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Guest column | James Gries

Today's issues could use some of yesterday's wisdom

The many issues we face today take me back to my childhood and some wonderful experiences I enjoyed with my grandfather. He was respectfully known to his nine children as "the Boss," and arrived in the Midwest from Ellis Island in the late 1800s. He began building his family's future by homesteading on a 160-acre plot of northeastern Nebraska land. His hard work, entrepreneurial spirit, shrewd business practices, and no-quit attitude resulted in ownership of several farms and numerous bank accounts before he expired.

The Boss had his own head start program. As his children came of age, they were put on one of the family farms to start making their own way, with oversight from the Boss. He took a special liking to me, and took me under his wing in the early 1950s, while I was recovering from a life-threatening battle with polio; he was my inspiration.

Grandpa was a frequent visitor at my parent's breakfast table, where he sipped coffee, and consumed mother's homemade cinnamon rolls. Often, he would invite me to ride along in his old 1937 Dodge, and together we'd make the rounds. At some point early on, he would stop, pull out his pipe and Prince Albert tobacco can and begin his pipe-filling, tobacco-tamping, lighting-up ritual. I can still smell that wonderful cherry aroma, and that was my clue to stop talking and start listening, as I was about to get some priceless kernels of Welsh wisdom; in other words the world through Grandpa's eyes.

One was, if you've been to the Barnum & Bailey circus once, don't go back. You'll just see the same old clowns doing the same old thing, to the same old people who react in the same old way; that's how he saw politics and politicians. Another was one I call his baseball analogy. Grandpa believed success in life was directly related to one's ability to prioritize the issues. He didn't waste much time on first, second, or third base issues, and often said, "if you can't figure out what your home plate issue is, you'll probably lose the game."

I often wonder what his home plate issue would be today. Would it be health care, Medicare, education, poverty, Social Security, federal deficits and debt, illegal immigration, war, energy, the environment, or maybe politics and politicians? I suppose each of us could offer up a meaningful argument supporting our own personal issue from this menu. However, unless and until there's a consensus that defines our national home plate issue, we'll just keep chasing our own tails.

I remember, and forgive me for sharing this, how horrified I was when, as a young Nebraska farm boy, I witnessed a mother sow nibbling away and finally eating one of her new born piglets. I was shocked, and no matter who I asked, or how they answered, I simply couldn't come to grips with that horrific experience. It was just beyond my young mind's ability to comprehend, and resulted in some horrendous nightmares. However, upon reflection one thing I can say for sure; that carnivorous old mama sow was a home plate issue for one little pig.

Now I'm not suggesting we've regressed to the point of cannibalism, nor am I suggesting it's too late to define our national home plate issue and begin providing answers and solutions. I am suggesting a commonality exists in each of the previously mentioned issues. That commonality is government, politicians, and the people's failure to define our home plate issue, and faithfully execute our role as stewards. Chasing our tails only serves to embolden opposing groups of Barnum & Bailey political clowns, and their band of airway bloviators who offer up a steady diet of distraction. They encourage their followers to engage in a finger-pointing, name-calling circus that pits neighbor against neighbor. No, politicians and their bloviators aren't suggesting we eat our young, but they sure as heck have us nibbling away at the fabric of our society, that is neighbors and neighborhoods.

It's time we the people called time out, stopped chasing our tails and considered the role we're playing in our children's and grandchildren's futures. Then contrast it with the role that old sow played in the life of her young piglet and remind ourselves — it all started with a nibble.

James Gries lives in Weeki Wachee and can be contacted at

Today's issues could use some of yesterday's wisdom 02/10/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 10, 2011 5:39pm]
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