Ten or so years ago a friend asked if I would help him move a gun safe from his garage to his basement. I agreed not knowing what I was in for.
I had heard of gun safes; I just hadn’t ever seen one. My father’s “safe” was a corner living room closet where a Marlin 12-gauge shotgun and a Remington .22-caliber pump rifle casually stood picket.
I had a similar gun safe, the sock drawer of a bedroom dresser where my great Uncle Ches’s chrome-plated .38 caliber pistol laid, rarely seen and never fired, for more than 30 years. (I gave it away in 2018.)
When I arrived at my friend’s house, I met the 900 lb., steel-and-concrete gorilla that he wanted to move. It was big enough to hold my Dad’s guns, Uncle Ches’s .38, and what I guessed to be most of the guns of the battleship USS Missouri.
After we moved it, I asked him why he owned so many guns; more, I said, than he could ever use at any given time.
“Well,” he said looking me in the eye, “they’re for when ‘they’ come.”
He never said who “they” were but he was serious and I took him seriously. He was then, and remains, a great friend — whether I think there is a “they” or not.
He’s not alone. In America, the freest nation in the history of the world, there has always been a lot of “theys.” Maybe it’s the unprecedented freedom to govern ourselves that breeds our hyper-vigilance against anyone we think might undermine it.
It could be our differing definitions of patriotism. Am I patriotic if I legally carry an assault rifle down a crowded city street or, similarly, carry a sign down that same street that proclaims my U.S. senator an idiot?
I’d do neither but “they” already have, sometimes in the same city on the same day.
Rural America is equally charged over the “theys” in today’s bitter election-year politics. While 2020 corn and soybean yields might be lower than expected, there’s a record crop of flags, road signs and hats declaring “Trump 2020” throughout farm and ranch country.
That unprecedented display has fueled other “theys” to shine a critical spotlight on farmers and ranchers over how the Trump Administration’s fattened 2019 and 2020 ag subsidy programs might be buying rural votes in key states needed by President Donald J. Trump to win re-election.
Are “they” right? You decide, but equally true is that farmers and ranchers would be crazy to leave government subsidy money on the table, election year or not, and critics are well within their rights to point out the open connection between the subsidies and 2020 politics.
We will hear a lot more “theys” as our bile-spilling election season stumbles to a close. “They” are coming after your guns. “They” will pack the court.
“They” will raise your taxes … give you a deadly virus … weaken our borders … rewrite our Constitution … spend us into a depression … get us into war …
They, they, they.
“They,” of course, are “We, the people,” Americans either by birth or by declaration. That means we are free to think what we want, vote however we choose, say whatever suits us and live in any manner as long as it respects the rights of our fellow citizens.
That also makes me a “they” to my gun-owning friend and he lets me know it. I, of course, return fire as good as I get.
Then, usually, we move on to topics that are equally divisive — religion, Illinois politics, baseball teams, how much salt to put on French fries, the best American beer. You name it, we can argue over it.
But then he’ll ask me to help him move a gun safe and, maybe in a month, I’ll ask him to weld something.
That makes us “theys” a “we” and we know we can do more together — whether it’s sharing a laugh or sharing a love of country — than either of us can apart.
Alan Guebert is an award-winning agricultural journalist and expert who was raised on an 720-acre, 100-cow southern Illinois dairy farm. He can be reached at email@example.com.