Sunday, June 24, 2007

Uncle Zeke Talks Politics

by David Parmer

In addition to being a poet, a thinker, a writer, a commentator on the length of women’s dresses and the amount of face paint women wore, and a scathing critic of the effects of alcohol on good men and women, Uncle Zeke was also an active pundit about political matters.

A Republican Works for a Democrat
It seems that Uncle Zeke, a fervent Republican, was never quite able to reconcile his politics and writing for the Braxton Democrat. In the 1920s and 1930s, a perusal of the news columns written by local people reveals that columnists must have been expected to include in their weekly columns suggestions to the readers that they subscribe to the local paper. Uncle Zeke was always encouraging readers to renew their subscriptions or to take a new subscription. The words “Subscribe to the Democrat” seemed to choke in Uncle Zeke’s Republican craw. It was bad enough for a Republican to be writing for the Braxton Democrat, but to urge people to subscribe to the Democrat amounted to a cardinal sin. But, nevertheless, Uncle Zeke mustered the courage, maybe while holding his nose, to tout the Democrat as the paper to read.

Straight Party Voting and the Lesser of Two Evils
Uncle Zeke, however staunch a Republican he was, also recognized that party labels sometimes should be meaningless when it comes to electing officials. Uncle Zeke was particularly critical of “straight party” voting whether it was Republican or Democrat. In a February 1928 column, Uncle Zeke wrote “I am a Republican because I believe in the principles of the party, granting other parties the same privilege, and yet I have never been so wrapped up in partyism that I couldn’t help a good man whose name appears on the ticket under the rooster.” Perhaps keeping a cautious eye on political candidates from both parties, Uncle Zeke also suggested that voters should carefully scrutinize politicians. “Let me say to one and all before casting your vote, read and carefully study each candidate as you would your Sunday school lesson and then as the Good Book tells us ‘of the two great evils, choose ye the lesser.’”

To the right is P. N. Blake (Uncle Zeke), a Republican candidate for the West Virginia House of Delegates in 1924

They Ain’t Fit to Run
With modern day voter turn-out at an all-time low, and public opinions polls of politicians reflecting rock-bottom unfavorable ratings, perhaps modern voters have considered Uncle Zeke’s admonition about the two great evils, and have decided that they are not worthy of a vote at all, rather than the lesser of the two. Or, as Uncle Zeke observed about some politicians, “Some people are just about as fit to hold office as a woodpecker is to preach the Gospel.” And although some straight party voters do it, many people refuse to vote for a woodpecker.

They Ain’t Fit to Vote
Uncle Zeke also had some disdain for some of the voting public. “Some people are so ignorant about politics that they couldn’t tell a grindstone from a headache tablet.” Uncle Zeke’s low opinion of some voters resulted from the reasons some voters had for favoring certain candidates. During the late 1920s, a young Charles Lindbergh gained fame for flying solo across the Atlantic Ocean , causing some people to suggest he would make a good president because of the feat. Uncle Zeke made light of the would-be political kingmakers, “Well, gee whiz ! Some people want Charles Lindbergh to run for president. Might as well run Charley Bill Williams.” Although this author is not certain, Charley Bill Williams was probably a resident of the Buzzardtown area.

The Wet – Dry Debate
The prohibition issue also weighed heavily upon Uncle Zeke’s political mind. “The first chapter and the first verse of the book of Uncle Zeke reads thusly: ‘Therefore be it wisely understood that no candidate aspiring for office, great or small, either Democrat or Republican, who stands on a wet platform secures my support, if I be wise to the situation.”
Also in 1928, Uncle Zeke pondered, “ I wonder why the man in the moon didn’t announce for office. Well, if he gets full as often as the moon does, I wouldn’t vote for him.”
Uncle Zeke also was never above making a joke about a political position. In a 1928 column, Uncle Zeke mused, “When politicians go into a home where there is a baby, they insist on holding it for a while, and never ask if it is wet or dry.”
Uncle Zeke also wondered about the voter who didn’t know a polecat when he saw one. “How can a person be in favor of a wet candidate and claim to be in favor of prohibition, believe in the eighteenth amendment, pray for a dry nation and vote wet men knowingly into office?” Of course, in just a few short years when prohibition ended, Uncle Zeke became the odd man out with regard to his support for prohibition. He would have been the first to acknowledge that he was “old-fashioned” with regard to his view of morality but he would never accept the effects of alcohol as anything other than sinful.

