What Is Winter For, Anyway?

In my novel The Governor’s Lady, Mickey Spainhour is suffering from congestive heart failure and figures she’s not long for this world.  Her son-in-law Pickett is running for President.  In January Mickey says, “I hope I make it to March.  I would hate to die in February.  It’s a miserable month.  If Pickett gets to be President, I want him to outlaw February.”  Mickey’s daughter Cooper, who has just taken office as Governor of the state, says, “I doubt Pickett will waste a minute on February.”

Well, he should.  Let me hasten to associate myself with Mickey’s opinion of February.  It can be, often is, a miserable – nay, a wretched – month.  Just ask Boston.  If I get to be President, I will outlaw February by Executive Order.

But…fair-minded fellow that I am, I admit that February does have one redeeming characteristic: Valentine’s Day, when my heart is full to bursting with thoughts of my own true love.  So I would move Valentine’s Day to March.  February also has the Chinese New Year, but the Chinese can deal with February as they please.

One thing about winter in the Carolinas, where I live, is that it may grab you by the throat, but not for long.  Even in abominable February, we always have a mild and pleasant day when winter loosens its grip and gives us some hope that cold and gloom are not a permanent state of affairs.  Most of our winters here are mild, and maybe we don’t appreciate them enough.  Even February.

What is winter for, anyway?  It makes us hunker down, gives us grim looks and sniffles and a bad outlook on life.  On the surface, winter seems to have little redeeming social value.  But perhaps Mother Nature knows what she is doing when she gives us winter.  Maybe she intends it as a time to just be quiet and wait and listen to the secrets locked deep in our hearts, to discover anew who we are and where we’re bound.

We modern humans are unaccustomed to silence.  We surround ourselves with recorded noise and idle chatter.  Much of our daily existence is filled, as the Bard said, “with sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

But Nature is smart enough to spend the winter in quiet contemplation.  Deep in the icy ground, or under the awesome silence of snow, animal and seed are locked in winter’s thrall, listening to the secret ticking of the great clock of the universe.  The hands move slowly, as nature’s creations regenerate and replenish, gathering strength for the noisy explosion of spring.  Nature knows when to dash about madly and when to bide her time, waiting and listening.

As I write this, the wind is howling outside, rattling the shutters and shaking the bare limbs of the trees.  The temperature will dip to 20 degrees tonight, even colder tomorrow.  But I am hunkered down inside – some peaceful hours at my desk working on a new book.  Soft music on the stereo, a cup of hot tea, my imagination.  A time of discovery, possibility, serendipity.  And Valentine’s Day is just ahead, hearts and flowers, my own true love.

Okay, maybe February is okay.  But just.  Still, like Mickey Spainhour, I hope I make it to March.  I’ll leave it to you to figure out if she does.

Always, Always, Follow The Money

One of the most intriguing characters I’ve had the privilege to imagine in my career as a novelist is a woman named Mickey Spainhour: a crusty, profane, hard-nosed political operative (if you’re casting the movie, think Shirley Maclaine).  Mickey has nurtured the careers of politicians for years and in The Governor’s Lady, is – near the end of her life – providing advice and wisdom to her daughter Cooper, who is the newly-minted governor of her southern state.

Final cover.jpg

Cooper, despite having been the daughter and later wife of a governor, is somewhat naïve about the behind-the-scenes machinations of the political process.  Now, having taken office, she’s struggling to establish herself in the treacherous world of good-old-boy male-dominated politics.  She and Mickey have been estranged for years, but now, she needs help.  She needs Mickey, and Mickey needs a last political hoorah.  Across the chasm that divides them, mother and daughter have an opportunity to re-connect.  Mickey’s experience and savvy can become Cooper’s best resource.

My friend D.G. Martin, the host of “North Carolina Bookwatch” on the state’s public television network, reviewed The Governor’s Lady and, with his keen eye for nuggets of political wisdom, zeroed in on one particular piece of advice from Mickey.  D.G.’s review is entitled, “Always, Always, Follow The Money.”

Mickey’s advice comes as Cooper is considering whether to approve a land transaction – a piece of state-owned land, swapped for another privately-owned tract.  Cooper says it doesn’t appear any money is involved.  Here’s Mickey’s take on it: “

“Don’t be sure.  Money, real money, is quiet.  So quiet you have to listen hard to hear it.  The noise in politics, it’s mostly about what people call ‘issues.’  Folks at opposite ends of the spectrum yelling at each other: the gun nuts and Bible-thumpers over here, the bleeding hearts and tree-huggers over there.  Smoke and fire, thunder and lightning.  But back in the shadows, being quiet, are the people with the big money, people who stand to make a lot more money, depending on who holds office.  And they don’t really care which bunch it is, gun nuts or tree-huggers.  They can do business with either, or anything in between, or both at the same time.  Don’t get me wrong, money people have ideas and opinions, but they rarely let them get in the way of their money.  So always, always, follow the money.”

The debate about big money in American public life goes on – the buying of influence, the stacking of decks, the inside trading.  Some believe that using money to sway political decision-making is simply the exercising of free speech; others think that big money drowns out the free speech of the little guy.  Make up your own mind.  But while you’re doing so, consider the wisdom of Mickey Spainhour.