Politics in a Victory Garden


jr foley (iii)

  Uncle Pat Foley had two laughs. The first laugh sounded like fast pistol shots.  The other one was like a plunger on a deep hole, sucking laugh after laugh from his lungs in slow, deep, rich pleasure.  The first time we met -- I was five ‑‑ Uncle Pat had put out his hand, man to man -- he was a tall and bony sailor, dressed in white -- and, man to man, he crushed every bone in my hand. That had happened a long time ago, when Uncle Pat was Superman. Now he was better than Superman, he said. He was a law student. He worked in the Foley and Foley office downtown ‑‑ as Foley No. Two for a while -- and he went to law school at night.

So he would have missed the Committee meeting at the Silver Spring Armory, too. But next morning, say, just before lunchtime, he’d be lounging in the blue flowered easy chair by the front door, laughing, as my father told about it again.  I’d be sitting on the edge of the davenport, hearing more of what my father had been telling my mother at breakfast. All of us sipping Cokes; Pat and my mother with a little cheer in theirs.  In the fresh light my mother on the arm of the television chair, in the blouse and skirt she wore grocery shopping, eyeing her husband with a watchful smile.  My father pacing between, back and forth before the gilt mirror on the green wall.  At times I glance up at four arms gesticulating, two mouths, and hands scratching two curly heads.

"‑‑Sooo," my father, halting, fingers scratching in his tall curls, would sweep one arm.  "Colonel Lee polls the precinct chairmen. We're standing around, talking, very crowded, and it's a very excited crowd.  Suddenly Ward Caddington walks up, the Chairman of the State Central Committee ‑‑takes me aside, 'Jack,' he says, 'Brooke.'  Brooke. To his closest friends the Colonel is Brooke‑‑"

I laugh, wrinkling my nose. "Brooke?"

"Brooke.  It's an old Maryland name, goes back in his family two hundred, three hundred years.  Now listen. Ward Caddington says, 'Brooke is very impressed with the support you have here. We're trying to put together a Harmony Ticket.  ‘Hah money, Hominy Ticket. We want Hominy.’"

Uncle Pat laughs; we all laugh.

"'We're putting together a Hominy Ticket and we'd like you to be on it.'  What could I say?"

Bugging eyes, he holds his hands out like wings, and shrugs, and we laugh again.

My mother cocks her head and lowers an eyebrow.

"But wasn't this an issue in the last two elections?"


"It seems to me that last time you were against these endorsements by the State Central Committee."

"When was I against being endorsed!"

A confused smile wrinkles her forehead.

"When you ran for the State Central Committee. When you ran for Delegate to State Convention."

"What?" say I.  "You ran for something else?"

"I ran for the Committee in the Primary in 1950.  I finished 13th in a field of 13!" He says it with a tough, proud mouth.  Uncle Pat's lungs began to suck into a laugh.  "I ran for Delegate to State Convention in the ‘52 Primary, and finished 8th in a field of 9!  And got 7,000 votes!"

Uncle Pat's laugh is deep and rich.

"And I was the only candidate whose margin increased from '50 to ‘52."

"But you lost?"

"Of course!"

"But I never knew you ran for something."

"There's a very good reason for that." He sticks out his eyes and tongue.  "I never campaigned."


"I only spent fifty cents to put my name on the ballot to see how many people would vote for me.”

“The Holy Names,” Pat smiles, “and the Knights of Columbus.”

My father’s eyebrows shrug.

“As Election Day approached I got a little nervous, so I spent two dollars and fifty cents to print up a little green card, just for our precinct.  I got 3100 votes.  In '52 I did the same thing, only I didn't put out a card, and I got 7,000 votes!   I was the only Democrat in the County who got more votes in '52 than he got in '50."

"But you lost."

"Of course I lost, I didn't campaign."

"But I don't understand--."

“Then I founded the Kensington Democratic Club, two days after Eisenhower’s landslide in ‘52.  Disaster creates opportunity for the opportune.”

Uncle Pat laughs.

“The opportune!”

"But you still haven't answered my question," my mother breaks in with a suspicious smile, making the point with her finger.  "In those Primaries you came out against slates endorsed by the State Central Committee. And now you're accepting their endorsement."

"Do you want me to reject it?  Do you want me to get on the phone to Ward Caddington and tell him, 'I've reconsidered, I don't want your endorsement!?"  He stares at her, wagging his head, his lips making big round enunciations, hands turned humbly to his chest.

"No. No. No," says she with a scowl. "I didn't say that, I'm just asking‑‑"

"You want me to say," fingertips to chest, '"I fffling your kind endorsement back in your face'?"

"NO NO!" The corners of her mouth stretch, irritated.  "Let me finish!"

Uncle Pat, laughing, waves his hand.

"Jack!  Jack!" He throws his arm forward.  "All Lucy is pointing out is that in your ... vaulting ambition to become a Judge of the Orphans' Court, you seem to have compromised some youthful idealism."

She laughs, but her eyes are sharp.

"I'm not even saying it's so‑‑" she says quickly.  "All I meant was to make the observation‑‑."

"But your observation was critical," her husband gestures, as though he were placing a big stone in front of her, twice.  "Your tone was critical."

I try to break in, but I don’t understand what they’re arguing about.

"Jack," says Uncle Pat.  "When nobody endorsed you, you refused to be endorsed."

"I attacked Organization endorsements."  He jabs the air with an heroic finger, laughing the laugh he laughed when he was caught.

"But now that you have matured with experience."  Uncle Pat's forehead furrows wisely.  "You have come to appreciate that getting endorsed is not such a bad thing."

"And I didn't ask for it!"  Hands out, head shaking, again bug‑eyed.  "They asked me!  It's a free country.   If they believe I am eminently well qualified to be a Judge of the Orphans' Court -- if they feel moved to endorse my ability, and my integrity, how can I repudiate anyone who endorses my integrity?"

They all laugh; I give up trying to understand.

"Why, they even asked Gene Ruppert to step down and take another place on the ticket.  Ruppert is on the Court, now."

"Haaa. So."  Pat takes a long swallow of Coke and smacks his lips. "So you'll wait till next time to run for House of Delegates."There is a laugh in his brother's face.

"Well you see, Ward Caddington told me, 'We don't feel you're strong enough yet to run for the House of Delegates, but we feel you'd make an excellent Judge of the Orphans' Court."

Pat listens, his laugh beginning deep, then breaking off like gunfire; we all laugh.

"So, when do you file?" he says finally.

He is told.

"But we're not waiting till then to start campaigning.  The K.C.'s have a Communion Breakfast coming up next week.  It will be our -- debut. We'll‑‑."

"Who's we?" my mother tosses, with an eye sliding from her husband to his brother to her husband.  "Since when are wives invited to Communion Breakfasts?"

"The Boy and I."  Me.  "Oh there'll be many meetings, many many functions ‑‑ funk shuns, I like that word, funk shuns ‑‑ where you and I will be in attendance."

She eyes him narrowly, nodding, nodding, the corner of her smile curling in a peculiar way.  I know it well.  We'll see, it says.