by Randolph T. Holhut
Chief of AR Correspondents
September 30, 2010
REPUBLICANS PLEDGE A RETURN TO PARTISAN GRIDLOCK
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- The old Italian crooner with the bouffant brown toupee and a career that topped out opening for Don Rickles in Atlantic City had a hard time hitting some of the notes, but there was one note he was certain of.
It came at the end of his act, which he has been doing for so long it has rust around the edges.
Now that the Copa has closed, he's reduced to performing at retirement condominium complexes in Florida, and this was his big finale.
With a tear in his voice, he said, "My act isn't political. I'm here to entertain you, not tell you who to like or not to like. But some people aren't happy to be living here in America. They should leave."
The people in the audience - elders with canes, walkers and oxygen tanks who were recovering from strokes or worrying about their spouses' health - had immigrant backgrounds and strong memories of World War II. They cheered.
"Yes," he continued. "Those people in Vermont..."
And I did a double-take. I was expecting him to say something about illegal immigrants, not to insult my home state. Honestly, in my experience, most people in Florida have never heard of Vermont.
"Those people in Vermont want to secede from the Union," he said. "They should all get on a bus and leave. All 67 of them."
Then the canned music came on and he went into a stirring rendition of Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA"-- the song that became a big hit during the Gulf War in 1991 with the refrain, "I'm proud to be an American/Where at least I know I'm free/And I won't forget the men who died, who gave that right to me/And I'd gladly stand up next to you and defend her still today/'Cause there ain't no doubt I love this land/ God Bless the USA."
He got a standing ovation.
My mother, however, who had taken me to the show, was afraid that I'd been insulted.
Not true. Instead, I was astonished.
First of all, the guy had just finished doing a medley of his "musical influences" that started with Sinatra, moved through Elvis - where he took off his shiny tuxedo jacket and opened his shirt - and ended by him wriggling his tired ass and singing Tom Jones. It was hard to take him seriously.
Then, as I said, there was that toupee.
Then there was my knowledge - but certainly not his - that both Texas and Alaska have far more flourishing secession movements than Vermont.
And lastly, there was my conviction that if the U.S. gets any crazier, doing a turnaround and joining Canada, where they still have values, might make a lot of sense.
So I was stunned and at the same time grateful to the guy - I knew I could get at least half a column out the incident. And I just did.
We moved Mom on Monday. I'm still staying at the house, which is sad and empty now. The soul of the place is gone.
Mom is down the road in a small but attractive apartment in an independent living facility, surround by about two million family photographs, too many books, enough clothing to fill two walk-in closets (she only has one) and too much furniture. She is learning about the difficulty of downsizing.
The move itself was hellacious. The moving guys worked hard, but it took hours over their estimated time to get the truck emptied; that's because the independent living facility doesn't have a freight elevator. The sweat-drenched movers had to fight the oldsters for space going up and down, and some of the oldsters didn't move aside gracefully.
For her first night in her new home, I made sure Mom had her tv and an operating bedside light. Then I went back to the old house to find that Comcast had turned off my Internet access and AT&T had turned off my land-line phone.
It's lonely and fearfully silent in an empty house when your worldly connections are severed.
But I imagine this is harder on my mother.
It's difficult to transplant an old tree with long, strong roots. Mother is 93. She was in that house for almost 40 years. She loves that house.
There's been a lot of sadness and a lot of worrying about whether we're doing the right thing. But she's surrounded by care now, and in a few weeks she'll be putting on shows, making friends (and enemies), and living her life again.
Don't let anyone tell you this is easy. And don't let anyone, especially Lee Greenwood or a guy in a bouffant brown toupee, tell you that the people of Vermont don't love the USA. All 67 of us.
Joyce Marcel is a Vermont journalist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.