“The boys at the barbershop say he asked him about being lieutenant governor,” Matt Grosen told Patsy and Kyle, after the Snakes diatribe had ended.
“Well that’s bullshit,” Patsy said.
“Yeah, I think so,” Matt laughed.
“Why?” asked Kyle.
“There aren’t enough Democratic votes down here,” Patsy explained. “Snakes needs someone from up north who can pull a whole lot of votes to keep us Republicans out of the mansion come next election.”
“Nothing like a born-again,” Matt said, grinning at his converted wife.
The Harrisons were just about the biggest horse breeding family in southern Illinois and the only such family to be Democrats. Patsy grew up believing, as the whole lot of arrogant jack-ass Liberals believed if you asked Matt’s opinion, that they were the anointed party chosen to lead the dumb-ass southerners into Liberal Lincoln Land. “Lincoln was a goddamn Republican,” was a phrase not often left out of any comments Matthew B. Grosen had to make regarding the races.
Although he alluded to others that it had been his influence, it wasn’t Matt who had drawn Patsy to a new world view. Rather a chance eavesdropping in the horse barn when she was an impressionable thirteen. Looking at the event now, decades later, her shattering event couldn’t even garner a shrug. After the past four elections, winning the last two, Patsy Harrison Grosen doubted that much of anything could even raise her eyebrows anymore. But at thirteen she’d been deeply shocked overhearing her father agree to back the Republican congressman as a thank you for his support of Nixon’s wheat sale to Russia.
At the time it seemed her shock grew from seeing her father cheerfully negotiating profits with his most sworn enemies: the Republicans and the Russians. But over the decades of looking back at that scene what Patsy has come to realize is that what she was staring at throughout the men’s entire conversation was that they were both standing in horse manure. It had been her father’s favorite lawyer joke – and one he never failed to tell or at least quote when he saw Matt. The punch line was the lawyer, on his way into a farmer’s home, looking down at what he’d stepped in and crying, “I’m melting! I’m melting!”
That was also the day of the night she’d learned her best friend’s older brother – whom she’d had a crush upon since first grade and who had been recently, handsomely drafted – had been killed in Vietnam.
The day had coddled her into, not a Republican, but rather a non-believer.
“No longer a believer,” was how she’d explained herself to Matt when they began dating a few years later. When a few years later she agreed to register Republican they both knew what she was actually doing was saying “Yes,” to a man who could do nothing less than follow in the footsteps of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
“I said ‘I do’ to a hundred years of outlaw lawmen and their idiotic version of womanhood,” was how she described her marriage to a dynasty of right-wing lawmen.
But there was no doubt in Haden County that Patsy Harrison Grosen relished her role. At forty she was slim and blonde and vivacious with time for volunteer work in the hospital, women’s center and Head Start. “I’m just a bleeding heart conservative,” she would laugh.
“That’s going to break Lucille’s heart,” Kyle’s father said now to his mother. “I’ll bet she’d got curtains picked out for the governor’s mansion already. That poor son-of-a-bitch,” Kyle and Patsy knew he meant William Wolf. Matt and Bill had played ball together in high school. They had been friends. Their wives had not. Indeed, neither Matt nor Patsy had liked either of Bill Wolf’s wives. And Patsy’s outspokenness didn’t leave much doubt that she didn’t like Bill either.
“You don’t much like anybody in Haden County,” Matt had once shouted at Patsy. They didn’t argue often but they argued loudly when they did. So Kyle didn’t feel particularly shocked or concerned when he overheard this argument. But he gained interest when he realized it was about the Wolfs.
“I like Kyle. I like you most of the time. I don’t lose you as many votes as I gain you. What more do you think you can ask?”
Patsy had not yelled this answer and his father had not yelled back. Something Kyle didn’t understand had been settled between his parents, but their dislike of Shelby had not been altered.
