Wednesday, April 9, 2008

On Pocatello Politics--Prologue

Before I get into politics, per se, it is essential to make a few things clear. The first is that my dad hated gambling. If you do not understand how much my dad hated gambling, you will think him a bit winkle-wanky on political matters when we get to discussing whos who and whats what later, so that is why we have to take the first side trip.

When we came back from Germany, gambling, meaning the sort of thing that goes on in casinos like in Las Vegas, was legal in Pocatello--indeed, almost everywhere in Idaho. Slot machines were everywhere, just like Las Vegas or even Wendover. Now Dad hated this and he, and others, set out to do something about it. And what they did was to get gambling put on the ballot, something like "Do you want all those slot machines sent down to Jackpot or other places south, or do you want to leave'm here in Pocatello?" Well, you can imagine that this was a very controversial question and people did a good deal of arguing about it at the grocery store and the department store and other places--probably, even at church, but, of course, if you were in church you were supposed to be against gambling from the get-go, but there were always backsliders who somehow weren't but still came to church, maybe to sell used cars or insurance or something, and didn't mind telling the non-backsliders that they were opposed to sending all those expensive machines down to a no-good place like Jackpot. At any rate, the question was a good deal discussed. The very first speech I ever heard on the radio (as opposed to Howdy Dowdy, Sgt Preston of the Yukon, and such like, which I heard almost every day), was my dad arguing against gambling and urging people to vote against gambling in the upcoming election. Mom got my sister and me around the big radio in the living room and said, "Let's all listen to your dad talk on the radio." Which, of course, we did, and I was very proud to hear my own dad talking on the radio just like Big John and Sparkie. And he gave a very convincing speech. I wished more than anything that I could vote and thereby show those backsliders a thing or two. I only hoped that they were listening to Dad's speech. But my dad, probably not convinced that his speech was enough decided to make it clearer to me. So a couple of days later he took me down to the train depot.

Now you have to understand, that when I was a boy, the train depot was a very busy place indeed, it was sort of like the airport is today. This was especially true of Pocatello, which had a very large, and busy train depot, because it was a sort of hub--whatever that is, but at any rate, it was one and consequently, the train depot was a very busy place indeed. Now, of course, things have changed. If you want to be alone and meditate and be all by yourself and you don't feel quite up to climbing the Matterhorn or Mt. Everest to get alone, the next best place to go is the local train depot, but, as I said, things were very different then. And on the day my dad took me down there they were very different indeed. Dad explained that it was due to the fact that it was pay day. All around the outer walls of the train depot there were slot machines, just like the airport at Las Vegas, or like the airports at Wendover, or Jackpot would be if they had airports, only the slot machines at the airport in Las Vegas are bunched together in the center of the various terminals, because, of course, they do not want to be anything like a train depot. At any rate, there were slot machines all around the outside and standing in front of every one of those slot machines was a man (I don't remember any women, but then, it was a long time ago and the type of woman who would gamble might have short hair), putting money in the slot machines. Some of the machines even had people waiting in line, hoping that the people in front of them would run out of money so they could try their luck.

Well, anyway, it turns out that Dad actually knew a couple of the men putting money in the slot machine. He pointed to one and said, "See that man there?" I told him I did. "I know that family and he spends so much of his money on slot machines that they don't even have enough to eat." This, of course, made me very sad, because we had just come from Germany and there were a lot a people who didn't have enough to eat and Loni and I had wondered a good deal about what we could do about it, not knowing at that time about the Scout Food Drive, which we could have helped with if they would let younger kids help them. Then Dad pointed to another man and said, "And I am suing that man so his wife can get a divorce. He doesn't even bring home enough money so she can keep clothes on her children." I remember the next several days looking around the play ground at Bonneville, where I was in the first grade, looking to see if there were any kids who were dressed only in their underwear, but I didn't see any, so I assumed that that man's kids went to Washington, or Whittier, or one of the schools across town. But anyway, I was convinced. I hated gambling, in fact, I still do, but that is not important. The important thing to remember is how much my dad hated gambling.

