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Past Puts Old Twist on New Idea

If there ever were a flag that needed furling and mothballing, it's the blindingly pure banner of family values. Current political blather toasting the good "good old days" and the bad "here and now" leads befuddled voters a wearying chase over Fantasyland.

To hear the election-year version, up until recent times, every family contained faultless father with proper, dutiful, stay-at-home wife, and promising offspring, each one either spotless maiden or Eagle Scout.

Based on the rantings of Pat Robertson, et al., one might suppose that godless misconduct-for the first time in human history-stalks the land in the form of single parents, working mothers, unwanted children, sexual peccadilloes, and Sunday-morning sleepers.

Dan Quayle and his cheerleaders punch up their glorified fiction by shaming Murphy Brown while newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic decry Princess Di's loveless alliance and Fergie's topless beachside amours. And who knows what the Mia Farrow/Woody Allen hoo-ha will bring? (Stay tuned. Pictures at 11.)

The evolving flapdoodle over American conduct issues from a single false premise: that at one time escapees from tyranny sailed fearlessly toward New World shores, founded one nation under God, and thrived in sinless joy.

According to this quasi-history, Pilgrim paragons who blazed the first trails through the wilderness worked harmoniously, devoted themselves to their loved ones, and prayed incessantly, stopping only for intermittent scripture readings and a resharpening of the ax.

Then, spawned by television, movies, gay rights, abortion, and women's liberation, decay set in during the wicked, wanton 1990s. How we have strayed!

More than a wisp of doubt leads me to question this poorly researched idyll. In history classes, I read of witch burnings, an Indian massacre at Wounded Knee, stocks, pillories, branding, lynchings, and the dissolution of families as owners sold slaves down the Big Muddy. 

I can envision a few homefire scandals of the past as National Enquirer headlines:

o Thos. Jefferson Beds Slave Mistress
o Ben Franklin Feathers French Love Nest
o Rebecca Boone Raises Family While Dan'l Roams
o Ms. Crockett Unsure of Future Since Davy's Rise to Fame
o Carrie Nation Deserts Hubby to Swing Her Hatchet at Kansas Sin-Den
o Eleanor confronts FDR and His White House Honey
o Is Kay Doing More Than Driving Ike to the Front?

Were the perpetrators of these acts the same forefathers and foremothers whom legends praise, statues honor, and politicians extol?

With these ancestors as models, we Americans have surely not slid down the well-greased path to perdition overnight. Is it possible that wife-beating, divorce, womanizing, illegitimacy, roving hsubands, child neglect, and general slackness have always lined the pages of our family album?

Perhaps we are onto a new tack. Maybe we have grown up enough as a nation to accept the frailties of marriage and family and to take stronger action than fundamentalist handwringing. Perhaps we have fallen out of romance and into realism. This just might be a beginning for family values.

Charlotte Observer
"Catawba Valley Neighbors"
September 30, 1992




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Mary Ellen Snodgrass Tel/Fax: (828) 324-0155