On pandemic walks and political perspective

The pandemic has changed my Turnagain Arm Trail morning walks with the dog, in form and substance. I’m not just talking social distancing and a Buff around my neck to serve as a mask, if needed.

My older brother, Craig, who has several conditions, including age, that increase his vulnerability to COVID-19, has begun accompanying me — from Arizona. He lives alone and has been quarantining in his home there for more than six months. One morning, months ago, Craig texted me, “What’cha doing?” I texted back that I was walking the dog. Craig then called and said, “I figured you were. Can I come along?” Since then, we’ve been walking together. Here’s how.

I threaded two stout rubber bands on the Velcro adjustable strap in the back of my baseball cap. When we’re ready to walk, I FaceTime Craig. After we’ve said, “Good morning,” I switch my phone’s camera so it’s facing out, holster it into the rubber bands on my cap, and put the cap on backwards. Then I start walking and Craig sees what I’m looking at. It gets him out of the house “virtually,” and we converse along the way.

We haven’t spent this much regular time together since we lived at home as kids. It’s not like being in the same room, but it’s a pandemic “make do.” No topic or humor is off limits. Recently, I was fretting aloud about the upcoming election and the possible upheaval afterward portended by Trump refusing to commit to accepting the outcome. Craig responded, “Remember Rutherford B. Hayes?” I said, “Wasn’t he a President?” Craig filled me in.

In 1876, Republican Hayes faced Democratic Sam Tilden in the presidential election. It was undisputed that Tilden won the popular vote. After a first count of electoral votes, Tilden had 184 to Hayes' 165, with 20 votes unresolved — 19 combined from the three southern states of Florida, Louisiana, South Carolina, and one from Oregon.

A political deal was brokered through a party-rigged Electoral Commission established by Congress. Hayes got the 20 votes in exchange for promising to withdraw federal troops and effectively abandon Reconstruction. Both parties got a win at the expense of southern Blacks. Republicans got the White House and southern Democrats got one-party rule with a free hand to re-subjugate Blacks through Jim Crow laws.

I was speechless. The blatant corruption of the process was astounding. Craig continued, “And, you know what, sis? All those people are dead. And that’s no conspiracy theory. Every one of them is dead. And in another 150 years, we’ll all be dead.” We were silent as I continued to walk. The aspen leaves fluttered gold, the sky was blue, fall was in the air crisp as a green apple, and the dog meandered joyfully ahead.

“So, maybe,” I said haltingly, “it’s not as paramount as I thought. Maybe, I should just enjoy our walks, the dog, my health, family, friends, good food, good books, good wine, the love of a good man, and my infinitely wise brother.”

“Maybe,” Craig said.

Val Van Brocklin is a former Alaska state and federal prosecutor, now international trainer and writer, who lives in Anchorage.

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