My name may be familiar to some readers. I am a senior contributor and featured writer for Bearing Drift, the pioneer in Virginia conservative online news and editorial media. Over the last several years my writing has focused on local government issues, policy and how these relate to our Virginia General Assembly. My perspective is shaped by everyday life in Caroline County, Virginia, as the wife of a member of the Board of Supervisors for almost a decade..

Elected to the board, as the first Republican in a blue county, Jeff took office with a determination to turn around years of irresponsible decisions which left our county near bankruptcy. More importantly, he was also determined to remember exactly who elected him to the job. I went along for the ride, kicking a bit at first as ‘politics wasn’t my thing.’ I had a taste of elected office on our local town council, like my mother and grandfather before me, but was more than happy to be done by my second term.

Nearly ten years later, Jeff is as close to his constituents on a daily basis as one man can possibly be, a presence in the community and in the lives of our citizens. Local government is up front and personal, where one can open the front door on any given day, and find a citizen on the doorstep in need of help with an issue

I am grateful for this experience as it has shown me the need for a voice reflecting the everyday person, who isn’t an activist or writer, but is no less dependent on the workings of politics. I have learned more about governance from this life, and more about the real people Jeff represents, than I learned in my first 50 years about any subject.

My home, Caroline County is for the most part a rural locality which still boasts breathtaking scenery. Due to it’s huge size however, a large swath of the county touches on I-95, and we are sandwiched between Richmond and the beginnings of NOVA, wherein lies the curse. Developers, mostly from the north have been having their way with a corrupt Board of Supervisors for 30 years. While the board was predominantly Democrat, the good ole boy network that kept them in office was vocally and unequivocally old “Boss Hogg style Republicans.”

Long story short, Caroline was for sale to the highest bidder, and so utilities, development and growth appear all over the county in a chaotic jumble of bad decisions. The board funded a brand new YMCA with tax payers money, while the High school, built in the 70s had a fire a week until a referendum mandated a renovation, which resulted in an 11 cent tax increase in one year. In 2015, the citizens had finally had enough, and elected three more conservatives to the Board of Supervisors with the best interests of the citizenry at heart, and we are well on the way to cleaning it up and turning it around.

I have talked about this Caroline story many times on Bearing Drift and get messages from people all over Virginia who realize they are living a similar story, where the problems in local government run deep and they feel there is no recourse. There truly is little one can do legally if supervisors are breaking the law, most often quite blatantly as they rule autonomously and are essentially untouchable at the local level. The only recourse is to vote them out of office, and we are proof positive it can be done. The citizens just have to maintain that fire in the belly and be wary of false prophets. Choose leaders with honestly and a backbone and then the biggy……….. remember to show up at the polls.

Long before local town hall meetings, however and tough campaigns and waiting up on late night board meetings, I had a life as journalist which only occasionally touched on politics. I am best known in print media for writing history, preservation and architectural stories, about my part of Virginia. I also wrote the first guides to Caroline County and the two incorporated towns here, which included both tourism and economic development. I have had features in regional and local newspapers and every kind of specialty publication in the area.

Today though, as I ponder editing and making decisions for The Jeffersonaid, I have that overwhelming feeling of dejavu. I hear my late father laughing because this writing, this political view and broad interest in the world at large is truly his legacy. The book he gave me when I was six about Thomas Jefferson sits on the shelf just about my head. I am exactly where I am supposed to be.

I often hear the phrase. “My dream was to be a writer. The desire to capture stories on paper was not a dream, but a part of my bones, as we say in Caroline, from the beginning of my conscious memory. The desire to record life and an inability to actually write was needling me from the tender age of four. Those were the Dr. Spock days, when a plethora of advice books about raising children advised one not to teach children to read before they entered school.

Even then I was seeing life like a moving picture, recording details in my mind that I could not communicate on paper. I got wise when my grandmother read to me often and began to memorize the look of the words. By the time I got to kindergarten, I could write a string words on paper from memory, which did not impress my teacher who wanted me to write what she was teaching. I counted the days until first grade began, because I had been assured that was where they would really teach me to write.

That was when my historian father began in earnest to fill my shelves with books. He belonged to every book club in the world which would send to me a children’s classic or a history book, and the collection grew and grew.

