Mr. & Mrs. Cornwell at Hume Lake

I’m 69. I’m a late bloomer. Actually, a lot of my fellow boomers are late bloomers. The generation we knew was the greatest took a while to find itself. Before you begin to wonder why I’m boring you with my story, let me begin by telling you this little saga about growing up in a political family in Maryland is leading up to something. After writing five screenplays too smart for Hollywood, and giving up on ever getting funding for an independent production, my debut novel is on sale now at your favorite online retailers. #ScaryWhiteFemales is a satire on woke culture in general; and the war on men in particular. It will tickle the funny bone of independent thinkers, recall the glory days before the death of humor, and raise the ire of the indoctrinated, who are all too well-educated for their own well-being. As Bertrand Russell famously said: “Men are born ignorant, not stupid. They are made stupid by education.” This little three-part tale will chronicle my life’s journey from diehard Republican to rock-ribbed conservative; from there to Ron Paul revolutionary, and finally to my and my wife’s final destination as insatiable seekers of truth. In our minds, truth knowing no party affiliation.

Cornwell Family Photo
With my hero father, my inspirational mother, and best friend younger brother – 1955

My earliest political memory was that my mother and father liked Ike. In hindsight, if limited to a pool of World War II generals in our selection of an honest president, George S. Patton would have been the preferred choice. (Oh, that’s right. They killed him.)

The Timonium, Maryland of the early sixties was a great place to be a kid. Timonium was cool, and it was more than that it was home to a race track and the state fair. A bunch of Orioles lived there, including Jim Gentile (46 HR, 141 RBI in 1961) and Brooks Robinson. Colts too, Johnny Unitas for one. Our father was a Yankee fan, and for that reason so were my brother and I, but as with every Baltimore kid of that era, we lived for the Colts. We were not converted to Oriole fandom until they swept the Dodgers in the ’66 World Series. We weren’t stupid.

In those dark days before America was saved by liberals, kids could roam the suburban streets with impunity. We lived on our bikes. We rode them to school, and during those summers we’d bid our mother adieu shortly after breakfast, and she wouldn’t see us again until lunch. Timonium was booming, so there were always plenty of construction sites to explore and other mischief to get into. Or profitable enterprises, like pulling a wagon up and down York Road bottle hunting (to collect the two-cent deposit). Fifty got you a dollar. Big money in those days, when the going allowance stood at a quarter. On slow days we sat on the front steps watching the dump trucks and cement mixers cruising up and down our street. I remember the day the earth movers invaded the field in front of our house on Greenmeadow Drive, making way for the new bowling alley and Acme Market. Later that same summer (I think) came the new Gino’s. Gino’s was a Baltimore institution, founded by Colt great Gino Marchetti. Every neighborhood had a Gino’s. Gino’s was McDonald’s before there ever was McDonald’s. I never left home without my glove swinging from the handlebars. You never knew where a game might break out. Plenty of baseball was played, most of it in the bowling alley parking lot.

The 1960 presidential election was our introduction to down and dirty politics. I was only seven at the time, and my brother six, but we were into it. So was the whole neighborhood. All the Catholics were for Kennedy. Kennedy was a Democrat, so in our house that made him evil. My father had Nixon/Lodge stickers on all four sides of our station wagon, but we were no match for the Kennedy cars. Kennedy cars were so plastered with stickers that only a small peep-hole was left for the drivers. Our older friend, Keith, was resident expert, and Kennedy spokesman. I remember him on his soap box (actually the steps in front of his house) telling us, “Kennedy’s gonna raise taxes, and that’s what they should do.” I guess that sounded good to Keith, since he wouldn’t be the one paying them. But since Kennedy actually lowered taxes, I guess that was our introduction to misinformation.

Anyway, Kennedy won. It seemed like a disaster at the time, but I was only seven, and still ignorant of the facts of life; that in the big picture it didn’t make much difference who won elections. It did mean four years of Jackie. The most closely guarded secret in our Republican household a little boy’s man-sized crush on the first lady. To me, she was the epitome of elegance, class, and beauty. Whatever happened to beauty?

