Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Heart of Texas

Lampasas County, Texas, 1875

“Where are you goin’ Daddy?”
“I’m goin’ to a meeting, Sissy.”
“That meeting like the one you go to late at night?”
“How you know about that, girl?”
“Oh, Daddy, I lay in bed awake when the dogs carry on, and I hear you leavin’.”
“How you know it’s me then?”
“Oh, Daddy you think Mama’s goin’ sneakin’ out? Or Bubba and “Charley? You sayin’ that?”
“No, honey they wouldn’t sneak out. Your Mama’s too good a woman and your brothers know I’d tan their hides and hang ‘em in the smokehouse with the other hams.”
“Oh, Daddy, go on.”
“I’m goin’. And honey, I won’t be goin’ to those late meetings any more. They got too silly for me. Anyway, this meeting’s way more important. We farmers are going to ban together into one great Union.”
“But we’re Rebels, Daddy.”
“ ‘Course we are. No, all us white farmers are goin’ to fight the big boys who don’t work, but sit around all day thinkin’ a ways to steal our money.”
“You mean the banks, Daddy?”
“That’s good Sissy. Yes, banks, railroads, combinations, and those ranchers with their gun-totin’ killers they pretend are cowboys.”
“I know, Daddy. I’m more scared a them than I am your n…ers.”
“Sissy, I’ve done changed my mind about them boys and I’m through usin’ that word and you are too.”
“Why, Daddy?”
“There’s no use in stirrin’ up the hornet’s nest, Sissy. We lost the damn war. Old Sam Houston warned us and we didn’t listen. Now the Republicans and their government paid boot-lickers are the enemy.”
“I heard you say the other night you’d vote for a yaller dog before you’d vote for a Republican.”
“That’s right, honey. They don’t work. They just use our taxes to pay for the army and railroads and banks. They let the ranchers use thousands of acres of land that ain’t theirs. And the damn ranchers own the water. Water put on this earth by God Himself! And they think they can own in and kill us for bein’ thirsty. I’d like to take their big war hero General Grant and stick him down here in Texas on a dry land farm.”
“He’d try to grow tobacco for his cigars. Cigars make people sick.”
“I hope they make him sick, Sissy. I surely do.”

And Daddy went out into the clean air of Texas, the beating heart of Texas where people work for their money and stand by their beliefs. And, by God, did not their beliefs make eternal sense? That night he and his neighbors formed the Texas Alliance, the first of the Southern Alliances, the precursors of the National Farmers’ and Laborers’ Union of America. In 1889 a convention in St. Louis formed that one great Union which, in turn, evolved into the Populist Party.
The present day, Austin, Texas

