Tuesday, January 01, 2008

First Post of the Year

Besides being the first day of 2008, today is also significant because it would have been Senator Barry Goldwater's 99th birthday.

In a memoir published in 1988, shortly after he retired from the U.S. Senate, Goldwater wrote of his early years in the Arizona Territory (pp. 34-35):

Three people -- my mother, an uncle, and a teacher -- finally convinced me that contributing something to the community was a lot pleasanter life than getting my britches burned in all kinds of trouble. My brother, sister, and some friends stood by my side when the going got tough.

My mother was a very individualistic woman, patriotic and dedicated to her community. Uncle Morris offered decades of public service to Arizona politics and the Masonic Order. Sandy Patch, one of my instructors at Staunton Military Academy, was one of the finest military officers this country ever produced.

My mother had a greater influence on my life than any other individual. It seems worth recalling some of those early years to see how and why the character of one person can leave such an impression on another. One of the things I remember best about Mun -- the three of us always called my mother that -- was our annual summer trip from Phoenix to the cool beaches of Southern California.

Mun and her three desert rats drove to California every summer because Phoenix was too hot. The trip across the Arizona and California deserts took about a week.... We had about two dozen flat tires each way. My brother, Bob, and I patched the innner tubes in mostly 120-degree heat.

Mun wore knickers, leggings, and a beat-up old hat that she'd tilt at odd angles to make us laugh. She was about five feet four inches tall and a hundred pounds of double-barreled action. Mun was a tomboy who loved the outdoors -- camping, hunting, fishing, and climbing. She was spunky and spontaneous, and she spoiled us rotten.

Dad was home minding the store. Outdoor exercise was not his game.

Mun had the uncanny ability of having fun and teaching at the same time. She kept her rifle cocked along the meandering route for coyotes, rattlesnakes, or any other critter that might bother her brood. We learned a lot about guns, camping, and protecting one another. Learning from her was never boring. None of us ever forgot those adventurous treks across the desert because she had so much time to pepper us with her wit and wisdom....

She stitched the forty-seventh and forty-eighth stars on our flag when New Mexico and Arizona entered the union. I was only three years old at the time. She talked about that day for years.

My mother spoke a lot about our country when we were kids -- our heritage of freedom, the history of Arizona, how individual initiative had made the desert bloom. Mun was a conservative Republican and proud of it.
You may have noticed a brief reference to "Staunton Military Academy" in the second paragraph quoted. That is Barry Goldwater's connection to Central Virginia: He spent his high school years in the Shenandoah Valley, just across the mountain from Charlottesville. (Of course, in the early 1920s, traveling between Charlottesville and Staunton was a lot harder than just hopping on Interstate 64 and heading west for about 40 miles.)

Goldwater recalls his years in Staunton on pages 51 through 55 of his eponymous memoir:
My father was always fashionably dressed. Some people called him a dandy because he wore pince-nez glasses and was elegant even when playing poker and billiards at the Arizona Club. However, fashion and elegance were his business. Goldwaters [department store] had a reputation for quality -- the latest and best fashion, especially for women.

Dad was also a very private person. He confided in few people apart from our mother. However, he didn't always hide his feelings, especially about my comportment in high school. One evening at family dinner, he was looking down at me over his pince-nez like I was the two of spades. Dad may have liked cards, but not wild ones.

He didn't care that I'd been elected president of the freshman class or that I was good enough for both the football and basketball teams. His voice lowered as his eyebrows raised. My father said sternly that I was going to Staunton Military Academy in Virginia, and there wasn't going to be any back talk. I felt as though I'd just been sentenced to the state pen. It seemed the whole family was ready to form a firing squad -- except my mother. She was worried about my being so far from home. Dad appeared to say, the farther away, the better -- until I learned some discipline. Then I could come home and return to school in Arizona.
In a long passage about his year as a "Rat" (a first-year student) at the Academy, Goldwater has this minor digression, which should raise a chuckle among certain Ron Paul supporters:
I only had one fight. That was with my first roommate. I owed him money for something and paid him in silver dollars. He'd never seen a silver dollar and said it wasn't U.S. money. I'd never seen paper money, although we talked about it at home. So we put up our dukes and fought a financial war.
True to Goldwater senior's wishes, young Barry did learn discipline:
In my senior year at Staunton, I won the outstanding cadet award and was offered an appointment to West Point. However, my father was not well, and Mother thought it best that I return home.

It was a big mistake. I should have gone to the Point. To this day, I believe I was better equipped, psychologically, to be a military officer than a politician.

Politics is a life that is often out of focus, that rises and falls with the tide of events and everchanging public opinion. For the most part, the military has clear, singular goals. If I had my life to live over again, I'd go to West Point.

The concepts of duty, honor, and country are genuine to me. Patriotism is real. There's no greater service to this country than the defense of its freedom.
Barry Goldwater was a military officer, of course, as well as a politician. And his country is better off because he chose that latter course. (And whether, in the 21st century, the "military has clear, singular goals," is a question quite worthy of exploration -- and doubt.)

On his 99th birthday, let us salute Senator Barry Goldwater. What a celebration we shall have in the centenary year of 2009!

No comments: