Friday, October 24, 2014

"To Tea or Not to Tea?" Ch. 1 from BUT...AT WHAT COST

A twenty-something-year-old man with a camera approached from down the hall and asked me, “This where the ‘Tea Baggers’ are?” I knew this was intended to be offensive (I’d heard other Tea Party opponents on radio or TV use the same term, but I didn’t really know what the reference was at the time). I said, “Excuse me. Did you want the candidate forum?” He replied, “Yeah, the Tea Baggers!” I walked away. Why would anyone say that to an old lady (or anyone)? I later learned it’s a term used to describe a variety of homosexual sex – hardly a term for polite company, yet he used it, without deference to me.

After a lifetime of being a respected member of the community, I find it a little strange being treated that way. To him, I guessed, I was a crazy, radical, bigot deserving of the term. That’s the growing perception. It’s false, but it’s a common belief. Even people who have known me for years raise their eyebrows when I tell them I’m in the Tea Party. I must grow horns or something, because they say things like, “You’re in the Tea Party? How can you associate with those people?”

I decided to join the Tea Party movement about three years ago (2010). I’d been with them in spirit from their beginnings, but was rather hesitant to admit it… not because of anything they had said or done, but because of the false perceptions the media’s assault on them had generated. I was afraid. I didn’t want to be called “stupid” or “extreme” or “bigoted” and I didn’t want my opinions to be marginalized by any association I might have with them. It was a tough decision.

I went to a meeting and found a lot of ordinary, concerned citizens, from many different walks of life. There were no kooks, no radicals and no bigots present. Nor was there anywhere near the amount of political ignorance I usually found at cocktail parties. These people were serious political junkies – up on history, up on current events, and up on politics. Later, I found a few conspiracy theorists whose opinions I rejected, but that’s par for the course in any group. Even the slightly paranoid among us, however, were nice people. No one recommended violence or made radical demands. They and I were frustrated with the direction the country was heading.

I joined. The only political tenets on which we all agreed were lower taxes and smaller government. There was a large contingent who were anti-abortion (on religious or moral grounds), a smaller group concerned mainly with education reform, some for voting reform, immigration enforcement reform, entitlement reform, and EPA reform. The farmers, in particular, were suffering greatly from EPA regulations and fines. We ran the gamut in specific pet peeves, but all agreed that most of the country’s problems stemmed from overreaching government policies.

Our goal was to educate the public – to raise awareness in voters. We had rallies, candidate forums, booths at community events, wrote letters to editors, blogged, and had monthly meetings addressing specific topics. We educated each other… discussed every issue and passed around books. All harmless stuff, so it was very hard to figure out why so many people in the community were so angry at us. Okay, we knew why… it was the result of a well-executed attack by Democrats, but we couldn’t figure out why so many people (in and out of politics) believed the rhetoric and acted on it.

Many (if not most) of us were gray-haired grandmothers and grandfathers who had never been politically active in our lives, but we got so much unwarranted, critical attention in the media, many of us were afraid to wear our Tea Party tee shirts in public, or admit any Tea Party affiliation in our letters. We were afraid of possible repercussions to family members. It was that bad! Why did complete strangers give us the finger when riding by our rallies? We held no offensive signs; we weren’t throwing stones; we weren’t blocking traffic. We were just standing on a corner with a few Tea Party and candidate banners in a country that is supposed to value free speech.

Unfortunately, many sympathizers of the movement can’t stand the heat. That, I suppose, is why opponents attack our characters instead of our politics… to shut us up. Policy disagreements are expected in politics and therefore are not particularly damaging. Personal attacks, however, make people think twice before speaking out. If potential clients think you’re a bigot, they won’t shop at your store, or hire you as their accountant, or their hair dresser. Character assassination (even by association) works. When my teenaged granddaughter stopped by our booth at a street fair, I shooed her away saying, “You don’t want to be seen here. Your friends will think you have a crazy grandmother!” That probably wasn’t true (kids probably aren’t paying much attention to politics), but that’s what I felt. I was afraid my activities would reflect on her and cause her grief.

With Democrat politicians Nancy Pelosi, Debbie Wasserman Shultz, Joe Biden, almost the entire black caucus, and eighty percent of the media calling me a racist and a terrorist, I can only ask “Who is terrorizing whom?”

I was effectively muffled. Admittedly, I got out of the kitchen because I couldn’t stand the heat… and because I saw views from both sides radicalizing and devolving into little more than hate speech. I, of course, see much more hate coming from the Left because that’s where my sensitivities lie, but I see some from the Right too. Anyway, few engage in rational debate anymore – most is hyperbolic rhetoric intended only to malign the opposition. That’s what works on an uninformed and mostly uninterested electorate. I know because I was an uninformed and mostly uninterested voter for decades.

