The other day, on what would have been my mother's 90th birthday if she had lived, I was recalling conversations we'd had while I was growing up.
Mom was born in 1914 and married my father in 1938. They had many stories of the Great Depression.
Once she was sitting at the kitchen table with me, talking about the time right after she married Dad. Both were working but my mother quit her job six months later.
I had asked her why, since their first child did not arrive until 1941.
Her answer: "I worked until we could pay off our new furniture and then I quit. It was not considered patriotic for a household to have two incomes, when others were without any income."
Please understand my parents were working-class, not well off by any stretch of the imagination. They could have used Mom's income to save for a house or car, which in the end took them about 10 years to accomplish by doing without such frivolous things as vacations, dining out or a better wardrobe.
Patriotic, she said. My parents were giving up a few things to allow others in the country to have a little easier time of it.
So now we come to today. There is no depression, but war, poverty, recession and environmental concerns are plaguing us. How would a real patriot address these problems?
Are the men and women fighting in just wars, risking their lives to defend us, patriots? Of course!
Are philanthropists who donate time and money for medical research, scholarship programs, beautifying and preserving natural resources and national parks showing patriotic love for their country? I'd say so.
Are citizens being patriotic when they devote their lives to teaching, counseling and caring for children of poverty and abuse, while receiving only a living wage? Yes.
Are the "normal everyday" citizens who recycle trash, don't drink and drive, attend PTA meetings, pay their taxes and never miss an election patriots? I'd say yes.
There are countless ways for everyone to demonstrate love for their fellow citizens and their land.
Now let's consider the other side.
Is sending your own children to private schools, while voting against any taxes that would improve the quality of public education, showing love for others?
I don't think so. The love of one's children is undeniable, but how about your neighbor's kids?
Is is patriotic to pay a lawyer scads of money to find every possible loophole to avoid paying taxes that could help ensure the health of Social Security, educational improvements, or transit systems for those who can't drive to and from work?
The lawyer may be happy and cared for, but what about the general citizenry?
Is it a demonstration of patriotism to drive a gas-guzzling SUV, ignoring harmful emissions because one can afford the cost of gas?
No love there, except for oneself.
What about a CEO who outsources jobs overseas to increase profits, while laying off hundreds or thousands of hard-working employees?
I think not.
Are the heads of companies who move their business to, say, the Cayman Islands to avoid taxes -- taxes that improve education and preserve Social Security -- patriotic?
Not on your life!
Are the Enrons of the country that cook their books to make a fortune while depriving employees of a justly earned retirement good corporate citizens?
You get the message.
The definitions above do use the word love, but there is one word I would have thought would be included, but isn't -- pride. Just being proud of one's country alone is not patriotic.
Don't get me wrong: Being proud of one's country is laudable. But having pride is just not enough.
Being proud of the power and wealth of our nation is not being patriotic. However, it must follow that what a country does with its power and wealth is the true test of whether its leaders and citizens are true patriots.
So this election, I intend to look at how each candidate has used or claims to intend to use his or her power. And for those who have wealth, I want to know how they have used that wealth.
I certainly want my leaders to be patriots, and I can't believe anyone could argue otherwise. I want the people who have demonstrated love for their fellow citizens to be the ones leading us all down the road that will make us all good citizens of America, and instill in us how we, your everyday ordinary citizen, can demonstrate love for America and, more importantly, all Americans.
Karen Piet, Minneapolis, works for Hennepin County.
© Copyright 2004 Star Tribune