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I moved to Hilton Head because of my job about four years ago. Before that, I lived in the mountains of east Tennessee. Let me try to explain why I’m homesick. And then, I’ll try to explain my point. It may not seem like it, in this short but wandering essay, but I do have a point. Hang in there.
I moved to east TN in the mid ’90s for a few reasons. There was no income tax, the steep, rocky land at high elevation was cheap (you can’t farm it), I felt comfortable with the people there (similar to where I grew up in rural SE Ohio), and you could live like a king on a doctor’s salary there. And sure enough, as I made a little money, I bought 60 acres of mountaintop land. It was surrounded by National Forest, so I felt like I owned thousands of acres. I built a mile-long driveway up the mountain to a five-acre plateau, and build an 8,000-square-foot log home there. It was absolutely beautiful. Note the skeet thrower above the hot tub on the lower deck, which is perched on a 60-foot sheer rock cliff, overlooking a huge canyon. We had a great time there.
At 3,300-feet elevation, we never used the air conditioning. We just kept windows open all summer long, and the cool mountain breezes kept it quite nice in the house, if a bit chilly at night. I had geothermal heat pumps, but I heated the entire house with a wood furnace. It was so much warmer that heat pumps. The only problem was in the spring, when it would be in the 30s at night and 60s during the day – sometimes we’d have to open windows when there was snow on the ground, so we didn’t sweat our tails off in the living room. There’s no ‘off’ switch on a wood furnace.
I burned about six cords of wood per year. Which, in case you’re wondering, is a lot of firewood. Where did I get all this wood? Well, wherever I could. Often patients would have a tree down from a storm, and they would call me. Or somebody wanted some trees removed from their fields or city lot – I would go get them. Whatever. I didn’t always have a specific plan, but I always found enough firewood. Sometimes it fell into my lap. Sometimes it was difficult. But I always found enough firewood. We were never cold in the winter.
It’s funny, when I was splitting wood as a kid, I would fantasize that one day I would be so rich and famous that I would never have to split wood again. And then, later in life I become rich (by my standards, at least), and what do I do with my spare time? I split wood. But you know, I kind of like it. Very satisfying. And it had other benefits.
One of my fears, as a doctor, was raising spoiled kids. But when you heat with firewood, that sort of fixes that. We cut wood together. I’d run the chain saw, I’d put one girl on the splitting machine, another girl in the skid steer (carrying the big stuff around), and the other girl carrying wood. They sometimes got hurt, but they very rarely complained. But when they did, I could just ask, “Do you like being warm in the winter?” And they’d mutter something and get back to carrying wood. Such rare complaints were even more rarely listened to, although they did lead to the occasional gag photograph:
The driveway was a challenge. A bit over a mile long, and straight up. I had an F250 with air lockers and V-bar tire chains with a snowplow. My wife drove an all-wheel-drive Chrysler minivan, which did pretty well in studded snow tires. I had extra wheels mounted with snow tires for all our vehicles, and my daughters knew how to help with the air tools, etc., to change tires quickly on all of them. My wife muttered bad words about the driveway sometimes, but the girls had a great time sledding on it (Once I plowed it a few times, and got a nice layer of ice underneath the snow, they had double black diamond sledding…). This is a picture of me taking my daughter to school one day:
So now I have tough kids. They are not wimps. They’re used to work, and they’re used to getting hurt. My baby daughter got hit in the chin in a junior high basketball game. Her teammates were all 14 years old, but she was only 12. She was only on the team because she was an unusually good athlete. Small for the team, but very athletic. Anyway, a heavy girl fell on her, her chin hit the floor, and blood went everywhere. A mother in the stands brought her to my office downtown, my daughter ran down the hall in her white bloody jersey pointing at her chin. She handed me instruments while I sewed her up (she had assisted in surgery on other people multiple times). She ran back into the gym in the middle of the third quarter. They wouldn’t let her play with a bloody jersey, so she ran over the bench and pulled a jersey off a girl at the end of the bench. She put it on, and played the rest of the game. She led her team in scoring, and they won. We have tough kids. It’s not that they don’t feel pain, of course. It’s just that they’re accustomed to getting hurt, and not making a big deal about it.
And now they’re Division I athletes. Their toughness has saved me a lot of money in athletic scholarships. Who knew?
We raised our kids in that beautiful, rugged place. It was difficult, but wonderful. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I didn’t want to leave. But after Obamacare, practicing medicine in a poor area no longer made any sense. So we left. We didn’t want to. But we had to. It was painful. My kids handled it really well. They’re tough, and accustomed to setbacks. I handled it, um, fairly well, considering everything. On the other hand, I’m sitting on my patio drinking bourbon on Tuesday night. Whatever. But again, my kids handled it extremely well.
