My dad was not what I would call a scintillating conversationalist. He tended to speak in analogy and metaphor. When I was a kid this was likely the correct thing to do as I remember those kind of things today. Conversations, when there was one always ended with the phrase: Well, lets put it like this,” which meant that his opinion was right. When you’re young there isn’t much reason to disagree because you don’t know too much.
The only time I knew that I had him dead to rights was when he insisted that the old saw, “Red sky at morning, sailor take warning,; red sky at night, sailors delight,” was wrong and red sky at morning was the sailors delight. After a long discussion with my brother and I, who both insisted he was wrong, even showing him in the encyclopedia, he nevertheless ended the talk with his tried and true phrase. And, that was that.
When I grew up I spent many years at sea and I can testify today that he was wrong. Pretty sure he would still argue his point though. Opinions, stubbornly held can become personal law and be handed down from father to son like crown jewels.
Other things he said, stuck. His little stories about things have stayed with me and in fact, have become more true, if you will excuse the grammar as nothing can be “more” true, being that truth is an absolute. There is no such thing as alternative truth, it either is or it isn’t.
If you understand that my father was a man who came of age in the depression and with the exception of his two years at the University of California, lived his entire 88 years in our small town. We lived in a farmhouse less than three miles from where he grew up. He was raised on a dairy and as an adult grew, table vegetables all the rest of his working life. To say he was a conservative thinker would be an understatement. I spent many Thanksgivings and Christmases seated at the poker table after dinner listening to my father, his brother and my uncles expound on farming. I learned a great deal about potato farming off Division Road in Oso Flaco or running cattle up on the Shandon Ranch. They all believed that the weather was out to get them; it was, and they were on constant lookout for the State and Federal “College Boys” who wanted to tell them how to farm. They didn’t force conservatism on us boys but it was there for the taking. Some advice I took. Some I didn’t. I understood as I grew up that none of that was meant box me in, but was simply to offer me a way to look behind the curtain, see what was there and make up my own mind.
If I may I’d like to present you with one of his classic analogies. This one is undateable and it’s been making the rounds, likely for centuries. You can take it or leave, another of my dads go-to phrases.
With anything you do or anywhere you go you may find yourself riding a Dead Horse. My father said this was true of government, especially ours. He said,”Democracy is very messy and most of the time stumbles over it’s own two feet and like a blind hog will, or might, find a Truffle once in a while. You can imagine the rider standing over the quite obviously Dead Horse, hands on hips trying to figure out what to do. Buttonholing three or four passersby he asks what they think he should do. The group tries to come up with a strategy for getting the Dead Horse to move.
“Should we give it a swift kick in the ribs,” says one.
“How about a bigger whip,” says another.
“How about a better rider.” says a third.
“We could change his diet or better yet, buy a better Dead Horse,” that’s an idea, they all agree.
The rider is irritated by the comment that he should have been a more accomplished horsemen.
“Perhaps,” says one, “we should appoint a committee to study the issue, or better yet, put together a team to revive the Dead Horse, yes that’s it.”
“Don’t you think we ought to buy a few more Dead Horses, and harness them together? Wouldn’t that be twice as good?”
“They’d be much faster and could really pull their weight.”
“We could get professional jockeys to ride them too. I bet they would spring to life then.” Lots of head nodding.
“What if we hired a trainer to increase the Dead Horses performance.”
We could increase funding, we could study Alfalfa production to make sure the Dead Horse was properly fed.” Yes, that’s it.
We could save money too, because the Dead Horse doesn’t have to be fed. That’s right, it’s less costly, decreases overhead, and therefore contributes more to the mission than a Live Horse.”
“Best of all, we can promote the rider of the Dead Horse to a cabinet position, create a new department called the Dead Horse Committee and they can issue a critical report on the efficiency of Dead Horses.”
“We’re sure Democrats and Republicans can agree on that, right?”
“Not so simple,” replies the man from the north, “We don’t grow Alfalfa in our state and taxpayers won’t want to spend their money on a Dead Horses from somewhere else.”
The Dead Horse lies there.
“You know,” they all agree, “The Dead Horse is beginning to smell.”
They all walk away.