Tuesday, November 25, 2008

A New Holiday Battle...

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on November 22, 2008

The Holiday Season officially kicks off Thursday with my personal favorite, Thanksgiving Day. My wife and I will gather with family, eat some turkey, watch some football, and enjoy our favorite holiday traditions.

But there is a power struggle going on within our clan over just where the holiday celebrations will be held this year – and with whom.

This is our first holiday season as grandparents, and that is a joy I cannot properly express. My 7 month-old grandson (did I mention his name is William?) has given us renewed holiday spirit the likes of which we haven’t enjoyed since our own two sons were toddlers looking amazed beneath the tree on Christmas morning.

But our family is a bit more spread out now. Our married son and his family live on the Cape. They have expressed a desire to experience their own holiday celebrations this year, skipping some or all of our traditional family gatherings to start their own traditions.

That’s nice. Misguided, but nice.

Just who do these new parents think they are? They have the first grandchild on either side of the family, and decide they will dictate where and when the holiday celebrations will be? Sorry – that’s our job.

You see, we have earned our spot in the family pecking order. These young people haven’t paid their dues yet. There should not be any leapfrogging over those of us who have put in our time.

Almost 30 years ago my wife and I were the newly-married parents of the first grandchild on both sides. This made us very popular. Our presence was requested – read that to mean expected – at the traditional gathering of each family at holiday time.

Concessions were made as to schedules so we could bounce from one family celebration to the other. For years we took our kids on a hectic holiday tour, visiting relatives and friends and usually eating two holiday meals. And for years, we complained about it.

We tried to cut down on holiday travel. People can come see us, we reasoned. But we had a small home, and elderly and handicapped relatives for whom travel was simply too difficult. The mere suggestion we “alternate” holidays between the families was met with disapproving stares and teary-eyed sad faces.

But when my son was a year old, we informed my family we would not see them Christmas Day. My mother was hysterical. My grandmother, to whom I was very close, called me to her hospital bed early in December saying she had to ask me something.

“Please don’t take our baby away from us on Christmas,” this saint of a woman cried to me. I folded like a cheap suit, and promised her I would work something out. And I would have fulfilled that promise – except she died that Christmas morning and our celebration was decidedly muted.

As the years went on and people got older, we eventually gained in holiday status by virtue of our longevity. We bought a bigger house, and began hosting dinners for both families. It took a while, but we got there.

Now we find our status prematurely threatened. Our son and his wife are trying to pull a bloodless coup. With virtually no time served, they are expecting to move into Most Favored Nation status. This would be the political equivalent of Barak Obama totally skipping the presidential primaries, but still expecting to be nominated at the convention.

Our kids live in a condo not large enough for the entire family. While we have tradition on our side, they have a powerful tool in this fight – our perfect grandson. They know full well there is nothing in this world we wouldn’t do for Will (what a great name) and that we would never put our needs and wants above his having a wonderful Christmas.

So we wait and see what will happen. Strategic and top-secret negotiations will no doubt take place. Both sides seek a peaceful settlement.

Maybe we did it wrong all those years. But remembering my grandmother always convinces me that in the end - it was worth it.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist, and – in case you hadn’t heard – has a grandson named William. You can send him holiday advice at aninsidelook@aol.com.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Teacher Who Made A Difference

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on October 25, 2008

As voters throughout the area prepare to pack the polling places Nov. 4, I have to wonder: Why don't people get this involved and excited when it is time to participate in their local government?

The obvious answer is - they didn't have an Al Nuttall.

Ever had a teacher who greatly influenced your life? Al Nuttall is a former long-time teacher at Norton High School. If people want someone to blame for my involvement in local government, then Al is their man.

Mr. Nuttall taught social studies - and nearly everything else - during his many years in Norton. He coached several sports, ran the school-sponsored recreation program, and was a student favorite.

In my senior year, Mr. Nuttall taught a course called "Modern Problems." I'd like to tell you I took his class because it sounded interesting and challenging. But in truth, it just sounded a lot easier than math or science.

In that class, Mr. Nuttall introduced us to the politics of government. We studied how the Miranda case changed law enforcement in America. We learned about discrimination and the disgraceful resistance to racial equality in this country. We were exposed to political extremism and topics I knew about, but never really understood.

We also learned how our local town government worked. We studied Town Meeting and the issues facing it in that year of 1974. We learned of the role of selectmen, school committee, and finance committee. It all sounded pretty boring - until Mr. Nuttall decided to bring it all to life for us.

He set up a mock Town Meeting, completely run by students. Some of my classmates were selectmen, and they took positions favored by that board. Others were finance committee members, arguing the opposite position. The issue was what raises should be given to town employees.

The mock Town Meeting audience was the student body. The actual Town Moderator, the late Joseph Yelle, came to run the meeting. I played the role of Finance Committee chairman.

The debate was actually very intense, as both sides argued hard for their position. I don't remember which way the "town meeting" actually decided. But Mr. Nuttall made sure we all learned the rules, how to be recognized, how to treat others with respect, and how to make and vote on motions.

