Roger and Bob were shooting the breeze as I walked unnoticed through the front door of the large hangar of a mechanic shop. They spoke with the sort of lyrical pace you only find in small towns, with an effortless poetry to their language. "They combined three good shops into half of a decent shop, so of course they didn't have the part." I sat overhearing for a moment, enjoying the ease and wit of a time and place where talking was all you had. The shop smelled of clay, hay, and rust. A sort of always familiar smell, even to those who've never smelled it before.
Roger agreed to talk a bit about his life. Bob lucked out, saying he could claim "I knew that guy" whether Roger turned out famous or made a fool of himself. They seemed close. Closer than most folks are in any city I've ever lived in. He grew up in Paynesville Minnesota, a town of about 2,500, and about 1600 when he was young. I asked him some of his earliest memories:
He was reluctant to think of his upbringing as anything but run-of-the-mill. Kids played, they drove up and down the main street, they got into trouble.
In a small town, word traveled faster than his legs could carry him, so no troublemaking went unnoticed.
Roger was describing a classic case of what cognitive scientist George Lakoff describes as "Strict Father Morality" in his upbringing. It's a standard trope for conservative communities but he seemed to avoid jumping whole-hog into the stereotypical conservative mindset. Instead of following this moral roadmap, insisting on a strong, almost authoritarian set of moral rules for the country, Roger surprised me near the end of the interview with his description of what made him proud of America
There was a sense of duty and a belief in a common cause that was refreshing and interesting to me to hear from someone who claimed a conservative upbringing. In popular coverage, conservatives are for rugged individualism and a near-abolition of the state from providing resources to people. Roger, turned that somewhat on its head as he described what his responsibility is as an American.