And that all that matters, really.
I look at the recent changes in American politics and I don’t feel angry, exactly. I feel homesick. I miss America. To paraphrase Ronald Reagan, I didn’t leave America. America left me.
I thought I loved America, but I’ve come to the painful realization that I love the ideas behind America more than the country itself. I love the way our freedom made all of us better. Just like the difficulties of life on the mountain made my children better.
It pains me to write “made” in the past tense, in the previous two sentences.
It’s not that there were no problems in my America, but it’s just that we were better able to handle our problems, like my little girl handled her chin laceration. It’s not that she didn’t feel pain. It’s just that she was more focused on other concerns, like winning a basketball game, against whoever they happened to be playing that night. That game may have not mattered to you. But it mattered to her. So she managed.
Our ideology of freedom and individual liberty enabled us to handle the occasional setback, and to focus on more pressing concerns, whatever they were, with a minimum of fuss. Now, a criminal overdoses in police custody and we burn our cities down. A virus starts killing our citizens and we buy toilet paper. The weather seems colder (or warmer) than usual and we seek to ban SUVs.
We can’t handle setbacks anymore. We seek protection from government.
America didn’t always have to have government programs for everything. We just found a way to get by. Like me finding enough firewood to heat my house somehow, we eventually figured something out. Sometimes it was easy. Sometimes it was difficult. Sometimes we wished things went better. But we figured out a way to get by. Some years the firewood was a real pain in the butt for us. Sometimes we had to work extra hard to find wood. Sometimes we had plenty. Sometimes we had to conserve our wood carefully.
But we were never cold in the winter. We eventually figured something out, pretty much.
We didn’t avoid uncertainty and fear. We just managed it.
In my home, and in my country. We managed. And in retrospect, it was wonderful, despite our occasional setbacks.
I wish I could sit on my deck again, with a fire and a bourbon, and pretend that none of this had ever happened. The picture below makes me long for better days. It sounds odd to say that, sitting next to my pool in Hilton Head. But I long for better days. Not easier days, or less stressful days. But better days.
I hope that beautiful sunset is not symbolic.
I miss the way things were. Which is only natural, I suppose.
America once struggled to get enough firewood to stay warm (if you will). But we did not raise spoiled kids. Those occasional setbacks helped us raise tough kids. Americans who could handle the occasional setback.
All that really matters, at this point, is how our children handle this. They’re likely to handle it better than us old farts will. I hope, at least. I raised tough kids, who have now saved me a lot of money in tuition, as they’re now scholarship athletes. Perhaps we’ll benefit from the way our kids were raised, once again.
Just like with the firewood:
Stormy weather is coming. I’ll help you all I can, kids. But really, this is up to you. You may think I’m in charge, here. But I’m counting on you more than you realize. I’ll run the chainsaw, and I’ll drive the truck. Until I can’t anymore.
And then, it’s up to you.
I never told you what the point of all this was. Why we worked so hard at simple things.
You’re about to find out. I’m sorry about that. I really am.
But I hope you don’t let a setback stop you. I hope you learned that, at least. I didn’t give you a fish. I taught you how to fish. And now, I need you to use what you’ve learned. I’m sorry that I left you in this situation. But you do have a chainsaw, and you do have a wood furnace. You know how this works.
I’ll help as much as I can, obviously. But I’m getting old. And I may not be as helpful as you’re accustomed to. And yes, I’m sorry about that too, obviously.
And yes, I believe I will have another bourbon. Thanks.
I’ve always depended on my kids, as much as they depended on me. We all do, I suppose. Never more than right now.
This is not over. Not as long as my kids are around. Our kids.
The left once depended on kids to maintain their dreams of revolution against the establishment. Now that the left is the establishment, our kids are the natural enemy of the establishment. And unfortunately for the left, we’ve raised good kids.
At least, we hope that we have.
We’re about to find out.
Because I didn’t leave America. America left me.
Every parent wants to take care of their kids. No parent wants to rely on their kids.
But here we are. Homesick. It doesn’t matter how we got here, I suppose. I know how this sounds, but I’m not giving up. On the contrary. I’m simply pointing out that we have reinforcements on the way.
I’ve cut my chin. It doesn’t matter how I got here. I need my kid to sew me up. Because we have a very important game to play. A game that I want to help win.
And I’m not worried.
Not a bit. I’ve raised good kids.
This is not over.Published in