My grandfather Sam Dawson died this past weekend. He was 99.
My grandfather was a dairy farmer all his life. He got up before dawn every day--"cows don't take a day off" was one of his lines--for milk that during my lifetime went to the Hood bottling plant in Agawam. We'd wave to the trucks when we saw them on the Mass Pike, because they had "Pop's milk" in them.
But dairy farmers--family farmers in general--can't make it work just on farming. He and my grandmother always had other things they were doing. He trucked cattle. They both drove for the school district.
And, while it didn't bring in any money, my grandfather was on the local school board, before later becoming town assessor, councilman, and supervisor for their little town in the Berkshires over the New York State line.
I grew up going to the county fair with my grandparents. My grandfather is the only member of my family having any personal involvment in politics, and I didn't realize until much, much later how much I absorbed from those very, very long walks through the county building at the fair in September. I and my sister were collecting pencils with names central Massachusetts had never heard of to bring to the start of school; my grandfather was hearing about new babies and neighbors bickering and all of what sounded a lot like gossip.
But really it was about people and how people are connected and what people care about. It was about what kind of schools those babies would go to and if those neighbors had what they needed to get through the year and what sort of town we were working together to have, after all.
Because that's what politics is. It's how we work out government. And government is us.
My grandfather didn't rise to high elected office. In fact, he was dumped by the local party when he endorsed a member of the other party because he didn't think much of the integrity of person from his own party. It's among the things that makes me most proud of him.
It's people like Pop that make local government go. They don't do it for glory or power or money. They do it during long nights and weekends when they have hay to bring in and cows that are sick and kids who maybe would like to see more of them.
We can't have a civilization without them, though.
So, during this season of town meetings and budget hearings, if you'd like to do something to honor Sam Dawson, please thank those local officials hammering out your local budgets.
Rest in peace, Pop. I'll miss you.