I was walking across capital square in Richmond one night when I saw a curious looking fellow sitting on a bench, spitting tobacco while he tossed bread crumbs to the pigeons. He was a burly fellow, and as I walked up he tilted his head so he could see me from beneath his fedora. He smiled a tobacco stained smile at me and said “good evening.”
I stopped, did a double take, and said “you look just like Bill Tuck”
“well, I should…that’s who I am.”
I stammered “But you’re…”
“…dead. Yep, deader than Joe Brown’s old mule. I am just here to keep Colgate company”
“Colgate Darden, of course.”
“Colgate Darden? But he’s…
“…yep, dead. But Colgate was always special, and still is even in that unique part of heaven we call Celestial Virginia. Did you know that during World War II Colgate had the iron fence around the Governor’s mansion tore up and melted for munitions? Well, after the war they replaced it, and Colgate likes to come down and make sure it is holding OK. At least that’s his story…I think he likes to come down here and chuckle at the statue of Harry Byrd. Only a damn fool artist would think a man would have a chest that big and legs that short.”
“He was probably a yankee”
Tuck grinned, “No doubt about that!”
I didn’t know what to make of any of this. “So you’re both down here?”
Tuck grimaced, “Bwana, I was led to believe you were a little quicker on the uptake.”
“You know who I am?”
A stately tidewater drawl echoed from behind me, “Of course we do, and we want to talk to you.”
I spun around “Governor Darden…how do you know me?”
“Because your blog caused no little heartburn in Celestial Virginia. Hal Flood and Tom Martin got very upset when they read your piece where you claimed they were forgotten men.”
“You read my blog? You get the Internet in heaven!?”
Darden smiled, “Well, of course, son. It’s heaven. We get it, and we love to read about the political goings on.”
Darden hesitated, “Well, almost everyone.”
Tuck answered, “Well, I only listen on saturdays to the Opry-on line broadcasts. Patsy Cline and I do love to listen to Reba McIntyre. But I cannot figure how that boy in Rascal Flatts sings so high.”
Darden said, “And there’s Harry Byrd. He spends most of his time in the celestial apple orchards, and he doesn’t want to be bothered with wireless contraptions.”
I tried to regain my equilibrium. “Colgate Darden and Bill Tuck. Wow”
Tuck smiled, “Don’t it just take your breath away?”
“Well, yes it does. So…what can I do for you gentlemen?”
Darden drawled, “William, let’s walk a little while we palaaver”. Tuck followed along, carrying a spit cup and tossing his bread crumbs. Governor Darden cleared his throat.
“Bwana, we have a job for you.”
“Ah, oui, tu…you remembered I served in France, eh?”
“No, sir, I was being sort of a smart-ass”
“That was my second guess. Well, you and your bloggin’ ilk need to spread the word that folks need to pay more attention to what is going on in Richmond and get these fools to be legislators and work together and not act like prima donna’s”
Darden pointed at my chest, “Who put them there?”
“OK, you got a point…you mean it hasn’t always been that way?”
“Of course not! Back in the day we worked together…of course we were almost all democrats back then, so it was easier…but everyone tried to look out for each part of the state.”
Tuck chimed in, “Yep, and now it’s like old Mother Catharpin and her blanket.”
Darden sighed, “Lord, now you’ve got him going.”
Tuck waved him off, “Hush up, Colgate. Now Bwana, let me tell you a story…
Back in South Boston there was an old lady we called Mother Catharpin. Her father made money as a privateer during the War of Northern Aggression, then invested the money in railroads and coal mines. Her husband invested their money in the Coca Cola company and was a major stockholder in RJ Reynolds tobacco. She had no siblings, and as she entered her dotage she was maybe the richest woman between Virginia Beach and Roanoke.
