September 2016

by Marshall Chapman

Politics as unusual …

I have never let politics stop me from loving anybody. If I did, I’d have to stop loving half the members of my family. My father, who voted both sides of the fence, once described my mother’s politics as “to the right of Attila the Hun.”

Daddy always voted for whoever he thought would win. He had to, since he was often in Washington lobbying to control textile imports. He’d vote for Strom Thurmond, then turn right around and vote for the moderate liberal Fritz Hollings, which drove Mama crazy. One time some people approached my father about running for governor of South Carolina. “I can’t and stay married to Martha,” he said. “I’d have to divorce her first.” Mother was known for speaking her mind. People often joked that, compared to Mother, Martha Mitchell was shy and retiring.

One of the greatest disappointments of my mother’s life was that three of her four children ended up Democrats. I remember one time during cocktail hour—this was during the 1988 presidential primaries. Anyway, she was sitting in the living room practically in tears as she sipped an Old Fashioned.

“I survived the Great Depression,” she began. “And I survived World War II … (pause) … But NOTHING … I mean NOTHING has upset me as much as TWO of my FOUR children voting for DUKAKIS!” (another pause, as she takes another sip from her Old Fashioned) … and JAMIE VOTED FOR JESSE JACKSON!!” At this point, Mother comes as close as Mother can come to wailing. Jamie was her baby and only son. James Alfred Chapman IV. Eight years later he would die from AIDS.

It’s been a strange election year for sure. And I imagine my family a microcosm of America itself—divided and unpredictable. I’m just grateful we’re all old enough now to be respectful of each other’s differences.

In closing, I’d like to share something I heard Billy Joe Shaver say one night when we were performing an in-the-round at the Bluebird Cafe. There were four of us singing songs and telling stories, just having a big ol’ time, when suddenly, the subject turned to death. Somebody quoted Woody Allen—”I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.” Then Billy Joe, being Billy Joe, said, “I have a feeling when I die, I’ll wonder why I didn’t do it sooner.”

Which makes me wonder if heaven has politics. Probably not. Probably why it’s called heaven.

Marshall Chapman is a Nashville-based singer/songwriter, author, and actress. For more information, visit www.tallgirl.com.

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