The next thing I have to tell by way of prologue is that my mom and dad belonged to a study group. Now you may ask, "What does belonging to a study group have to do with politics?" And the answer is, of course, normally nothing, but it turns out to be important, as you will see when we get down later to the nitty-gritty of who is who and what is what. Anyway, they belonged to a study group that met once a month. This included Bob and Donna Thompson, Conway and Phillis Grant, Kay and Violet Hart (take special note), Miles and Janice Romney, and Homer Satterfield and his wife. You notice that I couldn't remember the name of Homer Satterfield's wife? Nobody could. Homer was so well known and such a overpowering personality that nobody could remember his wife's name. Of course, I'm sure, that Mom did not like to say, "Oh hi Homer, and hi Homer's wife, good to see you both." So I think that before study group, she probably wrote Homer's wife's name on the palm of her hand or between her fingers or some other inconspicuous place. But mostly, people just called her "Homer's wife" or sometimes "Mrs. Satterfield", but someone, maybe even Miss Biggert, who was into politics, said, "It's a crying shame that no one remembers Homer's wife's name." and then they generalized that to, "People always remember the man's name and hardly ever remember the woman's name" (which, of course, is not true. I always found it much easier to remember Donna Thompson's name than her husband's who for years I just called Br. Thompson, but then, Donna Thompson always was so bubbly and kind that people just naturally took to her, not that Bob wasn't kind, but he was kind of imposing. He was, as almost everyone knows the state handball champion at 50 and most of the years before that and people who go around throwing handballs at you tend to be imposing--but, I digress). But whoever said that complained to Someone Important--probably to Nellie Kline Steenson, Pocatello's state senator. You may wonder how I remembered her name. I certainly don't remember the name of Pocatello's state representative. But Nellie Kline Steenson sent us a brochure before every election, and although, I didn't read the brochure, I did notice her picture and she looked just like the typical grandmother. Of course, that was not why she was elected, because in Pocatello there were lots of women who looked like your typical grandmother--rather more than in most places. But, I think she was elected because people more or less decided that with a name like Nellie Kline Steenson, she just sounded like she should be a state senator, Nellie Kline Steenson being for politics almost as effective, maybe even more effective, that "E. Preston" is for business. At any rate, someone complained to her about no one knowing Homer's wife's name and she took it to the legislature that started the whole Feminist thing. But if you think about (and I have, just now) women do have a legitimate complaint. For example, why do I remember Dr. Hegstead's first name. The answer is because his son, Ralph Hegstead Jr. was always swearing at me and so, of course, I know that his father's name was Ralph. But do I remember--in fact, did I ever even know, Mrs Hegstead's first name? No! and why? because you can't call your daughter Millie Hegstead Jr. thus letting everyone know that your name is also Millie. Of course, I guess, you could call her "Little Millie" but then that would make you "Big Millie" which is not particularly flattering, but it is probably better that calling her "Young Millie" which would make you "Old Millie", so you see, they do have a point--but, I digress again.

Anyway, Mom and Dad had a study group and about every six months they would meet at our house which was, for my mother particularly, a very Big Deal. She would get out her best candy dishes which she brought back from Germany and fill them with candy. One time one of the guests broke one of the candy dishes, but Mom just laughed and said, "Don't worry about it. It's nothing." Gavin pointed out that if one of us had done it, we would have never heard the end of it, and Mom maybe would have sent us to prison, or, at least, reform school; except, of course, if Erin had done it--come to think of it Erin did do it--and Mom said the same thing to him that she said to the guest at study group, which goes to show how terribly spoiled he was. I even wonder if he would have visited us in reform school. At any rate, Mom would fill all the dishes with candy and we, meaning the kids, would hope against hope that the study group people would not eat it all--especially the chocolate covered peanuts. I also liked the butterscotch candies, but didn't much care for the mints or the lemon drops, and, as fate would have it, those were the things that were mostly left over.

You may wonder what all this has to do with politics. Well, I'll make that clear in the next installment.

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