“All great change in America begins at the dinner table.” - Ronald Reagan
President Reagan alluded to the family dinner with his typical homespun flare and grin during his farewell address, which was delivered from the Oval Office in 1989.
Growing up, I was very fortunate to have parents who brought the family around the table to eat dinner, or what we called supper, almost every evening. For me, the ritual started with my Mom’s voice yelling out the kitchen door, “Maaarrrk! Time for supper.” Scrambling from my tree fort or playing combat (I was always Lt. Hanley; my best friend was Sgt. Saunders) my brothers and sisters, real and step would surround the table.
Didn’t matter what we had to eat, tuna casserole or meatballs and spaghetti; as I look back it was more a matter of being together for a short time than the food. We talked about the county fair or who got an A or D on their report card. Didn’t really matter what we talked about.
Because my stepfather was a civil engineer, the topic usually revolved around his latest project, but we all got a little attention and filled our bellies. No television in the background, our conversations were simple at first, but as we grew a little older they became a little more relevant: the Kennedy assassination; the troops leaving for Vietnam or the Feldman boy being drafted and what that meant.
My stepfather was interested in when our gravel road would be paved and when we would get a restaurant other the Brass Key, which he called a slop house. And what about trash collection, “Were they late again this week, Margie?” he ask my Mom. Even though we were one of the first subdivisions built among the dairy farms south of Cincinnati, we were still in a self-governed small town of about 2,000 people. “Why did city council,” he would grumble, “Allow Schultz to build that god-awful skating rink right at the beginning of our road?”
Apparently, old Schultzy built the rink long before there was zoning in our town. He also built the 25 or 30 houses on our road. Supper was usually calm until my stepfather decided his personal soapbox was a place from which to speak to the family. “The boys down at the VFW are talking about going to the next town meeting and telling the council if they don’t fix the trash pickup schedule, get the snow plowed, (two snow plows and about 100 miles of road) and quit raising our taxes, we’re going to have them thrown out of there.”
If my memory serves me right, my stepfather nor any other member of the VFW ever went to the council meeting. The trash pickup remained late; the snow on our road was never plowed and taxes kept going up.
He and his friends were not much different than citizens today. Citizens really do hold sway over their elected officials and could pull or push the vote on most issues in the direction they would like it to go. In fact, I’ve seen just a few people who speak at public meetings; having the meeting continued to another time (sometimes a BOS tactic), change the face of the Board action or kill it altogether.
In many cases I have seen a small minority, many times a group with special interests, push the results in the direction of the persons applying for a development case or a public issue, which affects all of us and not in a good way. The term “the tyrany of the minority” applies.
There are times when we end up with a shopping center or a new housing development in our backyard because we don’t speak up. One day we get up from our easy chair, look out the window and see the trees coming down. “Hey wait, “What’s going on here?” we say.
We end up with homes 75 feet from our back door with no trees between us and them or a small amount of bushes and a few sticks called trees. We should always be aware of what kind of zoning is around our house and what kind of buffers we would settle for if a new development should end up being approved or is already allowed. I would warn new homebuyers to be smart and check county records before jumping into buying their dream home with the great wooded space in their backyard beyond the property line.
The few trees that separate me from the development behind my home look like giant stalks of broccoli with a long-leafless trunk and a huge canopy above. I have since planted and let some natural volunteer bushes and briars grow along the property line.
In the movie “The Fly,” Geena Davis says, “Be afraid. Be very afraid.”
Know what’s contained in your covenants, what zoning is around you being prepared to negotiate, and/or be prepared to object in a public forum if you’re unhappy with a proposal. After all, it is your right, and in many cases, what you and your neighbors or association says can make a distinct difference.