“She’s not even a Wolf,” he had screamed once at Patsy. He hadn’t been a teenager yet. Perhaps he was as young as ten. Maybe even eight. He and Shelby were still young enough to spend the nights at one another’s houses. His mother had, this time, said, “No.”
“No,” she had said, “the Wolf girl cannot spend the night and it would be better if you saw less of her anyway. You’re both too old for this.”
Kyle remembers his sudden rage. It was the first time he recalled that type of anger. He had never even been in a fistfight. He just wasn’t that interested in being right. But at this he had become enraged with an intensity that surprised his mother and shocked him. Nothing specific had ever been said to him against Shelby or her family, but at this comment of his mother’s he suddenly realized his mother did not merely dislike Shelby Wolf, he realized that like his father, his mother saw some people as enemies. And Shelby was an enemy.
“No, she isn’t a Wolf,” his mother had said, “she’s a Prentiss in Wolf’s clothing. And if you were about a decade older with a lick of sense you’d know enough to run like hell away from her.”
“He shouldn’t have married her,” his father was saying now, regretting he’d made the curtain comment in front of Kyle, but unable to keep himself from once again making his point against Lucille. “He would have done better to fiddle about with her and send them on their way.”
“You mean, and marry one of those church ladies. You are all sons of bitches,” Patsy had replied. “I don’t like her either. But Bill Wolf knew exactly what he wanted and he got it. No reason to go blaming Bill Wolf’s problems on his wife.”
“You ‘re such a feminist,” Matt teased and tried to plant a kiss on her neck. She shrugged him off.
“Don’t start on me,” Kyle’s mother had said and dinner – which had consisted of open containers of various leftover on the counter and the three of them grazing among them with forks – was abruptly over. Like usual.
It was the next day Shelby had rushed over after school with the news. “He’s going to be Senator,” she told Kyle.
“What do you mean?”
“He’s going to run against Johnson for Senator. The governor wants him to do it.”
This, Kyle realized, was what his father meant about women just not getting it.
“And,” she said and paused, “this is even bigger news, I think he’s going to resign his seat! Mother thinks he’s an idiot, that the governor is only going to screw him,” Shelby said.
“Your mother can be pretty smart, Shel,” he told her. “What does your dad say?”
“He says he won’t have that son-of-a-bitch Harrison saying he was using the office to run against him.”
“Yeah. They think there’s going to be a primary. Mom and Dad do.”
“Wow, Shelby. When is he going to do this? Give up his seat? Why is he going to do that?”
“I don’t know when. But soon I think. You know you can’t tell anyone.”
That bond between them, that what they shared could never be repeated to their parents or the other kids they knew whose parents were political was so ancient that it was nearly an insult for Shelby to have verbalized it. And Kyle shot her a look. And Shelby realized it. And they both relaxed a bit.
“It’s just that, well, I think Mom wants the appointment.”
“What? Your mom wants your dad’s council seat? She thinks the Democrats are going to appoint her to your dad’s council seat? He just won. Why is he doing this? He isn’t really going to resign, is he?” Kyle made himself shut his mouth. Stop talking. He knew he’d already said far too much. .
Indeed, Shelby just smiled. “You don’t think she can do it?” she asked. She had heard her mother ask her step-father just that. And she knew Kyle would say the exact same thing.
“No,” Kyle said, “that’s not it at all. It just won’t look right.”
“That’s just what Dad said. Exactly.”
They grinned at one another. They had been together their entire lives. There was a part of this life they shared that was just like sitting next to one another, watching the same movie. When Shelby had once suggested something like this to Kyle he’d readily agreed. “Except we’re the only ones who see it as a comedy,” he’d added.
“What does it matter?” Shelby now asked. “If he quits; if she get it. You know what she says?” Shelby asked. “She says, ‘Who wants to stay a councilman anyway?’”
“That’s right,” Kyle said and quoting his mother launched into the line that had become his and Shelby’s private anthem, “there’s another election just around the corner.”