Republicans Never Change – My Mother’s Lesson

Posted: March 26, 2014 in New Post

This past Sunday afternoon, after taping The Tim Corrimal Show, which I do most every Sunday, the participants in the round table chatted for a while. Our guests on the show were Seth Pajak of VEGANesp Blog and author of the must read book “Wrapped in the Flag”, Claire Conner. As Seth and Claire spoke of their upbringing with conservative parents, I was struck by the contrast with my own. While they were survivors of conservative households, I was the radical evolution of a liberal activist mother. As we spoke, I recalled the story of my mom, and how she became involved in Democratic politics and thus inspired me.

My mother was a child of Italian immigrants. Her story, like millions her age at the time, was one of struggle and sacrifice. She wanted to be an actress on Broadway, but in the throes of the Great Depression, such dreams fall victim to the struggle to survive. She and her siblings did everything to make ends meet, even when those ends seemed light years apart. She picked blueberries, cleaned houses after school, and did anything else she could to contribute.

When she was sixteen years old, my mom took a job as a waitress in a local hotel. It was mundane work for such an ambitious young girl, but it had a paycheck at the end of the week. Every day she served meals her family could never enjoy to earn money for the meager existence they shared at home. She did it eagerly, and she did it with love.

So it happened one October in 1936 that the local Republican Party had a dinner for their party leaders. My mother was a server that night and during the evening she endured the anti-Roosevelt speeches, the usual Republican clap-trap of tighten your belt and lifting the bootstraps. I remember my mom quipping one time that after hearing these speeches she began to think Republicans had a leather fetish. The conversations at the tables were really not that interesting, or any of her concern. The goal was to put in a shift and get paid. But as the evening progressed, things got personal. Something happened, something that changed the trajectory of my mother’s life.

A conversation at one particular table caught her attention. As she slid the plates of thick steaks and potatoes onto the table, she heard a particularly offensive conversation. The men at this table were bashing President Roosevelt, the New Deal, and everything democratic. Then suddenly the conversation crossed the line. One man said to the others at the table “and of course he is encouraging these greasy wops that they should have their dignity with our money! They should starve as far as I’m concerned!” Greasy wops. The words felt like one of the streak knives had been plunged into her chest. She described the rage to me as uncontrollable. What happened next became family legend. Before that fat swine could shove another cut of beef into his mouth, she dumped the entire tray of meals on his lap and declared  “I’m one of those greasy wops, and you can now serve yourself!”  She stormed out. She never got paid. She never cared.

The next day, she went to the local Democratic chairman and became a youth volunteer for the re-election of President Roosevelt. But she didn’t stop there. The cruelty of the remarks she heard that fateful night remained with her her entire life. As the Great Depression waned and with the onset of World War II, she became a wife and mother but never forgot how important it is to be involved in government. She became a local democratic chairperson, a county chairperson, and a state chairperson. She never relinquished her responsibility to her family or her country. Jane Santorsa remained true to her convictions, until that day in 1998 when she had a debilitating stroke. I remember sitting with her one night in the nursing home, watching the Republican convention of 2000. She lay in her bed, the fire of outrage still in her eyes. At one point she squeezed my hand until it hurt and whispered “They never change, Joe. Always pay attention to government, and never push a Republican lever or I will reach from the grave and cut off your hand!”  I always do, and I never did.

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