Encumbrance

I won my election for county commissioner.

I’m a little surprised, because we’re having some real health issues in our family, making it hard to concentrate on campaigning. I didn’t buy any ads or lawn signs. About all I got done was whenever I had a couple free hours, I’d knock on doors and ask people if they had any suggestions for what could be done better. To make it a little more complicated, because of redistricting I was walking around talking to people who had no idea who I was. So, I guess the road to victory depended on the voters not knowing anything about me.

It was, as always, educational. Employers expressed worry about day care problems, people who live along the lake want better fishing and water quality to protect their investment, an old lady wants to stay in her house but needs just a little more help to do so. People are worried about health care and schools, property taxes and roads. It’s the best thing about local government - many of the problems are small enough to fix.

The worst thing? People expect you to fix them.

I tried to be philosophical about the possibility of losing, but the last time I lost an election was in 1972, for captain of the football team, and I’m still not completely over that. It’s probably just as well I was successful.

Not being elected would have damaged my ego and cost me a little money, but it would have freed up enormous amounts of time. When I looked at my calendar Wednesday morning, I realized roughly 90% of the commitments involved meetings of one kind or another. That led me to think about my great-grandparents.

They got off the boat in 1880. Records show Great-Grandpa was elected to school boards, township boards and church boards within a few years, probably before he could speak much English. Great-Grandma doesn’t show up. I suppose because homesteading women were such fragile blossoms.

In 1929, they marked their 50th wedding anniversary and a nice little article about the celebration was published in the local paper. It mentioned their fine house and 400 acres free of encumbrance.

“Free of encumbrance.” That’s the phrase I’ve remembered all these years.

It sounds good. It sounds like they led a free and easy life in their nice house on their paid-for farm.

But I wonder.

They’d left a place where their family had lived for 1,000 years. They’d come to a strange place and worked harder than most of us can even imagine. They’d realized they needed more than corn and wheat, they also needed civilization. It’s remarkable that in the tiny amount of spare time they had, they invented it.

There’s more. Six miles away in a tiny cemetery, three of their children were buried. I can’t imagine, literally can’t imagine, how encumbered that would make someone feel.

I know people, a few people, who I think are unencumbered. They think only of themselves, and their little world exists in a universe where everything revolves around them. There are a few days when I envy them, but those days are few and far between. I guess I like encumbrance.

I poked a little fun at the election, but just is an attempt to make you smile. In truth, I take the results very seriously. To those of you who voted for me, I’ll try very hard to justify your trust. To those who voted against me, please remember I never asked for your vote, but I did ask for your suggestions, and I listened.

This is a great country. To keep it, improve it, and defend it requires so much.

Mainly people willing to put up with a little encumbrance.

Copyright 2022 Brent Olson