The Farm Vote
Election years caused Uncle Zeke to tie politics in with conditions on the farm. In a 1928 column, Uncle Zeke observed, “Our old rooster had thought of running for sheriff until eggs dropped to twenty cents; and now he declares that rate can’t pay their capitation tax. So he chooseth not to run.” Further, Uncle Zeke told of “A county politician canvassing his district for votes, asked a farmer, ‘What’s the politics of this house?’ The farmer replied, ‘I’m a Republican, my wife is a Democrat, the baby is wet and the cow is dry.’”

My Wife Wooed the Parties
Social issues also brought out the political wit of Uncle Zeke. Uncle Zeke joked, “In a divorce court, Jones was suing his wife for divorce. She was hoping he’d get it. The judge asked Jones: ‘You say your wife only kissed two parties?’ Jones answered: ‘Only two, judge.’ The judge asked, ‘What two parties were they?’ Jones replied, ‘The Democrats and Republicans.’ He got the divorce.”

Let’s Get it Over With
Uncle Zeke also grew tired of the electioneering which occurred during election years. “I have met and shaken hands with so many candidates that my tongue is coated and corns are still coming on my toes. It seems that nothing but a shotgun or a bull dog will keep them away!” Uncle Zeke also wryly observed that “Now that the primary is over we ought to get better weather.” Uncle Zeke also noted that the end of the primary also caused “Handshaking [to be] at ease for a while.” Uncle Zeke surely thought, “So much for the “glad handers” until the general election. “
Someone Has To Lose
Uncle Zeke was not without sympathy for the losers in political elections. He himself ran for the West Virginia House of Delegates in 1924. Zeke, a political novice, ran a good race, but lost to a more savvy political opponent who happened to be a Democrat in Braxton County which was awash with a Democrat majority. So, Uncle Zeke knew what it was like to lose an election. In the primary election of 1928, many candidates vied for their party’s nominations for various local, state and federal offices. Uncle Zeke noted that “Election day, as well as judgment day, will cause many sad hearts.” As the election of 1928 ended, the successful candidates took their respective offices, and the defeated candidates went home, Uncle Zeke opined that “Judging from the length of faces some people wore since the [election], you would naturally think they are made of elastic. We heard of one fellow whose face was so long he had to shave with a lawn mower.”
And Up Salt River1 They Went
Uncle Zeke was fond of allusions to fable in his writings. With regard to defeated candidates in political races, he used the term “ Salt River ” to signify the place that defeated candidates go after elections. “I’ll bet there were more defeated candidates went up Salt River since the primary than at any time since the creation of the world.” And, amusingly, “I will say for the benefit of all defeated candidates that Dr. Polly Tick will be around Wednesday after the election to see whether you will be able for the Salt River excursion or not. Your permits will be awarded on election day. You will be at the mercy of Captain Defeat.” And to put the election results in verse, Uncle Zeke offered:

It matters not how the bleak wind blows,
To the White House Herbert Hoover goes.
Alfred Smith, for the White House bent,
But up Salt River he surely went.

Dr. Hatfield, tried and true,
Sends Neely up Salt River, too.
John Wolverton sends O’Brien afloat,
Up the river in his little boat.

Alfred Taylor took his trip,
But he didn’t ride on the governor’s ship.
Jake Fisher saw it was up to him
To send Jones along if he had to swim.

Marple and Bender fought a good fight.
But Harvey and Dean put them to flight.
So up the river they had to go
Regardless of rain, regardless of snow.

Hines sends Wilson and Moyers sends Bright
Up the mystical stream in their sad plight.
They all talked of the trip and wondered whether
The clouds in the west would bring bad weather.

And for the fear their boats might go astray,
Oley Ocheltree went to pilot the way.

And as I write this little rhyme
I hope you’ll have a jolly time,
And pray that you’ll be content
As Uncle Zeke the time he went

And the Voters Voted Devotedly
Uncle Zeke post scripted his little poem, “I wish all the above voyagers good luck, hoping they will return in the early spring in due time for house cleaning and garden making.” And to the voters, the little people, Uncle Zeke gave his thanks, “I wish at this late hour to thank all the voters who voted their votes so devotedly in voting for the candidates they voted for at the voting precincts in which they devoted so much time in voting.”

1. Salt River. A defeated political party is said to be rowed up Salt River, and those who attempt to uphold the party have the task of rowing up this ungracious stream. J. Inman says the allusion is to a small stream in Kentucky, the passage of which is rendered both difficult and dangerous by shallows, bars and an extremely tortuous channel. -from “Infoplease,” citing “Dictionary of Phrase and Fable,” E. Cobham Brewer, 1894.

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