I grew up just as the innocent America of the 1950’s would change forever because of a small country in southeast Asia called Vietnam. My world in a town of 500 people in Virginia wasn’t like Mayberry. It WAS Mayberry. The faces on our black and white television on the nightly news were John F. Kennedy and Walter Cronkite. The grown ups talked about when and if my father, who was in Military Intelligence would be sent to Vietnam.

He got a pass and we were all sent to Central America, where at the age of eight, I was speaking Spanish and writing all of our exploits down in letters home to my grandparents. My father took us on many adventures into the real world of the Panama Canal Zone, where people wore rings in their noses and some of the poorer members of that country were actually starving. I got my first dose of politics at that young age when I asked my Dad, why a rich country like the United States could not afford to feed the hungry kids I saw. He told me the U.S. was pouring money into Panama but the “politics” of the country prevented the money from reaching those who needed it most.

When I was nine, my father volunteered for Vietnam, at first as an aide to General Westmoreland, but it came as no surprise it wasn’t his gig. He volunteered to set up a brand new operation in the field using what was at the time, state of the art technology loaded and configured into a van that he and his small group of men built. They tracked and reported on the movements of the Viet Cong and relayed these in briefings to the command. They also tracked other information. So sensitive were the documents they carried and what they knew, that during the Tet Offensive in 1968, the 101st Airborne who were under attack, put my father and his men in the center of the compound and surrounded them to prevent their capture.

My mother wrote to him weekly about all the goings on in the United States with the demonstrations against the war. She was a vibrant Democrat who believed in the civil rights movement, and defying small town tradition, opened the first Democrat Party HQ in support of Hubert Humphrey.

My father though, ever the writer as well, wrote home sometimes two or three times a week during those critical months in-country in 1967 and 68, recording everything he saw through his historian eyes. Due to the nature of his job, he could not always reveal his exact whereabouts, but sometimes there were hints. My mother read us his letters at night after we looked at the map. She had a map of Vietnam on her wall on which she had inserted push pins. She would watch the nightly news and try to determine where the fighting was, and would sigh with relief if she thought she had pinpointed his whereabouts in a safe place.

Here is just one of his many letters. This was his reply when my mother begged him not to take his new assignment and to stay in the relative safety of Saigon.

Saigon, Vietnam

10 September 1967

I am not much good at telling you how much you mean to me, honey.  I never have been and probably never will be.  But there is one thing that I want you know and understand, and that is that I love you more than anything else in this world or the next and after you, come our children.  Remember I am a soldier by choice not chance.  I freely chose to come here to Vietnam when I did.  Yes, I owe my family something that is true, but I owe my country something too.  If it wasn’t for America I wouldn’t have a wonderful family to come back to.  I pay my own debts and I am paying a debt now.    This I write with pride.  I’ve trained for ten years for this one year at war. For the first time though I can see what it was all for and if I had to choose again, I would still come here.  You would have to see it to understand, Nancy.  Words just can’t describe this time, this place and situation, a people and their country trying to survive.  Sometimes its hard to hold back the tears when you see some things around you.  Pray God we never let people as these down.  Maybe my being here will be a contribution of some kind to keep our son from ever hearing the words “Get the wounded out and police up the dead”  God Bless and keep you happy and free. Hug and kiss our children for me. 

Love,

Joe

When my father returned from Vietnam, our next tour of duty was in Europe where he left no stone un-turned to make sure we saw everything that was not geared to tourists, but presented an opportunity to absorb the true history and culture of a given country. At Dachau Concentration Camp, a visitor, an elderly Catholic Priest moved silently from picture to picture in the museum, crying silently. I sat on the bench with my father and said, “I don’t feel like crying. I’m angry that all this was allowed to happen.” He turned to me and said, “The most important thing is to learn about how this happened, how the political dynamics came together to form this perfect storm which killed millions of people. I want you to see the faces here and remember these were real people, and to know that we must never allow this to happen again. To do this, we use our voice to convey the history and the consequences. With this knowledge comes responsibility.”

I must use my knowledge and my voice responsibly. Got it Dad.

There was never a time in the history of our planet where responsible, outspoken voices were more in need than in this, the 21st Century. I know that every generation thinks politics and times were tough, but the internet and the ability to instantly communicate ideas, both incredibly good and monstrously bad has changed the world forever.

I thank the board of Virginia Line Media for the opportunity to edit The Jeffersoniad. We welcome responsible, knowledgeable thought in the form of essays and Op-eds. To submit, send to susan_sili@msn.com