Apparently, I too had responded much more to the rhetoric than to my own observations and knowledge. I had been effectively brainwashed and didn’t know it until I was exposed to other political points of view in the nineties. It was then I started having one OMG moment after another. I was a Conservative, not a Democrat.

First, I wondered how I hadn’t known my beliefs didn’t align with my party of choice. I was a registered Republican because of my father’s and grandmother’s influence when I registered, but, after Kennedy, I had always voted Democrat and considered myself a Democrat.

Second, I wondered if it was I or the Democrats who had changed. Now, I think it was both.

Third, I wondered how and why these changes had occurred in the Party and in me.

This book is the result… but don’t worry, it’s not a political book; it’s more a personal peek into the ordinary influences on an ordinary life – and how the various exposures in that life might have helped shape my future political beliefs.

Judy Axtell's memoir will be serialized here weekly.








Sunday, October 19, 2014

Don't Cut Off Your Nose

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“What’s the matter, dear?” Mr. Williams asked his wife at dinner that evening.

“Oh, nothing.”

“Sure there is. I can tell.”

“Well…I wrote an article for that teachers’ magazine, and they are not going to print it.”

“Why not?”

“Said it was too serious.”

“Was it?”

“I didn’t think so.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I’ll write them and tell them that I don’t agree.”

“If you want them to print the next thing you send them, you’ll need to be very courteous.”

“I know, I won’t ‘burn my bridges’ with them, although I may never send them another one.”

“What does ‘burning your bridges’ mean, Mom?” Tess asked.

“Long ago, bridges were made of wood rather than steel and concrete. When an army was going into enemy land using bridges across rivers, they left guards at the bridges to keep their enemy from using them. Sometimes, they burned the bridges so they could not be used, but this meant that they also could not use them if they had to retreat, if they had to go back across the rivers.”

“So, with people, it means do not make them into enemies, as you may need their help later,” Tess replied.

“Exactly,” her mother said. “Still, I am angry that they did not print this. I think I won’t send them any more.”

“Who will you hurt more that way, them or you?” Rick asked.

“Good question, Rick,” Mr. W. said. “Your mother may wish she could still write for them. It could be a case of ‘cutting off your nose to spite your face.’”

“What?” asked Tim.

“Sounds painful!” Tess added.

“Dad means that sometimes when we try to hurt someone else we hurt ourselves more, instead,” Mrs. W. explained.

“Shouldn’t Mom stick up for herself?” Rick asked his father.

“Sure, she can write a polite letter or give them a call, keeping in mind that ‘a soft answer turns away wrath,’ speaking gently often keeps others from getting angry.”

Mrs. Williams decided to heed both “silence is golden” and “turn the other cheek.“ She made her next article a little less serious, and it was printed. The magazine was pleased and so was she. She had succeeded…and she had not “cut off her nose” in spite.


One of our series of 50 instructive short stories.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

"Where Is Your Family From?"

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Mom, where are we from?” Tess asked.

“What do you mean, dear?”

“Are we Irish or French or Russian or Spanish or what?”

“Why do you ask?”

“We are studying geography, and the teacher wants us to tell where our parents and grandparents are from. If they spoke a different language, not English, we are to tell how to say, ‘How are you?’ in it.”

“That’s interesting. Your father and I were both born in America, so were our parents, your grandparents. Some of your great-grandparents came from some other countries, though.”

“Like where?”

“Let’s see…England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales on your father’s side. France, Germany, Italy, and Russia on mine. You kids are a real mix!”

“What language would I say ‘How are you?’ in.”

“They spoke Gaelic in Ireland and Scotland and some other language in Wales, but you can use English.”

“That’s no fun. How about French, from Dad’s side of the family?”

“We’ll work on it: ‘Comment allez-vous?’ which sounds like ‘Come on tally voo?’”

After a few tries, Tess was pretty good at it. Her dad overheard their talk, and ‘put in his two cents,’ giving them his opinion. “It’s interesting to know how other people speak, and if you were to go to their country, you would want to be able to speak their language, although English is spoken around the world these days.”

“Tess, we can guess some of the languages from the last names of the kids in school. That tells something about the father’s family.”

“Really? O’Reilly?”

“Irish,” Mr. W. said quickly.


“Italian,” Mrs. W. offered.

