I am not a politician. I have spent my life working hard at low-wage jobs. I usually buy my clothes at Goodwill and yard sales. I know what it’s like to have to count my pennies at the grocery store, to tell my children “we don’t have the money for that,” to search for a decent place that I can afford to rent, and to nurse an old car along for just a few more months. I have had to deal with major medical problems (heart attack and stroke, from which I am now largely recovered) without benefit of insurance. Through all these decades of scraping by financially, I have learned the value of family and caring friends, and that “the best things in life aren’t things.” I think Metro Council needs the perspective of people like me.
I grew up in the suburbs of Dayton, Ohio, the only child of a mother whose husband, my father, divorced her when I was eight. My mother taught eighth grade English to support us, and she was a very caring, passionate teacher. She worked hard, although unsuccessfully, to create an American Federation of Teachers union in her school district, and was active in Democratic Party politics. One of my early memories is accompanying her while she worked at the Dayton headquarters of Adalai Stevenson’s campaign in 1956. (Confession: I liked Ike!) When she was a young woman, before her military service in World War II, she had been active in the labor and anti-Nazi movements in New York City. I followed her example and, while still in high school, worked with the Dayton Alliance for Racial Equality. In college, I demonstrated for nuclear disarmament and an end to the draft and the war in Vietnam.
I graduated from high school in 1966, and went off to Goddard College in northern Vermont, where I majored in social psychology. The winds of change that were blowing everywhere in those days blew through Vermont, and carried me off to California to study the counterculture as part of my college curriculum. In California, I met Stephen Gaskin, then a San Francisco State College instructor, and the people around him. They met on Monday nights, and called the gathering “Monday Night Class.” I had come to California looking for a coherent community to study, and Stephen and the “Class” were it. When he and the group left California and came to Tennessee to start “The Farm,” I dropped out of college and joined them. It boiled down to whether I wanted to do what I believed in, or study what I believed in. I chose to get my hands dirty, and I’ve never regretted that choice.
I got to be one of the founding members of The Farm, and lived there for the first twenty years of my adult life. I married and raised a family there, from which I now have three grown children, two adult grandchildren. and a great-granddaughter.
Being part of the amazing social experiment that was The Farm educated me about what it takes to make a community function. Most of the time I was there, I was part of the farming crew, and spent my days out in the weather, hoeing and picking crops, driving tractors, and tending the community’s orchards and vineyards, which I planned, planted, and oversaw. When the community privatized in 1983, I took on the orchards as a small business, and made a name for myself as the first organic apple grower in Tennessee. I was a fixture at Nashville farmers’ markets, and supplied Sunshine Grocery and several other stores with apples and cider until 1989, when I got out of the business due to Tennessee’s unpredictable weather, which kept me from being able to make a living for my family.
After that, I spent several years working in the mental health field, taking care of at-risk teenagers and severely disabled adults. I learned a lot from the people I cared for, and also learned quite a bit about how large social welfare bureaucracies work–and how they don’t work.
In 1999, when Wild Oats brought the “health food supermarket” concept to Nashville, I was hired to work in the produce department. I enjoyed this job, with its almost constant interaction with the public, tremendously, and continued to enjoy working with people and produce when I left Wild Oats for The Turnip Truck in East Nashville. When my mother passed away in 2007, I took time off from work to help settle her affairs.
Not long after, I encountered health problems of my own–a heart attack and two strokes, as a result of which I never did return to the workforce. I am now retired, on Social Security, and living with my second wife, Cindy, in north-west Nashville, on land she has owned and homesteaded since the early eighties. We celebrated our tenth wedding anniversary in 2014. Two years ago, our uninsured, uninsurable home burned down, and since then we have been camping out on our land and marshalling resources to rebuild, a process that has now begun.
So that’s the short version of who I am and what I’ve done. In some ways, my life has been unusual and “off the beaten track,” but I think I have much more in common with the average voter than with the average politician, and I think our government would benefit if a lot more people like me were in positions of responsibility.