The week we bought our house in Lawrenceburg, I invited the neighbors I’d yet to lay eyes on for Sunday supper. Come at 5:00 or so for chili, I wrote to an unrecognizable email list. Can’t wait to meet everybody!
It was January. My husband was still working in California, so I was alone, waiting for the electrician, the Direct TV truck, and painters I’d hired online and hoped would show up. I had a bed and a couch. Now I needed chili-fixings for 20, a crockpot, a skillet, and disposable bowls and spoons, so off to Walmart and Kroger I went.
Come Sunday, the whole neighborhood showed up carrying welcome baskets. “I have to tell you,” one woman joked, “we heard you were from California, so we’ve been wondering what chili made with tofu would taste like.” We all laughed.
Four years on, when I read/hear locals who disagree with me politically call me vile and evil, or say “She can go back to California where she came from!” I wonder, who talks like this? And who in the world they are they are talking about?
I was born and raised in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Rush Limbaugh’s hometown. I remember when Rush started his radio show, the year after I graduated high school. He was opinionated, but funny. Entertaining, but not mean-spirited or caustic. Not yet anyway. That would come later, when he learned that funny and entertaining only got you so far; the big money was in being a shock-jock, in being outrageous, and in tapping into feelings of anger and resentment at the so-called elites.
It worked. According to Forbes, Rush earned $84M in 2017, making him the 11th top-earning celebrity in the world. An elite. The joke is on his audience. I can no longer decipher what Rush believes in his heart from what he throws out as red meat, strictly to boost his ratings. I no longer recognize the Rush from my hometown.
To paraphrase something Truman Capote once said of his relationship to Perry Smith, one of the killers in “In Cold Blood,” it’s like Rush and I were raised in the same house, but one of us went out the front door and one went out the back.
Maybe it is the anonymity of social media or the common, name-calling, cruelty of our current president, but this is the first time in my 54 years that I’ve heard, “go back where you came from,” and I’ve lived in a lot of places—Cape, St. Louis, Phoenix, Cedar Rapids, Minneapolis, Seattle, Minneapolis again, San Jose—moving 31 times in all.
And California tends to strike a nerve, especially in this newspaper.
Yes, California is crowded, expensive, and the traffic is terrible (though I’ve come to think of Nicholasville Road in Lexington as a close second). But contrary to the false stereotypes perpetrated by Rush and his fellow elites-who-hate-elites at Fox news, all Californians are not crazy, nor or they all liberals.
Education is a priority, and we paid for it in taxes. But this translated into our public high school paying teachers a fair wage, and it was so academically rigorous that parents sometimes tried to get their kids transferred to lower-stress schools. Imagine.
The June issue of AARP Magazine has a chart showing California’s gas tax at 54.4 cents per gallon vs. 26 cents in Kentucky. I wonder, how many teacher salaries and pensions might we fund by increasing the gas tax by a few cents?
We found the Californians we knew to be excessively kind and accepting, Republicans and Democrats alike. The guy next door, who did not care one bit for Obama and does not believe in climate change was, and remains, a great friend. Our neighbors treated us like family. We celebrated Christmas and birthdays and more, together. They showed me how to cook things like bok choy and introduced us to good wine, and we got them hooked on chicken and dumplings and gooey butter cake. A fair trade.
Halloween was such an occasion that our realtor had to disclose it and have us initial the page. She was right. People decorated like mad, they closed the streets, and it was not uncommon to have a thousand people come to your door (this is not an exaggeration) saying, “Trick or Treat!”
I was known for my chili. Every Halloween during my decade in California I made the same chili I made in St. Louis, Phoenix, Cedar Rapids, Minneapolis, and Seattle, and while the kids got candy at the door, grownups were welcomed inside for a bowl and a glass of wine.
The secret to this liberal’s chili is not tofu, which still gives me and my Lawrenceburg neighbors a good laugh. The secret is my immigrant, great-grandmother’s recipe, which includes chorizo, Italian sausage, and ground beef, and (are you sitting down?) never draining the grease. And kindness.