats of logistics of the entire American Revolutionary War.”
Sitting by the warm fire during the winter of 2016, our young guest said this, “Imagine that. Nowadays all we have to do is vote.”
Today the good people of Iowa will exercise the only bit of power they have by voting for the candidate of their choice. It is a small drop of water in a large sea of power and money. A single voice but when joined with the voices of others it can be more powerful than a tsunami. More powerful than a very large check written by a billionaire hedge fund guy trying to buy what he wants.
To the good people of Iowa I would like to say this. You get to start this noble train ride. The blizzard in Iowa won’t arrive until late tonight. Bundle up and get out there and take ownership. All you have to do is vote.
Something about Bernie Sanders I have noticed is when asked what he thinks HIS chances of winning are, he always replies “I think WE can win this.” You may call me a dreamer but that’s okay, I’ve been called worse. I believe WE can do this. I believe WE can win. All WE have to do is vote.
Godspeed, Senator Sanders. Tonight let’s do this thing called democracy. #GetOutAndVote