A week later, the recreation budget was up for debate at Town Meeting. As a newly-registered 18 year-old senior, I went to the meeting with Mr. Nuttall. He told me if I cared about the program, I needed to go and support it.

After a resident got up and spoke against it, the chances of approval seemed dim. With Mr. Nuttall's words ringing in my ears, I stood and was recognized. I spoke of the program, how it helped kids and was important to the community. People seemed pleased to hear from somebody who actually benefited, and the budget was approved overwhelmingly.

Mr. Nuttall couldn't stop smiling.

A week later I was called to the school office. I was a bit nervous - that is hardly ever a good thing.

In the office was the principal, Mr. Nuttall, and Town Moderator Yelle. Sensing my confusion, Mr. Nuttall told me the moderator had something to ask me. "I'm looking for a young person to serve on the Finance Committee" the distinguished and dignified Mr. Yelle told me. "Your teacher thinks you would be a good choice, and so do I. What do you think?"

I was probably the first would-be appointee ever to say he needed to go home and ask his mother first. But I did accept, and that led to 15 years on the Finance Committee, six years as a selectmen, 34 years of attending Town Meeting, and eventually having the honor to serve in the moderator position once held by the man who first appointed me.

But none of that would have happened without Al Nuttall, as I said when I spoke at his retirement dinner years later. I told all the people at that gathering that Al Nuttall had made a real difference in my life. And now I've told you.

Everyone should have an Al Nuttall.

BILL GOUVEIA is a local columnist and the Norton town moderator. He got an A in Mr. Nuttall's class. You can reach Bill at aninsidelook@aol.com.

Guns DO Kill People

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on November 1, 2008.

In this country and this state, we protect children. We insist they be strapped into car seats. We urge parents to make them wear helmets when riding bicycles. We regulate what snacks they can eat in school.

Yet this past week, 8-year-old Christopher Bizilj was allowed to go to a private gun club in Westfield with his father and fire a fully automatic weapon on his own. Not surprisingly, this weapon, designed for no purpose other than killing people, was too powerful for this innocent young child. Unable to handle the recoil, he shot himself in the head and died.

Now I fully admit I am not a gun person. I do not own one. I do not shoot them. I believe they should be heavily regulated - quite a bit more heavily than seatbelt wearing and bicycle helmets.

But I do not support eliminating all guns. I favor responsible gun ownership. I respect the rights of hunters, collectors and enthusiasts to own certain weapons. I back the right of individuals to protect their domicile and property by responsibly keeping a weapon in the home.

But gun shows where 8-year-olds are allowed to shoot Uzis? Sorry NRA - I definitely draw the line there.

While I do not necessarily support a ban on all guns, I see no earthly reason why anyone who is not in law enforcement or the military needs to own a fully automatic weapon. And it is disgusting and confusing to me when those who own them vigorously defend their right to do so.

We have the right to bear arms in this country. That should never be interpreted as the right to possess fully automatic weapons in residential communities. Any argument that it does is, quite frankly, absurd.

I know the gun lobby will spin this incident with this poor child. They will rightfully blame the instructor for lack of supervision. They will rightfully blame the parent for failing to watch over his child properly. They will rightfully blame the gun club for not having proper security.They will blame everyone and everything - except the gun. It is never the gun's fault.

You see, if they allowed blame to be placed on the gun it would be a threat to their industry, their philosophy, and their beliefs. Guns don't kill people - people kill people, goes the famous tag line. That is nice glib advertising, and it gets their point across quite well.

But dead 8-year-old children shot in the head by weapons that should only be used in war make a pretty serious point in the opposite direction.

Guns do kill people. So do cars, planes, and knives. We don't ban cars just because some people do not operate them properly and harm others. Why should guns be any different?

The answer is because they do not serve other purposes as well. People own cars because they make our lives possible. They transport us to and from places. They allow us to make our livings.

Automatic weapons kill people. That is why they are made. That is all they do. They are machines designed for no other purpose.

We are not talking about hunting rifles, or collectible muskets, or target pistols. You don't take an Uzi out deer hunting and gun down an entire herd in five seconds flat. So why in the name of all that is sane do we not ban these weapons across the country?

The NRA and others tell us there should not be bans on automatic weapons and hollow point ammunition. If you do that, they reason, then only the criminals will have them and the good law-abiding folks of this country will be overrun. Also, if you let them take our Uzi's, then they will come after our other guns next. You can't let "them" get a foot in the door.

That argument is as sad as it is wrong.We should ban automatic weapons. We should not allow them at gun shows where you don't need a permit to shoot them. We should more strictly regulate places where guns are shot. And if anyone wants to know why, we should tell them:

Christopher Bizilj.

BILL GOUVEIA is a local columnist and a staunch supporter of responsible gun control and healthy 8-year-olds. He can be reached at aninsidelook@aol.com.