And Then What Happened?: My buddy Mike and I

  • PARATI

For the Recorder
Published: 11/1/2020 2:30:49 PM

Here’s what Mike Dufresne and I have in common: We both live in Ashfield.

Mike once presided over the Hilltown Snowmobile Club, which is how we met. When I owned Elmer’s Store, we organized breakfast discounts for snowmobilers out on their cross-country adventures. Because I spent my adventuresome years in the pretty snowless South, those snowmobiles parked across the street while I ran around serving their riders breakfast is as close as I’ve ever gotten to the vehicles themselves.

Mike grew up hunting and fishing, and he entertains his Facebook fans with “Friday Night Gun Porn,” where he displays photos of the nicest guns he’s seen that week. While I admire the artistic scrollwork on his older, fancier picks, I’ve never held a gun in real life.

And probably the widest gulf between us is the large, steel cutout of Donald Trump that greets visitors at his driveway. Yeah, I ain’t got one of those, nor would I. In a million years.

Mike grew up in the hilltowns, buying his first tract of land at age 18, the very lot on which he eventually built the house he and his family still live in.

Politically, he considers himself to be just to the right of center. He grew up a pragmatist: Nobody owes you anything; you work for what you earn; and when things don’t turn out the way you thought they would, you suck it up. Mike’s a registered Independent, has always voted Republican, avoids “mainstream media” and is a settled-in Trump supporter.

Me, I was raised by beatnik intellectuals. My youngest brother’s first memory is of standing on the steps of the post office, protesting the war in Vietnam. Those protests intertwined with the civil rights movement, and my parents were kicked out of the PTA and the Lutheran Church for their stance on desegregation, back in the day.

The same years that saw Mike building his deep-woods house saw me living in a low-income, all-Black neighborhood in New Orleans. The experience gave me a wide-angle view of what it means to be Black in America; it’s not the same as being white. Hard work doesn’t always bring the same result that comes expected in white worlds.

Which of us is wrong in our experience and thus, in our views? Neither. We just grew up on opposite ends of the elephant.

So that is me, and that is Mike.

Oh, but wait! We do have one more thing in common — both of us have noticed that yelling at or dismissing people who differ with our politics has never led anyone to agreeing with our views of the world. So we don’t do that.

In fact, Mike and I have met somewhat regularly for the last four years just to see what the other side is thinking about, and to take in and discuss the answers.

Mike doesn’t mind an intelligent argument at all. “That’s how you grow!” he says, and he even appreciates the increasing liberalization of Ashfield as a way to “raise more spirited conversations.” He recognizes faults in the current president, even cringing when it gets deep. “I think Trump could handle the issues of race much better,” he says, and he found the president’s behavior in the first debate “rude” and unhelpful. But Mike’s no fan of arguments without convincing back-up.

“Joe Biden’s done great things? Show me those things,” he says, and listens to the answers, though nothing’s won him yet. He recognizes the frustration of Kamala Harris’ strength being dismissed as “Angry Black Woman,” but thought she needed to “own” more and deflect less in the vice presidential debate. I thought Mike Pence should have done the same.

Mike and I do both love our communities; besides his involvement with the snowmobile club, he’s involved with Ashfield’s Rod & Gun Club. For me, Elmer’s was a full-time community organization, and those breakfasts of yore would be harder to organize now, as more outsiders buy the properties that snowmobilers used to ride through, and ban the trails. The old hilltown traditions are slipping away and that hasn’t helped the divides.

Lots of things haven’t helped.

I remember thinking a few years ago that, while I understood it, the outrage over previously accepted, suddenly politically incorrect speech was going to cause trouble, somewhere, soon. Yup, Mike doesn’t have much room for the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortezs of the world, in his world.

Despite that, Mike says he’ll still help shovel your driveway, and he’d never driven past if your vehicle was broken down, regardless of where your politics stand. Nor, I’ve found, do I.

I allowed how I might be slow to put a pro-Biden sign on my lawn for fear of attracting someone who didn’t like the sign and who might want to do something about it.

“I’d be there for you,” says Mike. “I’d protect you against them if you needed me to.”

Which just throws all of it into the box of “Things That Make You Say, ‘Hmmmm.’”

And gives you some hope for what we’ve gotten ourselves into these days.

Nan Parati lives and works in Ashfield, where she found home and community following Hurricane Katrina. She can be reached at NanParati@aol.com.



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