Tuesday, March 22, 2016

By the People

"Shall I wear my fake leather jacket? Or my fake leather denim jacket?"

"Wha-at?" Aaron and I are getting ready to attend a reception up on Capitol Hill, in the Hart Senate Office building, and I'm asking his opinion.  The notion of a 'fake leather denim jacket' tickles him  enough that we repeat it several times before I decide on the plain ol'fake leather jacket for this first evening out of our trip to Washington, D.C. After careful consideration, he decides to upgrade from his travel attire to a fresh polo shirt in deference not only to any dignitaries we might come upon but also the significance of being in our nation's capital.  Our walk up the Mall is evidence of his earnestness and sincerity:  we talk about General Meade, the Taft Carillon, and the construction on the Capitol dome, while he frames various interesting architectural elements in the viewfinder of his phone.  Traversing the lobby of the Hart building opens another strand of conversation: about the massive Alexander Calder sculpture called Mountains and Clouds, the earthquake of 2011, and where the missing "clouds" are stashed while the entire installation is reinforced.  "Stabile-ized"so to speak.
Sure enough, Aaron sees two different influential Senators at the AgriPulse reception and is introduced to a former Secretary of Agriculture, John Block, from an administration so antique to Aaron's age cohort as to be not merely historic, but legendary.  The only way to top this intro to Washington DC is to stop at Johnny's Half Shell for supper (downstairs from both CSpan and Fox News DC Bureau) where there's a big crowd this Monday night.  Aaron and his Grandpa each clean up their bowls of lobster while straining to eavesdrop on yet another Senator's politically charged conversation at the neighboring table.
A walk down Pennsylvania Ave. is an exercise in geography and history.  Here on Freedom Plaza Pierre L'Enfant's grand scheme is easier to understand even if the spider web of radial streets strikes a sensible Midwestern boy as needlessly complicated.
Aaron chooses to be photographed in the "Red Room" of the White House after learning that the Oval Office was not included in the original building. And that's about as close as he gets; we can see the President's home from the far side of Lafayette Square and can pose for a picture on the only spot of dead grass available to tourists for an unobstructed view.  Aaron was unperturbed by the distance, being way more interested in the guys wearing the Secret Service vests just beyond the yellow tape.
This mix of current events and historical perspective is a hallmark of the Washington DC trip Missouri Farm Bureau puts together for the 70 to 80 members that attend. Like most tourists do, our group mingles with the crowds at the Lincoln and war memorials on a clear and quiet night.
 Per Aaron's request, we spend time in the Smithsonian museums examining meteorites and human origins, precious jewelry and gold nuggets, the physics of flight, and sea air operations, before tumbling round and round in a flight simulator.  He sits attentively through briefings about regulatory overreach, the economics of trade, and updates on a critical vote on GMO labeling:  issues of continuing concern for anyone in agriculture but not necessarily on the top ten list for 12 year olds.

In the Library of Congress, we are nose to the glass close to Thomas Jefferson's own books, his references on plants, on architecture, on philosophy and religion.  Senator Roy Blunt has his office in the same rooms Harry Truman used when he was a Senator and later, during the 82 days he was vice President. Time compresses in places like these, and the bright line between history and current events blurs.

Not every small town kid gets to eat breakfast with Congressmen and hear them call the folks around the table by their first names. Most folks would be surprised at the familiarity and frankness with which these elected officials speak in front of this particular group.  This get together doesn't feel like the bomb throwing, fist pounding version of Washington we see on the news every night; rather, we hear that this group of representatives works for common ground, aims for civility, and does cross the party divide on occasion. At least the ones that show up for breakfast with the Farm Bureau.
 To be twelve is to be old enough not just to learn historical facts, but to begin to feel a sense of history, to appreciate the past and compare it to the present.  To touch and visit our landmarks and monuments; to meet, even briefly, those who represent us and govern our country, is to become a participant in our nation, not a bystander, and thus to help bear the burden of the past and future. It's too soon to say whether Aaron will be a better leader because of this experience. But he will be a better citizen....

1 comment:

  1. You were just 2 hours down the road from me! Hope you enjoyed your trip! How fun! Would
    have been fun to bump into you in real life and not just at country fair blog pary! Jan @ tip garden