Friday, July 2, 2010

After You, My Dear Alphonse

If the title confuses you, look up "Alphonse and Gaston"
After you, my dear Alphonse

Recently, in my local county newspaper, an elected official was quoted as saying that his constituents never want to be first, never want to be trailblazers. They want someone else to get the ball rolling and then join in.

I was stunned. Confused. Disillusioned. What about people like Christopher Columbus? Lewis and Clark? Liver-eating Johnson? I grew up believing the myth of the rugged individual. I was proud of the pioneer spirit running through so much of Montana history. I thought these traits were shared by all my friends and neighbors. Where did I go wrong? I was afraid I would have to re-think my entire belief system.

Then I remembered Sunday dinner at Aunt Mary’s. Aunt Mary and Uncle Paul had ten children, five boys and five girls, so twelve crowded the trestle table every meal. Often, they welcomed me, my sister, Dad, Grandma and Father Todd to share dinner after Mass. That made seventeen. Aunt Mary and Uncle Paul farmed. They grew everything they ate. So the platters my cousin Shirley and I carried to the table were heaped with chickens that Aunt Mary had killed and plucked early that Sunday morning.

Everybody reached for their favorite pieces. The practical boys dived for the drumsticks, then heaped their plates with mashed potatoes, chicken gravy, and huge ears of corn. But Shirley and I were good Catholics. She had introduced me to “The Lives of the Saints.” I had listened in awe and admiration to stories about martyrs, hair shirts, torture, burnings at the stake--proofs of holiness. While conscientiously racking up points in Heaven, Shirley and I piously waited to take the last pieces of chicken--the backs and the necks. At an early age I learned to pretend that the bony chicken back was my favorite piece, to suck every strand of stringy meat from a chicken neck. It was the saintly thing to do.

Dinner at Aunt Mary’s was the perfect training to prepare me to live where “nobody wants to go first”. Now I know why I feel right at home here. I decided to see if I could learn about some famous people who, like us in this county, were reluctant to take the lead.

First, I found the patriotic Irish saint, Patrick Henry, who said, “I’d rather die than fight for liberty.”

I was startled to read that Davy Crockett said, “Make sure some one else is right and then follow them.”

Or how about that Daniel Boone, not one to foolishly blaze a trail, who said, “Will somebody please show me the way west.”

I had hardly scratched the surface. Remember George Washington’s immortal words, “Well, I’m willing to be vice-president.”

My heart swelled with affirmation that I was on the right track. We all loved to hear John Wayne say, “Saddle up. Move ‘em out. After you.” Then there was Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, eager to go “where many men have gone before.” Or Gilligan, who said, “This boat looks too crowded. I’ll catch the next one.”

Everybody knows how Teddy Roosevelt ordered a hapless private up San Juan Hill to make sure the way was safe. He then ensured his political career with these famous words, “Speak softly and carry a big justification.”

The Wright brothers waited and waited at Kitty Hawk until they heard about the heroic efforts of Jacques Fondue, who sailed up, up, up into the blue horizon. Then they swallowed hard and took to the air. (By the way, Jacques Fondue is better known as the inventor of the pitchfork steak fry.)

The intrepid Admiral Farragut, standing on the bridge in the face of grave danger, shouted, “Damn! The torpedoes! Full speed astern!”

And every school child can quote Julius Caesar: “I came, I saw, I waited.”

Let’s not forget the women who, of course, followed their men. Rosa Parks always went to the back of the bus. Our own Jeanette Rankin trailed the herd and voted to go to war. Betsy Ross shrugged and turned down the commission to design Old Glory, “If somebody else will sew the first one, I’ll make copies.”

In Blaine County we follow in the well-worn footsteps of heroes. Here’s my favorite quote for those who drag their feet, never wanting to be first, never wanting to be trailblazers: “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.”--God.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door.
July1, 2010

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