My grandparents were not “takers”

Nina Huntley Knight

Nina Huntley Knight

My paternal grandmother, Nina Huntley Knight, was a commandingly and elegantly beautiful woman.

Two days in to the Great Sequestration. Do you suppose President Obama’s Presidency will be known a hundred years from now as the “Great Sequestration Administration” the way the Warren G. Harding’s is remembered by the Teapot Dome Scandal? My guess is not. In the long run it will be seen as so petty, as so absurd that people will simply forget it. Or it will be, if the White House is politically clever enough (which I doubt), known as the work of the Second Great Do-Nothing Congress.

My maternal grandfather, Edward Leroy Peck, was a jovial and warm-hearted, somewhat ordinary looking guy.

I have been wondering what “sequester” means, and I finally got around to looking it up. It is absurd to call what’s going on in Washington the “sequestration.”

Sequester, verb, late 14c., from Old French sequestrer (14c.), from Late Latin sequestrare “to place in safekeeping,” from Latin sequester “trustee, mediator,” probably originally “follower,” related to sequi “to follow” (see sequel). Meaning “seize by authority, confiscate” is first attested 1510s.

I have been thinking a great deal the last few days about the direct line of personality traits from one generation to the next to the next in my family (we are not unique, but I’ll not extrapolate and let you think about your own family).

Or, perhaps, we are experiencing a “sequestration.” The Congress has certainly “seized” and “confiscated” the means whereby we “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty.” We ought to demand a special election right now—today—and throw the entire 535 of them out.

I’m enchanted by old family photographs, especially if they are of me—or show a connection between who I turned out to be and my immediate forebears. I’m neither commanding and elegant nor jovial and warm-hearted. So I wonder sometimes how I ended up in my family.

My grandparents, in their own noble ways, were the common folk we believe were the backbone of this country. Grandmother Knight managed to arrange for her two sons to attend a private college during the depression—when Grandfather worked only sporadically as a carpenter. Grandfather Peck had a steady job with sufficient income to support a family of five children through the depression. He was “only” the elevator operator in one of Kansas City’s early skyscrapers, but it fed his family and allowed him and Grandmother Peck to own their own home—the home where my mother and her four brothers grew up and where we visited Grandmother until she could no longer live alone in the 1970s.

Both Grandmother Knight and Grandfather Peck had earned Social Security benefits. Grandfather Peck died too young to draw his, but his Social Security allowed Grandmother Peck to live in dignity without want. Social Security was an important part of the support of both of my grandparents Knight. I used to have (but it has gone the way of so much family memorabilia) the check stub from Grandmother Knight’s first Social Security payment. She saved it for years because it was such a blessing to her.

Edward Leroy Peck

Edward Leroy Peck

My grandparents were not “takers.”

More than usual, the connection between my ideas is vague. So I will throw in one more disconnect. Once about twenty years ago when I was visiting my parents, my father showed me the service leaflet from a funeral he had recently attended. He wanted me to see the words for a song that had been sung.

You can picture happy gath’rings ‘round the fireside long ago.
And you think of tearful partings when they left you here below.

His question for me was his usual one. “Where do they get this stuff?” It was my introduction to “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” I, like my father was (and his mother would have been)—well—appalled at the sentimentality and, to Dad and Grandmother, the deplorable theology.

I care little for most country music, and I have no belief that I’m going to meet Grandmother Knight or Grandfather Peck or my dad in the sky by and by.

But I think it’s fair to ask John Boehner (and, let’s be fair, President Obama, too), “Will the circle (of decency and ‘the common welfare’) be unbroken?”

How’s that for stretching an idea to the breaking point?