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Please don't shoot him...

It was a good day.

Sunday morning, I woke up early, shoveled a load of pea rock into the loader and finished a garden path. Then I hooked onto our grader and worked on some of the worst holes in our quarter mile long driveway. Nothing too important, just early Sunday morning tasks. I finished as the first drops of rain fell, which, no matter how unimportant the job, always makes me feel virtuous.

In the afternoon we met three fifths of our grandchildren at a local theater production that was way better than I expected. After the show we happened to run into some friends and they invited us to dinner with their friends.

We didn’t know half the people around the large round table, but it was big fun. Smart people, talking about stuff that matters. Since I stopped running the café, I miss that. I had big round tables, too, just for conversations like that.

The people around the table were close enough in their views that we could delve into politics without the danger of any thrown crockery or, you know, duels.

That made for relaxing conversation, but on the way home I couldn’t help but think that it’s a little bit of a problem that we need to tiptoe around politics. It seems un-American, particularly around the 4th of July. Over the past three hundred years there’s been plenty of crockery thrown during political discussions, and now that I think of it, more than a few actual duels.

You think I’m joking?

Thomas Hart Benton, a senator from Missouri was once asked about Andrew Jackson and he said, “Oh, I know him well, I’ve shot him a few times.” Jackson had made Benton his personal secretary during the War of 1812, but in 1813 they ended up in a duel, wounding each other. Ten years later Benton supported Jackson’s presidential campaign.

So, that mouthy brother-in-law with the despicable political views?

Hang in there – in a decade you might be friends again.


Perhaps the best example of fighting Americans is John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Together they literally wrote the document that declared our independence. Adams was Washington’s vice president while Jefferson was his Secretary of State. They ran against each other in 1796 and Adams won. They ran against each other again in 1800 and Jefferson won. During the campaign they called each other terrible names, and then didn’t speak for 12 years.

Over time, both men mellowed. Their friendship was helped when Benjamin Rush, a mutual friend and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, wrote to both of them saying the other one wanted to make up.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure that was made into a movie, with Reese Witherspoon playing John Adams.

Anyway, the two men wrote over 185 letters, back and forth, gradually talking about the things that after a while only those two knew.

In 1826 they both died. Both dying on the 4th of July, 50 years after the Declaration of Independence.

I admit I’m kind of a sentimental goober, but the picture in my head of these two old men, living in a world they’d created, but a world that had to have become increasingly strange to them, writing letters back and forth to the best friend and best enemy either of them ever had… man, that image just chokes me up.

We had a really good day – a few tasks accomplished, good times with our family, and a pleasant dinner with comfortable conversation. Perhaps, particularly now around the 4th of July, if we’re going to act like real Americans, we should make time for some uncomfortable conversations as well.

And your brother in law? Please don’t shoot him.

Copyright 2019 Brent Olson

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