And so it went: Churnetski-Polish, Kawasaki-Japanese, Bouvier-French, Kaufmann-German, Lee-Chinese [May Lee, close friend], Gonzalez-Spanish, and so on.

“How about Twitchell?” asked Tess.

“Sounds British,” said Mr. W.

“Fooled you on that one. She’s Korean, adopted.”

Mrs. Williams commented, “Many people want to live here. A nice thing about America is how well very different groups of people usually get along. They often add some of the best from their home countries.”

The next day, in geography class, about a dozen of the students offered “How are you?” in the language of parents or grandparents, including Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian, German, Chinese, Japanese, and even Bantu.

“How about you, Tess?” her teacher asked.

“We’re a mix. I could try French, but American English was my grandparents’ language, so I’ll just say…what’s up?”

The teacher laughed, and so did the kids.


One of our 50 instructive short stories for young readers.

Sunday, October 5, 2014


Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

This is how the Williams family did not end up with a swimming pool in their back yard. Still, something good resulted.

“What’s the story with this water bill?” Mr. Williams asked Mrs. W. as he made out the check to pay the town for their water and sewer charges for the prior two months.

“What do you mean?”

“It’s much higher than ever before.”

“Let me see it. Yes, you’re right, much higher.”

“Either it’s an error or we have a big leak.”

No error…big leak. The plumber said it was not in the house and must be in the back yard, underground. That meant the ground had to be dug up, the pipes inspected. Sadly, the big shady maple tree in the yard had wrapped its roots around the pipe. The tree had to be gotten rid of to fix the pipes.

“But I love that tree,” complained teenager Tess.

“Maybe we could put in a swimming pool,” said fourth-grader Tim.

“A swimming pool! A swimming pool!” Two Williams children chanted. Brother Rick, somewhat older, did not chant, but he did mutter.

“Hold it, gang,” said Mr. Williams. “You have no idea what we would be getting into with a swimming pool. They are expensive and need a lot of work. We would need a big hole, rerouting the pipes. Then it takes a lot of cement and pumps and plumbing and filters, and we would have to put a fence around it to keep it safe. The water needs to be treated with chemicals to keep it clean. The filter needs to be changed. The pump can break down. When the summer is over, it must be drained and covered. There are not that many sunny days here in New York to make it worth the trouble.”

“Gee, Dad, it would be neat to have a pool,” Rick protested.

“Are you going to handle all the chemicals and the filters?” Mr. W. asked.

“I’ll be away as a camp counselor this summer,” Rick replied.

“Well, I’m not going to do it, nor will Mom nor Tess nor Tim. It isn’t going to happen.”

So much for the swimming pool.

The kids were obviously disappointed.

“Isn’t there something else we could do, now that the tree is gone?” Mrs. Williams asked. “How about a volleyball court?”

“Yes, volleyball!” Tess exclaimed.

Mr. Williams thought about it, “No fence, no hole, no concrete, no plumbing, no pumps, no filters, no chemicals, no added water bill. Good idea. Yes, volleyball!”

And so it happened. The volleyball court was a big hit. It was on the grass, with the corners marked by baseball bases, simple but good enough. Tess and Tim had to do their swimming elsewhere, but lots of friends came to play volleyball, and Tess went on to play on her high school volleyball team as well as on the high school basketball team.

You might say “necessity is the mother of invention,” though it was not really necessary that the family replace the shady maple tree with a play area. Nice, but not necessary.

Every once in a while, Mr. Williams would jokingly refer to the volleyball court as the “swimming pool.” Both parents were pleased not to be worried about anybody drowning out back…and their water bills were once again quite low.


One of 50 instructional short stories we wrote for young readers.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Chasing China: A Daughter's Quest for the Truth

Kay Bratt's recent novel, with this title, tells of the search for her biological parents by a Chinese - American girl adopted, happily, into a Caucasian - American family when she was only four. The story is intriguing and uplifting. I write about it in at .

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Review of the Biography THE SECRET AGENT


Subtitled “In Search of America’s Greatest World War II Spy,” this brief biography of Swedish-American oilman Erik Erickson by Stephan Talty lives up to its billing. Erickson’s courage and his impact on the outcome of the battle against Nazi Germany places him at or near the pinnacle of my pantheon of heroes. 

Erikson’s motivation? “We were raised to resist tyrants and dictators---and against any and all that used brutality and force to gain their goals.” Add to that the personality of an oil wildcatter and the desire to live up to the example of his heroic older brother, and you have the makings on an extraordinary man, the subject of an exceptional biography.

