Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

October 22, 2013

John Cannon: Escaping to the 18th century: 10/23/13

John Cannon
The Independent

ASHLAND — With our federal government in Washington, D.C., broken and our elected leaders fighting like children, our friends Jim and Sharon Shortridge and my wife and I did the only thing we knew to do: We fled to the 17th and 18th centuries, a time when men were gentlemen and women were ladies and most were much more civil and caring.

It was a time when they were busy building a nation that was unlike any the world had ever known. Today, some of their ancestors seem intent on destroying that nation by ignoring the high principles on which it was founded.

It was a time when compromise was not a dirty word. Instead, it was practiced. People came together, realizing they could not agree on everything, but instead of allowing their differences to destroy them and the nation they had created, they sought to find a middle ground. None of them got everything they wanted, but they were willing to budge enough to find that common ground.

We call those leaders our Founding Fathers, but in today’s highly partisan political climate, leaders who seek a middle ground are called wishy-washy, or people with neither convictions nor principles.

Our plans to escape the turmoil in Washington by fleeing to a different time began more than a month ago when I naively thought our elected leaders would reach a compromise rather than allowing the federal government to shut down. How foolish of me. You would think than after more than 45 years of being a newspaper journalist I would have known politicians almost always put themselves before country. Why should it be any different this time?

When we asked Jim and Sharon if they would like to share a week at a time-share we own, our first choice was Savannah, Ga., but it was not available. Neither was Charleston, S.C. However, the time-share in Colonial Williamsburg, Va., was available and we signed up for five nights. I’m not saying it was the best vacation we ever took, but it would be in the top 10. We had a great time.

My wife and I had visited Williamsburg four or five years ago, but it was with our oldest granddaughter. We only spent part of one day there, and let’s face it, a 13-year-old — even a smart, mature one like my granddaughter — is not going to be interested in the same attractions as two couples ranging in age from 64 to 77. Granddaughter is not a history buff, but Jim, Sharon, my wife and I all love history and could not get enough of it during our time in Williamsburg.

To really see it and take in most of what it has to offer, you need to spend more than one day in Williamsburg. Colonial Williamsburg, the private foundation that owns the historic portion of the first capital of Virginia that is one mile in length and a half mile wide, recommends spending at least two full days there, but the four of us spent four full days there and there still were things we did not have time to see.

My favorite attraction was listening to Thomas Jefferson. The same actor has portrayed Jefferson in Williamsburg for 26 years and probably knows as much about him as anyone. I am not sure how much of his speech, which lasted more than an hour and included questions from the audience, was prepared, but this Jefferson uttered words about 13 independent colonies coming together and making compromises to agree on the Declaration of Independence.  Even John Adams, an outspoken opponent of slavery, was willing to remove the issue of slavery from the document to get the Southern states to agree. However, even a slave owner like Jefferson took a stand for freedom for all when he wrote “all men are created equal.”

The large crowd listening to Jefferson laughed when he talked about leaders from the 13 colonies putting aside their differences, not because it was funny, but it was just the opposite of what was occurring in Washington in the 21st century. The portrayers of Martha Washington and George Washington got similar responses from the audience when they touched on issues appropriate to the mess in Washington. Of course, some of them were visiting Williamsburg only because the federal shutdown had ruined their planned vacations to Washington, D.C. After all, why go to Washington if the Smithsonian and the Capitol Mall are closed?

We also had made plans to visit nearby Jamestown and Yorktown, but those visits were limited because portions of both historic communities were closed because of the shutdown. But we were able to leave the 18th century and go back to the 17th century when our 21st century Congress agreed to kick the can down the road and reopen the government. Space does not permit me to say more about that portion of our vacation.

When we departed Williamsburg, Jim purchased gasoline for $2.999 a gallon. When I filled up my car in Ashland later that day, the price was $3.499.

Paying 50 cents more for gasoline here, where it is refined, than in Virginia, made me realize I was back home and in the good old 21st century.

JOHN CANNON can be reached at jcannon@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2649.