The Truth, Mainly - 04/08/1991

'Accident' led to rethinking of political values
by Leon Satterfield

I have strong herd instincts and I wish I could join the 90 percent of Americans who say they approve of the President's performance. But I'm viscerally allergic to the Republican Party in the same way some people are viscerally allergic to escargot. Some of my best friends, of course, are Republicans, but I can't help myself: I break out in a psychic rash every time I think about supporting their party.

It's partly because Republicans believe that we all pretty much deserve what we get. Since I've gone through life protesting that it's not my fault, that notion of cosmic justice gravels me—especially when I see people like Donald Trump or the Emir of Kuwait or George Bush.

But it's mainly because I still remember—will continue to remember even after I've forgotten my own name—the little accident I had in first grade.

I grew up in a Kansas town where I knew of only two Democrats—and they didn't mean any harm by it. Our postmistress since FDR's first termhadto be a Democrat to keep her job, and Bill Hofferber just liked to be contrary. If the rest of us had been Democrats, he'd have been a Republican.

In the Baptist Church, we were certain God was a Baptist and if we'd been allowed to bet, we'd have bet He was a Republican. So I was a convinced Republican myself—until my little accident.

It happened in 1940, just a week after Wendell Willkie won the first grade election 17-0. Of all the first graders, I should not have been the one to have the accident. I would be seven in January. I was the oldest kid in class.

The rules were clear and absolute: Miss Clay had told us in September that when we have togowe should raise our hand. But Miss Clay wasn't looking when I raised my hand. She had her back to the class, writing arithmetic problems on the board. She turned around once, but Bobby Ray Robbins had raised his hand too and she saw him instead.

He had no urgent need. He just wanted to tell us about his dog Millie having seven puppies over the weekend. I was about to have a little accident and he was telling us the names of all seven puppies. Duke. Bully. Meatball. Ace. Franklin Delano. Eleanor. Spot. It took him a while to remember Eleanor and Spot.

And I still had my hand up but Miss Clay looked distracted by the puppies' names and turned back to the board to write more arithmetic problems without noticing me.

Well, I thought, I'd done my part. I was a Baptist and a Republican and I'd played by the rules and raised my hand. But she'd let Bobby Ray Robbins tell about puppies and there was nothing I could do about that. I'd done everything I was supposed to do.

So I had my wet-warm little accident and sat in it and hoped nobody noticed.

But Miss Clay asked me to go to the board to work the first problem. I'd have rather not, but because Miss Clay asked me, I did. And while I wrote the answer, I heard Wayne Schwartz laugh. Then I heard Carole Donegal laugh too, and she was prettier than anyone I'd ever seen, except Shirley Temple, and I loved her more than anyone I'd ever known, except Miss Clay.

And I heard Miss Clay say "Oh." And then again, "Oh."

When I turned to face the class, I saw the wet tracks my tennis shoes had made, each rubber diamond on the sole tread leaving a sharp wet diamond spot on the floor, from the puddle under my desk in the back row, up the center aisle to where I stood at the blackboard.

Wayne Schwartz guffawed and Carole Donegal laughed like a little silver bell.

"I raised my hand," I told Miss Clay.

She puffed out her cheeks and blew through her lips. She told Carole Donegal to get the janitor. She told me she was sorry and I should go home and get cleaned up and come back.

I went home and got cleaned up, but I didn't come back that day. I'd raised my hand and I'd had a little accident and I was the oldest kid in class.

I couldn't have said so then, but that must have been when I began to wonder about cosmic justice, about whether we always pretty much deserve what we get. And that must have been when I began to wonder if God really is a Baptist, if He really is a Republican.

I was for Tom Dewey in 1944 but only because the poster in the barber shop said "Win the war quicker with Dewey and Bricker" and because my grandmother said she had a third cousin once named Dewey so we were probably related. But my heart wasn't in the Republican Party anymore and by 1948 I was for Truman.

By then I could see no family resemblance in Tom Dewey. He really did look like a self-satisfied little man on a wedding cake, pleased with himself, I thought, because whenheraised his hand, he always stayed cool and dry, serenely confident he deserved what he was about to get.


Satterfield is a college professor and writes as a means of discovery.

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