Teamed with a courageous Swedish prince, the charming and talented Erickson eventually wormed his way into the confidence of those at the highest level of the Nazi hierarchy, including Heinrich Himmler, the monstrously evil head of the dreaded Gestapo and arguably the second highest official in the “Thousand-Year Reich.”

Erickson’s goal? Disrupt the oil and gasoline supplies that fueled the German war machine. Eventually, he became trusted enough by the Nazis that he obtained frequent visits to the refineries and processing plants they used to create gasoline and eventually synthetic fuels, as their oil and gas supplies were reduced by Allied bombings and land victories.

During the beginning years of the war, Allied efforts were focused elsewhere, but by the last two years, it was realized that cutting off gasoline and lubricants could halt major elements of the Nazi military, especially its tanks and planes. The deeply hidden chemical processing sites were ravaged by bombing guided by the information supplied by Erickson. The Nazi air force largely shifted from defending the coasts to defending their oil and gas supplies. Logistical needs trumped territory protection.

Erickson was recruited by the Office of Strategic Services, the OSS, predecessor to our Central Intelligence Agency. To carry off his deception, Erickson had to become plausibly pro-Nazi gradually while maintaining industrial, governmental, and social contacts in Sweden, where his own petroleum-based business was centered. This imposture cost him his wife, his lover, his friendships, and nearly his life. The second woman he loved, Anne-Maria, an anti-Nazi German collaborator, was executed by hanging in his presence; neither acknowledged the other during the gruesome procedure, thus sparing Erickson‘s life. After the war, he carried her picture with him for the forty years until his own death.

Biographer Talty has resurrected Erickson’s story with the help of materials he recently uncovered. Decades ago, the spy had been the subject of numerous journalistic interviews and even a somewhat factual Hollywood movie, his heroism an inspiration. The details newly discovered only make him stand even taller. He was principled, patriotic, persistent, and dauntless.

Where does a country get such brave and dedicated men and women? Will we have them again, if needed? Examples such as that of Eric Erickson will help inspire and encourage them.


[This is a “Kindle Single,” from for its kindle e-reader and other similar devices. The length is about 20,000 words, roughly 80 pages.]

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Too Tall?

Douglas Winslow Cooper and Brian Maher

“Mom, am I too tall?” Tess Williams asked her mother as they finished washing and drying the dinner dishes.

“Why do you ask?”

“I’m the tallest girl in seventh grade, and I’m taller than almost all the boys, too.”

“When I was your age, I too was the tallest girl in class. Does being tall bother you?”

“A little. Sometimes I get kidded about it, nothing terrible, but it makes me feel funny.”

“When you get older, you’ll find that being taller than average is better that being shorter, even for a girl.”


“Most sports favor the taller players, though not always. At work, you will find that you are taken more seriously, listened to with more respect. Perhaps it shouldn’t be that way, but often it is.”

“Do boys date girls who are taller than they are?”

“Some don’t, but your father did. When he was in high school he had a crush on a girl who was an inch or two taller than he was, and they dated. It happens.”

“What was her name?”

“I’ll tell you that story another day. Her family was in a bad car accident, and their lives were never the same. Being tall had nothing to do with it, by the way. There are many more important things in life.”

“Is there anything I can do about being so tall?”

“Not really. You may choose not to wear high-heeled shoes, and some clothes will make you look less tall, but you should stand up straight and be proud of yourself, rather than slump and hide your height.”

“What about the kids who make jokes about my height?”

“Unless they are really mean, you can laugh along with them. They may be jealous, in fact. When you are grown up, you will do well and have the last laugh.”

Mr. Williams had been listening in. “It’s true that I really liked a very tall girl in high school. People have different tastes, ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ is an old saying with a lot of truth to it. Anyway, it is a mistake to make a big deal out of how people look.”

“You can’t tell a book by its cover,” Mrs. W. added, always quick with an old saying herself. Then she quoted another, “Beauty is only skin deep.”

“Tall is tall,” said Tess, with feeling.

“And small is small,” was Tim’s comment. He was a bit shorter than most of the kids in his fourth-grade class. He hoped to grow much taller.

“You’ll grow. You’ll grow!” his dad said, while thinking:
It is hard on boys to be short, but many short men have had happy lives.
Sometimes, they may have had to work harder to succeed, but they did well.
Rick is average height, and Tim will most likely be that tall, at least.
Time will tell.

Mrs. Williams had the final say. “We are told to improve what we can improve, accept what we cannot change, and learn the difference between them. You each will be as tall as you will be, and Dad and I will love you no matter how tall you are.” Then she put the last few dried dishes on the very top shelf…without even standing on her tiptoes.


One of our series of 50 instructional short stories for  young readers.