[CRASHING THE GATE]
Yankees with U-Hauls
I’m not sure what to tell my parents.
They’ve finally decided, after more than 10 years of making regular trips down to North Carolina from their home in New York, to clean out their apartment, which runs a tidy $1,800 a month, load their stuff into the car and move to Greensboro.
This comes after This comes after wave after wave of lobbying on my part — reminding them of the grandkids, the weather, the proximity to the mountains and the beach, the comparatively simple lifestyle. We’ve got culture, attractions, sports, I told them. Wait until you see what you’ll be paying for auto insurance, I told them. You’ll save more than 10 grand a year in rent and gas alone, I told them.
A few months ago, with the prospect of retirement looming, they pulled the trigger.
And now they’ve got lots of questions as they prepare for their new residency, old-people questions about Medicare and veterans benefits that I’m reluctant to discuss with them, because they’re not going to like the answers. Our state healthcare system is right now being held hostage by vested interests in Raleigh, who want to defy federal law, and that though North Carolina relies heavily on its sizable military presence, the resident veterans of the armed forces do not seem to rank very high in the esteem of our current elected state leadership based on current proposed legislation.
I could blame it all on the Republicans, who have taken over both houses of the state legislature and the governor’s seat for the first time since 1870, but that would inevitably lead to an argument.
My parents are Republicans. More or less — my mother doesn’t always toe the party line, but my father has been active in the Nassau County GOP for decades, retailing the message door to door in our home precinct, collecting signatures and votes, working at the polling place until the final count on Election Day.
But their Republicanism is of a more moderate strain than the type in vogue these days in North Carolina. Like a lot of GOP aficionados in the New York City bedroom communities, they’re in it for the money.
Oh sure, they subscribe to the law-andorder sensibility, bootstrap ethos and respect for the status quo that all Republicans acknowledge is the bedrock of their movement.
But like virtually all the Republicans I grew up around — and I grew up around a lot of Republicans — they are most concerned with the economic platform of the party, the role of the free market, particularly as it applies to their friends who work on Wall Street, along with the promise of a vibrant middle class and affordable education for all. And they want things to be fair — or as fair as they can get in an unfair world.
They don’t care about abortion for people outside their own family, That these ideologies have become mutually exclusive in North Carolina is a concept my parents cannot quite get their heads around.
And though I keep trying to warn them, they’re still not convinced that their long-held political views, which confirmed them on Long Island as Republicans in good standing, are so far left of the current orthodoxy in our state as to make them outliers in the party, in much the same way that their Catholicism does not guarantee them acceptance among the North Carolina Christian community.
I gave my father that piece of news a few years ago, that under the prevailing wisdom Catholics are not considered Christian.
“What the hell are you talking about?” He asked me. “Jesus is our guy.”
Likewise, my parents must become acclimated to the racial politics that have defined our state for the last few hundred years.
Both of my parents are second-generation Americans — you’d have to go as far back as ancient Rome to find slave owners (or possibly slaves) in my family line — and they remember well the difficulties their families had upon emigration from Ireland and Italy. They bear no ill will to immigrants, because it wasn’t so long ago that their own families struggled to learn English or tolerate “Irish need not apply” policies.
And they were surprised to learn that the legacy of racial strife still exists here in the guise of informal segregation, unequal access to the law and that old chestnut the soft tyranny of low expectations.
Having never spent any real time in the South save for a short stint in Virginia while my father was in the Navy, my parents don’t even have any real context in which to place the racial situation in North Carolina. They viewed the struggle for civil rights from afar.
In Albany, NY, where my father spent his youth, he said that African Americans could eat lunch wherever they pleased and have any seat on the city bus they liked.
“Most of them preferred to sit on the back of the bus, actually,” he once told me.
It will take them awhile to get used to the change in cultures, and I fear their Republicanism may not survive it.