“What are you readin’, Daddy?”
“Why, Sissy, I’m reading the Cross of Gold Speech.”
“What’s that?”
“It’s a famous speech in American history, Sissy. We studied it in high school back in my day, but it’s probably illegal to teach it now in Texas.”
“Are you kidding?”
“Only a little. You don’t know it, probably, but Texas has outlawed a lot of history. At least the teaching of that history. It’s like they passed laws against ideas the damn Republicans don’t believe in. It’s not just like that; that’s exactly what they did. They passed laws against the teaching of the truth!”
“Oh, yes. The truth. Just like in China or the old Soviet Union or Cambodia. Texas is not the same place I grew up in. It’s not a free country anymore.”
“My teacher says Texas should be a country again. Could we drop out of the United States?”
“It feels like we already have. But, seriously, no Texas would be crazy to try it. This country fought a Civil War the last time. And Texas lost that war just like Sam Houston warned we would.”
Sam Houston was against the Civil War?”
“Oh yeah. Your granddaddy taught me that.”
“The one who named his daughter Sissy?”
“Yep, you know. That’s why we call you Sissy.”
“You loved your granddaddy.”
“You better believe it. Why I grew up thinking all old Texans were like him. There’s so many things he believed in that have changed since George W. was governor. The old Texas died is what it feels like. You know, Granddaddy was against carrying guns around. He didn’t like gun racks in pickups and he’d never believe that a Democrat, a woman, a mother, no less wants to bring back the Wild West days and let people walk around with guns.”
“You mean Wendy Davis?”
“Yep. She is for something that your granddaddy once bragged was a sign of Texas’ growin’ up – that a man could walk anywhere in the state without facing down some gun-toting thug.”
“But I thought she was the great hope of Democrats winning back the state.”
“Honey, if that’s what Democrats want to do, I’m through voting for Democrats.”
“Who would you vote for?”
“Hell, I guess I’ll have to write in names, probably Jim Hightower.”
He’s funny.”
“Yeah, and he’s right on, too. No, it’s another thing your granddaddy wouldn’t believe. That I could not bring myself to vote for a Democrat. He was a yellow-dog Democrat.”
“What’s that?”
“Someone who would vote for a yellow dog before even thinking about voting for a damn Republican.”
“That’s pretty funny.”
“Thing of the past. There ain’t a dimes bit of difference between a damn Republican and a Democrat on the issues that matter most.
Present Day, Austin, Texas
“Dad? Yes, Sissy.”
“This is Emily, the friend I told you about.”
“Oh, yes. Emily, are you enjoying UT? Political Science major, right?”
“Yes Sir. I like UT a lot. It’s such a welcoming place. There’s so much more diversity than I expected to find down here.”
“Yes, you’re a Yankee from Hudson River country, I hear.”
“Yes Sir. From Beacon, New York.”
“Pete Seeger country.”
“Oh yes, he was my neighbor. You know about Pete then?”
“He’s no less than my number one American hero. He stood up to the most insidious threat our nation has faced – the McCarthy-era House Un-American Activities. Committee.”
“Have you read what he said to them? I read the transcript again for a paper.”
“Oh yeah. I remember he told them that to ask him about his politics or his religion was wrong. He wouldn’t tell them who was present when he gave concerts, and he refused to verify that he may have sung at Communist Party meetings. Instead he offered to sing the same songs then and there.”
“That’s sure the gist of it.”
“I grew up listening to my Dad sing union songs.”
“She sure did. Sissy could sing along with “Hold the Fort” and “We Shall Not Be Moved” while she was still in kindergarten.”
“I got in trouble in Junior High singing class for telling the teacher about Woody Guthrie after we sang “This Land Is Your Land.”
“Ha. She sure did. Her mom and I faced down our own little Un-American Activities Committee on Parent-Teacher Conference Night.”
“I didn’t say the Pledge of Allegiance for two years in Junior High.”
“Oh she sure didn’t. Another conference. I pointed out that she had always said it before her teacher questioned her family’s patriotism. And, I informed them that I wouldn’t stand for anyone forcing her to say it either. Her teacher’s ignorance temporarily robbed her of the feeling she used to get from saying the pledge. If a Junior High can’t inspire love of country and instead try to bully her into saying the Pledge, they can go to hell.”
“Ha Ha. You guys are sure not what I think of as Texans.”
“Dad, Emily has to write a paper about William Jennings Bryan.”
“Ah, the ‘cross of gold.’
“Yes, and of course the Scope’s “Monkey Trial.” I watched “Inherit the Wind” last night.”
“Oh great. Well forget that tired old man. That’s a sad epilogue for Bryan. His grand moment was the fight of the common man against moneyed monopolies. But, it’s interesting note that a part of Bryan’s religious makeup was that making money simply by using money instead of work was a sin. Hence the cross of gold analogy.”
“So is the analogy literal?”
“Yes, it’s literal, inerrant truth, just like the Bible.”
“That’s what Bryan believed. God made the cosmos in seven days.”
“So, who is on the cross?”
“The working man, but the focus was on farmers. They were in hock to the banks. Money was tight and it was backed by gold. Silver was being discovered in the West, some big deposits. So, if the government forced silver into the money supply interest rates would go down. Farmers could sell more and get out of debt. So to not loosen up the money supply was crucifying the common man on a cross of gold.”
“Okay. I have some reading to do.”
“Yeah, let’s forgive Mr. Bryan for his ignorance on evolution and welcome him back to the good fight.”
“The government messes with money supply and policy all the time.”
“Yes, Emily. And the money filters up from you and me and trickles down through banks and large corporations. We need a new William Jennings Bryan.”

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