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MAY 7, 2012 11:22PM

Box of Chocolates Ending to the Democracy in America Revisit

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In the end, some people are not quite the best vessels for certain types of projects. I still think it was a good idea, to revisit Democracy in America, in a self-financed project called Democracy in America in Hard Times, A Personal Journey.

That's life too, as to how such a thing would work out, a box of chocolates, some of them rather bittersweet.

That's life too, and that's really one of the more important lessons to draw from all this, about what's actually important in life.

When the project started in 2009, I had moved home to Birmingham to sell my childhood home in Mtn. Brook, Alabama, of which I had inherited a one third share.

I didn't learn the lesson from the thing that triggered it, which was a August-September 2008 sequence of articles and one appearance on the Glenn Beck Show on CNN that predicted rather more accurately than standard macroeconomists as to the gravity of the situation in real estate.

At that time, my grandfather Butch was dying. I wanted to make him proud, as I could tell how much it hurt him that his grandson's education that he generously provided wasn't working out as hoped in academia, if he tried to always put a good face on that.

That hurts pretty much in a place like Mtn. Brook, where really someone like me should have just gone to Alabama, maybe Emory or Vanderbilt, and then Alabama Law or an MBA, had kids, instead of going to other places where they are convinced of different things on average.

I talked to Butch afterwards, and he didn't have a clue about what I was trying to tell him, that I had done something that would make him proud, and was dead in two days, as all that not having been worth it in the slightest.

As to thinking differently than people in other places, at least you're still free to vote with your feet in the United States, like someone I met along the way, Don Rickertsen, who lived across the street from my grandfather.

Even before the project started, I got to know Don, as his son Thatcher was about my youngest son Barry's age, a playmate when they visited me from Atlanta.

Don was from Iowa originally, U of Iowa and then University of Chicago Law.

He had such a fine mind, so honed by years of reaching the top of the American legal profession.

As I did my sequence of reading for various research projects in addition to this one, we often talked on his patio, so familiar from a childhood spent there with Mr. Hudson, who had taken an interest in fostering my education a good bit when I was young, and who was a demanding taskmaster for when I cut his grass with Chris Mathis and Carlos Faught.

The symmetries of life are so odd sometimes, as Don was so much like Mr. Hudson, so smart, if with some problems like all of us too, but such a fine mind, and more importantly, some good advice.

He didn't think it was a good idea to try what I was about to try when I sold the house, as to doing the Democracy in America in Hard Times project, and told me that "When I was younger, in my forties, I was convinced I had something to say that was important. So sure, so close."

We had a lot in common as to personal losses, just weird parellels really, beyond the name, and it was pretty clear to me that Don the Neighbor thought that I should accept some limitations in life like he did, which in my case would have been to just move to Atlanta, and forget about some things, as just not being meant to be.

Today more than two and one half years after the last time I saw Don, I stopped by a friend's house to see if he wanted to do a sort of legal field research errand, which he didn't, which left me something of a dilemma: what to do.

I didn't want to make his brother Derek go any more out of the way than he had already, and so just said "I'll just walk through the old neighborhood, and catch a bus up to the Summit."

As I walked down the hill from Eaton to Northcote, a lot of childhood memories came flowing back, nice times, a nice safe place in Mtn. Brook, where for all the criticism of the "one per cent," there are plenty of good people.

You can find cruelty anywhere you want to in this world. It's easy enough to find that, and it often enough comes looking for you.

It was raining, and was such a time of feeling the defeats in life, which you know more and more as you get older, and less bolder.

Nonetheless, I really looked forward to seeing Don and saying "Well, I finished my writing project, and got my ass kicked like you warned about."

I knocked on the door, and there was Thatcher, Don's so, so beloved son, now so, so much taller.

He was tiny then for his age, but oh Don loved to play with him, take him fishing, camping, just his boon companion for a child he had late in life, when he was fifty, after a tumultuous divorce, and another, something rather different than in DeTocqueville's time, perhaps the thing that he might comment on the most, and with some puzzlement at first sight, if I think on reflection of the inner evolution of certain strands of American individualism, maybe not so much.

I said, "Thatcher, is your Dad here?"

He was forthright, and said, "His health had been declining for a while, and he died about six months ago."

We had so many conversations on the patio, and I wanted just one more, but it wasn't to be, and there was poor Thatcher, such a good kid, and such a nice wife Don had in Sue.

Maybe if I hadn't done that stupid project, my company would have been more useful in a general sense is the thought that occured to me as I walked away after telling Thatcher a story his Dad told me.

Don liked to go to estate sales, he said to reflect on what would be a life well-lived. His favorite was of a man who died the day before his ninety sixth birthday.

Don talked about how he was the family patriarch, all the "kith and kin" present, and more about his hobbies.

He said the man's place in Cahaba Heights was the sort of place where everything that went on the property stayed on the property, in a friendly teasing sort of way, and oh what he did with his "hoarding" before they called it that. It wasn't about the money, but what he did with it.

That old man, he had seven sheds built over the years. One for casting pots, and one for painting, and one for woodworking, and one for casting metal, and so on.

What Don liked about that was that he kept growing as a person, if of course we can't grow forever.

I hope I didn't upset them by stopping by like old times like that, when he used to drop the paper over in Butch's yard.

Like the Springstein song Atlantic City playing later at the Barnes and Noble says, "Everything dies baby that's a fact, but maybe everything dies some day will come back."

Life's a box of chocolates I guess, and that sure wasn't how I wanted to end a writing project about what a Republic is in difficult economic times, although Don Rickertsen was very devoted to such ideas, and I sure liked our talks on his patio in the Alabama evenings, rest in peace.




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He was a neat guy Con, and I'm sorry he didn't get to live longer like the story he liked at the estate sale, and I'm sorry I didn't go over there sooner to say hello and talk on his patio about books we had traded. There's a lesson there.
This is a sad and brilliantly written post. I would like to hear more about your personal life.
You are so smart, and I know that things will work out in some way.

This is a masterpiece.
This is a sad and brilliantly written post. I would like to hear more about your personal life.
You are so smart, and I know that things will work out in some way.

This is a masterpiece.
Things are fine, as I'm still here. It was sad yesterday to have hoped to have talked again about the project and some lessons, but, that's life, and the lesson is people first.