My grandma was a Republican. She didn't get a chance to make her Republican voice heard until she was 37 years old, married and a mother of two. She was born in 1873, and Berkshire native Susan B. Anthony was still trying to persuade men that women had brains enough to vote.
The whole family, in fact, was Republican, not an uncommon state of affairs in New England in the 20th century. When we moved to Richmond in 1960, Republicans dominated the population and all elections. It was quite awhile before the town had enough Democrats to form a Democratic Town Committee.
Grandma probably never voted for a Democrat in her 91-year life. When she was legally blind and was allowed her daughter-in-law's help with voting machines, she would always say, "Just make sure I don't vote for any Democrats." She had no interest in supporting a finagling, manipulative James Michael Curley, for instance, who was quite a contrast to Massachusetts Republican stalwarts like Calvin Coolidge, Robert Bradford, Leverett Saltonstall and Francis Sargent.
But I have to wonder what Grandma would do today if she was facing that "vote for all" handle. Politicians of the caliber of Saltonstall and Sargent are long gone, replaced in the Republican Party by men who have backed off from paying the nation's bills, worked at depriving the disadvantaged of the vote and shown little regard for the health and income of the aged.
As a teenager, Grandma survived many trials, apparently with grace. She taught in a one-room schoolhouse in the town of Florida, even though she had not gone beyond high school. As a farmer's wife, she worked hard, doing the regular farm things plus the bookkeeping for my grandfather. She was probably a strict mother, she went to church regularly, and she never thought twice about honesty. It was part of her being. On a daily basis, she did the right thing.
She was patriotic and hung her American flag from her front porch on whatever holidays she considered appropriate. She probably bristled about people on welfare because she had grown up in considerable hardship and had made do on her own. But she cared about people, including neighbors when they needed help, and in World War II did her part with knitting, gardening and raising edible animals.
She trusted us when we came to visit in the summer. Despite all the freedom we had on the farm, my brother and I never did anything that violated that trust. We did what she told us to do around her horses, we played unsupervised in her brook without drowning, we went to bed promptly. When she told us to do something, we did it.
Our worst offense was when we started to lick our plates after eating a delicious piece of blueberry pie. Grandma was scandalized and said, "What would your mother think?" We lied. One of us said our mother always let us do that. "At my house," she answered quickly, "you'll have to do it in the kitchen."
I find it doubtful that Grandma would approve of her fellow Republicans today. She would think Congress has betrayed the work ethic by not doing its job. And she would be, I think, horrified by the callousness of the Tea Party. It's possible Grandma wouldn't be able, ever, to pull the Democrat handle at a voting machine. But it would be hard for her to stay home and do nothing.
We are no longer, unfortunately, in the eras of Dwight Eisenhower, Nelson Rockefeller, Saltonstall and Elliot Richardson. Someday, it's to be hoped that Republicans who admire those men will insist on returning to their kind of thinking and rid themselves of the party members who care little about us, lack tolerance for those different from themselves and mostly want to stay rich and get re-elected.