A Persistent Muse

Born to stir the pot & punish the world for not paying attention

A Persistent Muse

A Persistent Muse
The Heart of the MIDWEST,
September 05
In real life I teach art, art history, drawing and painting at a private high school. I recently left my job teaching in an innercity high school. Bottom line: I love teaching and this is my 40th year doing so! I adore visual and verbal expression and the whole wrestling match of creativity. Do I have the idea or does it have me? I hope to become a better writer through my blogs and exposure to exceptional writers. My Avatar is based upon a Seraph/Angel I painted for a child in our family.


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JUNE 16, 2010 8:49PM

Civics & Civility: Remembering Big Jim

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Last summer, I attended a town hall meeting held by our  local congressman. The event was packed and featured   “informational” packets slanted with “stat-facts” based on questionable sources, and graphic diagrams intentionally designed to visually irritate and confuse rather than educate. Nonetheless, I came seeking other views, hoping to expand my thoughts, and eager to see whether everyone would receive a fair hearing. Truth be told, I came because of my dad, Big Jim, and the pieces of him that live on within me.

 I came because my father taught me to love history and politics, instilling me with a deep appreciation for informed decision-making. I came because he and my mom made me turn off the television, do my own homework, think for myself, and select my sources carefully. I came because my parents gave me a hunger for ideas, critical thinking and the dynamics of true debate. I came because I ached to witness Americans stand up to increasingly disturbing influences and return civility to civil discourse.

As a young woman, my father took me to Washington DC, and Gettysburg. On an oppressive sizzling July afternoon, we climbed the hills to the Custis-Lee mansion when simply breathing beneath a shady tree would have been heroic for my dad, who true to his name was a big man. The expansive hillside view of the Potomac, Washington, the Kennedy gravesite, and Arlington was magnificent and more than worth the effort.  Together we toured the Capitol for three glorious days, twice lunching in the Congressional dining room, and stopping reverentially at the Presidential box in Ford's Theater. (Re: the lunch. My father had no special connections, he simply always looked as though he knew where he was going; he knew what to say and to whom. He was a sort of magic magnet attracting interesting situations and people. In and around him serendipity and synchronicity danced. )

At Gettysburg, we toured the battlefields and dad hired a guide to help us see and learn more. Together, we stood at Cemetery Ridge looking south to Little Round Top and Big Round Top. In silence we surveyed the Wheatfield; in appropriate horror we imagined the bloodbath of Pickett's Charge. I learned that history is biography and geography. I saw the value of securing the high ground, and I gained a keen appreciation of the fact that war is unspeakable carnage. Once home, we read a variety of Civil War essays, (primarily first-person accounts)  and discussed Henry Steele Commager's two-volume classic: The Blue and the Gray, which we both loved. Dad listened eagerly to my ideas and led me to new ones via his questions long before I knew anything about Socratic methods.  

At a young age, dinner conversations often involved politics. I was allowed to stay up late on election nights and I loved the drama of conventions back before they were merely coronations. On those nights, atop the mattress in my parents' room we watched television, debated issues, candidates, campaigns and elections. Years later, from the same vantage point, we absorbed the machinations of the Watergate break-in, cover-up and subsequent hearings which led us to discussing the roles of politicians, the qualities of statesmanship, as well as whether ends ever justify the means. We talked about the Constitution, legislation, the Supreme Court, Vietnam, and our founders’ vision.

Together, we examined nearly every significant issue until he died early in 1999. My dad was the first person I called on election nights, and my favorite sparring partner in all political discussions.  While he never brandished a gun, his mind was always, “fully loaded”.  He never missed an election, and always did his homework. Big Jim's curiosity, interests, and passion became my own, and because of him I know that my responsibilities toward the ideals of Democracy and informed citizenship are sacred.

Perhaps as no surprise, my father and I rarely reached the same political conclusions, and admittedly I often “cancelled” his vote. But he showed me the importance of alternate views and the absolute necessity of honoring and respecting those who hold them. He taught me by word and example that American Democracy is strong enough to honor conflicting opinions and vital enough to value the experiences and insights of infinitely diverse individuals.

Today, no doubt, we would be on opposite sides of many issues, but oh, how I long to hear what he might say. If I could talk to my dad now, I know that he would LISTEN to my concerns and arguments without belittling me, calling me names or ever questioning my patriotism. I know I would need to approach the exchanges with logical and well–researched information.  Although we often disagreed, our conversations left us energized with broadened understanding tempered by the knowledge that we both loved this nation and relished problem-solving and truth-seeking.

