My Great, Great, Great Grandfather William, the Hops Farmer 2021. Acrylic on canvas, 30 x 24"
With freedoms taken two centuries ago by hungry families, and not by modern soldiers plying their government paid racket in Europe, Africa and Asia, comfort and joy are now ours for the seeking. We have prosperity and well-funded public libraries for the free exchange of ideas. The philanthropist social reformer Gerrit Smith funded our city library in 1853. He made two demands; locate the library on the east side of the Oswego River, and shut out no person on account of race, complexion, or condition, even if you think he or she looks like a fervent child predator (italics mine).
I have a strong winter memory from a decade back, when the library director broke Mr. Smith’s bylaw. She followed me around the children’s room eager to catch an act of supreme perversion. I was finished collecting books and magazines for the school week (we homeschooled), and my daughter Sophie looked over her picks while I stood beside her at the tall windows, staring out at the winter sky to daydream. After a while the director peeked around a shelf and asked if she could help me.
“No thank you. I’m just looking at the view.”
Then she asked again, but with a little more strain in her voice.
“Sir, can I help you?”
Pause. She stared at me nonplussed. Suddenly the “flight or fight” nerves jumped circus leaps across my skin.
“Ma’am, you’re scaring me,” I said.
“You’re scaring the children,” she replied, and glanced at Sophie seated to her right, insinuating that I made a visit to the library this day to abduct, flash or fornicate with the junior scholars. I wasn’t the only parent there. It was furlough week at the school prison, and moms and dads were all about the place, frantic in their inexperience with pedagogy.
I looked around in complete disbelief. My hair was cut, my face clean-shaven; I wore a gray London Fog overcoat circa 1966—Oh!
So, the $80,000/year library director was profiling potential perversion by my poor choice of winter wear in a children’s library, even if I wasn’t staring at the kids with a pronounced tongue loll. Then I remembered how she approached me earlier, while I flipped through the kid’s periodicals, looking for science articles to read with Sophie.
“Can I help you?”
“No thank you,” I said. “I like to find things out by myself. It’s more fun.”
That line must have sounded a siren in her brain. One eye was probably glued on me for the next fifteen minutes while her imagination played out disgusting scenarios in her perverted mind.
My thrice great-grandfather William Throop knew Gerrit Smith personally. I have letters he wrote confirming their relationship. William and Gerrit shook hands at lectures and meetings, and perhaps even discussed the unwarranted exclusion of perverts and pedophiles in public institutions. What a remarkable sea change of society to be an accused clean-shaven 21st century man in his forties leaning against a mid-nineteenth century window sill. The fear bomb is ticking inside each one of us, even the professional public officials who deal with the good and bad of a city every day, and should know from experience all the makes and models of its social dregs. Still, some big irrationality informed the librarian that I was a threat to her charges. She felt the need to confront and accuse me without any revealed outward indication except that I appeared dangerous in her mind. The sad truth is that after clearing up my innocence (pointing out that Sophie was my daughter), I reminded the director that our family posed for a photography session in her living room just a few years prior. She told me I should understand that this is a dangerous world and she needs to be on the lookout for the children’s sake. Needless to say I was shaking with confusion and disbelief for the remainder of the day. I have always walked proud with my daughters, yet that afternoon I felt that I looked to everyone else like a stalking child molester in my chosen neighborhood.
Gerrit Smith poses for a photo in his old age. Sure, he looks the part of a typical 19th century child-toucher. No doubt that if alive today, as soon as he sat that long gray beard and fat round ass down on a chair at the children’s library, our director would call the police. Even if he admonished her with some words of reminder that it was his legacy which promoted the right of any man or woman, light or dark, socially sane or insane to become a library director. Distrust and cowardice is the new black in the American psychology. Five generations have passed since admirable human pride has digressed to a stone-age knee-jerk reactionary fear of everything we cannot control. So watch your backs fathers of Oswego! Keep away from your own spawn, especially if taking on any kind of interest in their intellectual development. Best to stay uninformed and working those fingers hard to callous. Remember to wash your hands in motor oil before coming to the library. The director will look to see the grease in your pores. She wants to check your threat by Oswego man standards. The only men who come to the children’s room are fathers who look very uncomfortable standing in the center of it. The director imagines a draft beer or monkey wrench grasped in each hand before determining a threat level. Come there erect and proud and you might be judged a pervert. See? I said, “erect”. It can’t be helped. Onto the pink bean bags fellow predators of my town and country! We’ll lean back, grin, and rub our hands together to the tender morsels all around.