Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Monday, May 03, 2010

The Rose of Brookside

Carrie Sheffield, writing a commentary in today’s Washington Times, complains that the Tea Party patriots are too common for her tastes and that their ‘antics’ are demeaning the good name of the Republican Party.

She notes that wise Republicans “want to keep the movement at arm’s length” like country bumpkins who smell of sweat and horse manure. She dubs them the not-ready-for-prime-time movement. Indeed, her own photograph is of a dainty-nosed debutante.

Her bio says she’s traveled to Berlin. But when was the last time she ventured outside the city of Boston. Or any other city?

Timothy Cahill, Massachusetts state treasurer and Democrat-party defector, she says, “seems to think the Tea Party movement is more than off-key, patriotic crooners and corny colonial outfits.” This statement appears to imply that she does not think so.

This mistress of public policy candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School was once a reporter for POLITICO, pointing clearly to her own political leanings.

Re-enactors are held in great esteem in the countryside she evidently finds so repulsive. Any Fourth of July parade would instantly contradict her definition of corny. There she would find characters in Uncle Sam costumes, walking on stilts, who could certainly be categorized as “corny.” Or maybe just funny. Humor; it’s a difficult concept, especially for intellectuals.

Not so corny are the Revolutionary and Civil War re-enactors. They preserve for us a history that Ms. Sheffield would probably just as soon we forget. A history she might perhaps define as “passé.” Or irrelevant.

Over 10,000 colonists died in the American Revolution. An irrelevant number by today’s population standards. Out of a population of somewhere under 3.9 million, it would have been somewhat more significant.

Over 750,000 died in the Civil War, combining the casualties on both sides. A somewhat larger number. By comparison, 75,000 U.S. soldiers ied in the 11-year Vietnam War. Another inconvenient statistic.

Ms. Sheffield is in good company in her distaste for the Revolutionary re-enactors.

In David McCullough's book, “1776,” Gen. George Washington, upon visiting the Boston encampment in 1776, was horribly dismayed at the filthy condition of his militia soldiers. He found it beneath him to even ride among these social outcasts.

The encampment was rife with unwashed masses, ignorance, and disease. Yet these common soldiers built an impressive fortress around Boston with nothing but their simple tools and mechanical ability.

This fortification helped enable the Continental Army to eventually drive the British out of Boston. Perhaps that’s not welcome news to the oh-so-refined Ms. Sheffield, who might wrinkle her nose at the thought of digging into the roots of American history.

Earthworks. Redoubts. Entrenching tools. Spades. Picks. Shovels. Lumber. Beams. Dirt. Slime. Mud.


Like the militia they represent, the re-enactors provide their own uniforms and weapons. They volunteer their time and serve to educate young people on life in a Revolutionary or Civil War unit.

There was no Internet during the Revolutionary War. No cell phones. No television. Letters home could take weeks. Meanwhile, the militia were away from their farms or shops, losing money every day they were out in the field.

You can just imagine the prim and proper Ms. Sheffield, with her little heart-shaped chin, plucked eyebrows, and perfect smile, cooking up a meal for her husband over an open campfire. Oh yes – there are not only soldier re-enactors, but re-enactor housewives and children.

Often, relatives would follow their soldiers’ regiments. They would form bands to provide music and morale for the troops. During battle, the musicians would have to lay down their instruments and pick up a rifle. Or dead and wounded bodies as medics.

Can you just see Ms. Sheffield playing the part of Molly Pitcher, the New Jersey housewife who took up her husband’s position at the cannon when he fell in battle?

Finally, she laughs haughtily at the "patriotic crooners singing off-key."  I recall a Fourth of July parade I played in some years ago in Brookside (Mendham), N.J.

My band was scheduled to play the Star Spangled Banner. But we were asked (politely) to stand down to allow a 13 year-old young lady to sing the national anthem a capella. I presume the Boston-bred Ms. Sheffield understands that term.

A capella (for you country bumpkins whom Ms. Sheffield disdains, that means “unaccompanied”) is a certain invitation for off-key notes, snickering, and cringing. We experienced musicians stood at attention, nervously awaiting the dreaded musical calamity.

Which never occurred. The young lady sang the song perfectly, in as pure a tone as you’re ever likely to hear. Her notes caught the morning rays and pealed out across the nearby meadows, fields, and brooks (for which Brookside is named), over its homely church steeple and firehouse, and skirted the treetops and the rather expensive suburban homes, as sweet as the dew that clung to the nearby roses.

Her voice reminded you of those patriotic (and hackneyed, Ms. Sheffield?) musings that invoke images of fields of waving wheat, and fruited plains, of oceans white with foam. Of broad cornfields, vast rivers, eagles soaring over mountaintops, and American flags waving in the breeze.

Of hometowns like Brookside. And glistening cities like New York, San Francisco, and yes, Boston. Of everything that is good about America. You could imagine people in all those places, stopping in their farm fields, in their cities, on riverboats on the Mississippi and on horse ranches in the West, to listen to her voice.

This slip of girl was that good. And only thirteen. She was also of Vietnamese descent, if I recollect rightly. Not the sort of immigrant stock who makes for good America-bashing, being that the Vietnamese refugees fled the “glories” of Communism. And here this kid was singing the National Anthem. Where’s a good Mexican illegal immigrant when you need them?

The band had just a moment more below the reviewing stand before the drumbeat marched us off. But it was long enough to overhear the girl ask her teacher if she did all right.

The teacher laughed and assured her she did more than “all right.” As we marched off, the band broke decorum to give her an old-fashioned shout of “hooray!”, nodding and giving her the thumbs-ups as we passed by.

(Yes, Ms. Sheffield, it was the modern day "Hooray!" not the 18th Century "Huzzah!")

The Tea Party patriots’ homespun activities are not what has doomed the Republican Party’s fortunes, nor what will sabotage its future.

It’s the manicured snobbery of newspaper roses like Ms. Sheffield that will put the Grand Old Party in its political grave.


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