My dad embraced people, history, civics, civil discourse, and ideas enthusiastically, always encouraging me to do the same. Big Jim was a zealous, responsible and respect-full teacher/citizen/patriot, and now thanks to him, so am I.


© 2010 Rebecca Ann Pelley All Rights Reserved


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It's an important lesson to learn, even in households where votes get cancelled. Nice tribute to your dad, PM.
The trips to famous historical sites giving you the physical visceral feel for what those event meant to the United States were such a gift to you together with his patient dicussions of your views. He really did you a great service by being so attentive in that way.
The apple didn't fall far from the tree...Lucky for all of us.
What an extraordinary man, a giver of life in the fullest measure. And what a marvelous notion - to honor one another's ideas, to support the nobility of the individual, to enter dialog and then walk away with the relationship enhanced. I'm awed at the power of this man, and the woman he raised. kp
What a great story about your dad, his passion clearly lives on in you. R.
You can still talk to him. Just do it! He is there. Our loved ones only go away physically, not in their souls and spirit. I like Big Jim. Great Post! R
"In and around him serendipity and synchronicity danced." This made me think before I breathed.
Lovely...your father would be proud...
I am envious of the relationship you had with your father. My spirit fortified by your father's example of investment of time and care and intelligent attention given so freely it embraces DIFFERENCE! This, to me, is an example of the highest kind of love, the type that fosters the freedom to allow independence, that lets go.
America needs more fathers like yours - they make the difference. You were of the lucky few to have one. R
He sounded like a wonderful man.
He raised a wonderful daughter.
She wrote a wonderful post.
Kathy - My brother and I continue to relish these lessons. Thanks for your comment!

Linnnn- As I wrote this it occurred to me what an incredibly strong teacher my dad actually was. He did everything right...including the 60 second scolding parts! Thank you!

Mark: You tabled everything too. That pleases me. My mom always said, "Keep teaching until your positive they're not listening and then pretend they are!" It means a great deal to me that you found parts of your past here! ;)

MaryANn...Thanks! I sure hope that's true. It is amazing to see how much we absorb from the lessons of our parents' lives!

Kit! That was so very dear of you to say such marvelous things! i was and continue to be very fortunate in learning those lessons early and I try to carry them not only to my daughter but to my students as well! At some point I will post some of the funny stuff about my dad. He had a dry wit and a keen appreciation for pranks and jokes! Thanks so much-all that and a KP too! Whew! ;)
Bernadine! That passion and feistiness comes from both sides! I'm so glad you liked it! Thank you!

Dave! Big Jim would like you too. When he came to visit me for Dad's Weekend at Illinois he was the hit of every party. He knew how to engage people in conversations that were ultimately interesting to them! On the way home at 4am he turned to me and said, "Now, you know you don't really have to tell your mom about how late we stayed out, right?" ...and I do talk to him and lean into him...more on that later! Thanks Dave! ;}

Bonnie and Stacye- Thank you! If he's even a smidge as proud of me as I am of him he may not only be puffed ou,t but technically qualify as a heavenly version of a Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon. Actually, I know that he was and is proud of me. I appreciate your stopping and your comments-very;}

Maria: Both of my parents really engaged us as serious people even when we were young and took the time to explain rather than gloss over or dummy down. I think being regarded that way made us feel important and more confident. I agree with you...love takes that kind of time, regardless of how little or much there may be on the clock. Thanks for your generous words!

FusunA-Thank you! I really was very lucky indeed! Appreciate your visit!

Cranky, Thank you very much, she said, with a neat curtsy and slight bow. I am very glad that you think so! ...you wordmeister you! ;)

Pilgrim! He did indeed! He was a procurement manager/buyer for parts related to the spaceshuttle and a stealth bomber. I think he made an amazing history and civics teacher too. I'm eager to share some of the fun stuff...there's lots of that too! Merci!
This was very evocative and bravo to your dad for teaching civil discourse.
No wonder you are such an amazing teacher. Just look at your example. Beautiful. I think our dads would have been fabulous friends.
A "thumbs up" for Big Jim. Wonderful story, beautifully written.
Not sure how I missed this the first time around. You were a lucky girl. ~r
it is a fine, fine man that engages like that. they improve everything, it would seem.