She was always cold, and complained she never had a good blanket. Oh, and she had a fierce temper. She offered $100,000 to anyone who could make her a blanket to keep her warm for at least six months. Most folks nearby didn’t try it because they thoguth she was crazy. A hundred thousand dollars for a blanket? But the truth was they didn’t think they could please her, and they didn’t want to make her mad.
Word got around, and finally three young fellers came up the road. Each had an idea that they could make the blanket she would like if only they could show her.
Ronnie detailed how warm his would be, Connie talked about how he could make a great blanket if he only had the tools, and Denny assured her that no matter how nice the others were his would be better.
So she gave them all some money for tools and materials, and sent them off, winner to get the $500K. One week later, they all returned.
She went to them in alphabetical order. First Connie-may I see the blanket? His reponse-oh, yes, but see first also my tools and the fine fabric I purchased for your blanket. I know you will be pleased with them.
Mother Catharpin said she wanted a blanket, and Connie said “Oh, I can’t do that…I can only tell you how I think it should be made-I can’t actually do it myself. I prefer to sit back and contemplate how things should be.”
She was not pleased by the answer, and went on to Denny.
“Denny-may I see your blanket?”
His response-“Oh, I don’t have one. I wanted to see how much you like Ronnie’s before I make you a blanket…but you can be assured mine will be much better than his!”
Angry and disappointed, she turned to Ronnie.
“Ronnie, may I see your blanket?”
Ronnie pulled out a patchwork affair that looked surprisingly robust. “Here, Mother Catharpin. This will keep you warm forever.”
She agreed to give it a try, but after only a short time the blanket began to disappoint. First it began to pull, and it didn’t cover her well. It did not keep her as warm as she liked, and after awhile it just sort of came apart. So ultimately she sent them all away and sat there disappointed, looking for someone to make her the kind of blanket she wanted.
And that is just how things are now.”
Governor Darden said, “Bwana, do you understand what Bill in his, colorful, coloquial way is trying to say?”
“Drawing a blank, sir.”
Tuck threw a bread ball at me.” Pay attention! It’s an allegory!”
Darden started, “Bill, when did you learn that word?”
Tuck waved him off. “In the Marine Corps. Now listen good, Bwana. Virginia is just like Mother Catharpin. The Republicans come up with these jerry rigged funding plans because they see a need-either for the public good or for their political lives-but they don’t want to be accused of raising taxes. The Democrats just sit back watching the Republicans, hoping they fail and endlessly assuring the public if they only get a chance they will be so much better. Meanwhile, these are the conservative groups who keep on throwing out big words and concepts, but who really have no idea how to make things better. And you know why? Because none of these folks has a thimble full of…”
I mumbled “…vision”.
Darden smiled, “You do understand!”
Tuck spit out some tobacco,” I knew you had to be smarter than you look!”
Just then I heard my wife calling to me. I turned around quickly…
…and found myself in bed in Burke with a crick in my neck. I apparently had fallen asleep in bed while reading Guy Fridell’s Conversations with Colgate.
SWMBO looke at me…”Who’s Colgate and who’s Bill?”
“Why do you ask?”
“While you were asleep you kept mentioning them, and then speaking in these deep Virginia drawls.”
I said it was just a dream…and have not been able to meet the two old time governor’s again.
But the more I think of it, I wonder what would the old warhorses think of todays politicians, the desire to protect their seats and not the public well being, and the inability to reach even marginal agreement on how to run the Commonwealth…and I realize they are right.
It is up to us to hold their feet to the fire. We up elected officials in office, and if they don’t listen and if they don’t perform we need to send them down the road like Mother Catharpin and find people who want to go to Richmond and govern and make a difference and not simply to hold power.
Until someone shows us they have the vision to guide, lead, and produce, we should be very leery of anyone we send down to Richmond. Those two old men had that right.
Actually, they had two things right.
The Harry Byrd statue at the state capital is a sight. The arms, torso, and legs are way out of proportion.
Only a damn fool artist would have thought a man could look like that…and I wonder if he has been drafting legislation recently.