I was always fiercely independent and, I guess, a minor prodigy. I was walking at eight and a half months my mother would proudly tell, and not long after that climbing out of my crib. Every night they’d put me to bed, and minutes later they’d be in the living room, look up, and I’d be standing there. They say you can’t remember anything from before age two, but I distinctly remember my affinity for a certain flavor baby food. Plums. I would sit there in my high chair, praying they would give me plums. Alas, most nights I was hauled away disappointed. What was wrong with these people? Did they not see me bouncing up and down, and waving my arms for joy, on those rare occasions they favored me with plums. Even dumb people know their dog’s favorite food.

From the beginning, I was a reader. I taught myself to read in the second grade. By then I’d gotten tired of Dick and Jane, and seeing Spot run. A new kid came to our class. His name was Doug Boyle, and he was reading real books. I never asked him who taught him to read, or how. I didn’t ask for the teacher’s help. I would do it my way.

I started checking books out of the library, and just figured it out. Today it’s called phonics, but what they don’t tell you is that I invented it. Within weeks I was reading real books, just like Doug Boyle. I guess a super competitive nature also had something to do with it. I would get up at six every morning to read. I was always late for school because I couldn’t tear myself away from my book. I liked biographies most, and books on American history, but most of all I liked sports.

This proved my undoing—for more than two decades. All I cared about was sports, with baseball at the top of the list. I knew all the names, and standings, and stats. In my third-grade class I was known as Mr. Baseball. But when it came to TV sports, I watched everything. Like all my friends, I was a rabid Colt fan. Gino, Lenny Moore, and Jimmy Orr were my favorite Colts. Everyone loved Artie Donovan. Even though I worshipped Johnny U, I always thought he looked kinda dorky in his high-tops. And to this day, no one’s going to tell me that Super Bowl with the Jets wasn’t fixed. The agony was only compounded nine months later when the Orioles lost that awful World Series to the Mets. In basketball, we were diehard fans of the old Baltimore Bullets. Wes Unseld, Gus Johnson, Earl the Pearl and company clashed with the Knicks in a run of classic playoff series that had my nails bitten down to the nubs.

Name it, I watched it. Wide World of Sports with my announcing idol, Jim McKay. Track, tennis, gymnastics, swimming, skiing, car racing, horse racing, boxing, bowling, bob-sledding, barrel-jumping; it didn’t matter. I still remember my introduction to golf, watching Jack Nicklaus win the 1967 U.S. Open at Baltusrol. I had never watched golf before, but I couldn’t turn it off.

Fortunately, I got straight A’s in school, because at that tender age I was still afraid to not do my homework. My fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Charles, was the coolest teacher at Timonium Elementary. She took us on field trips to Annapolis and Washington in the same year. None of the other classes did that. Sometime during that year a covert meeting was called. Apparently, I had knocked the ball out of the park on the IQ test we all took, and Mrs. Charles thought my mother and father should be apprised of the situation. Although I knew nothing about it at the time, I think my parents were relieved. They had always been afraid that I was a little weird. It turned out that maybe I was just smart, and it wasn’t really my fault. This was before gifted and talented programs, so nothing in my life really changed. That was also the year I established myself as the class comic. I had quite the following. Mrs. Charles was great in mostly looking the other way while I was lost in self-expression. What a wonderful lady. I’m hoping against hope that she’s still around to see that I amounted to something, but I would guess that she was in her thirties or forties then, so . . .

Meanwhile, my father had become more active in Republican Party politics. Somewhere along the way he was elected to the state central committee. I was never too sure what they did. My first political rally was in 1962. It was held in some very large building, I have no idea where. It was packed with people, and whenever there was any kind of break between speeches, the crowd would chant “We want Agnew! We want Agnew!” Whoever this Agnew guy was, everybody wanted him. Spiro Agnew was elected Baltimore County executive that November, and governor of Maryland four years later. In 1968, the year of unrest, he achieved some fame as a tough law-and-order guy, and Richard Nixon chose him as his running mate. He was pretty effective as Nixon’s attack dog in his five years or so as vice-president, but at some point he pissed off the wrong people, and was run out of town. The president came next.

Fifth-grade was the year everything changed. After being one of Mrs. Charles’s favorites, my fifth-grade teacher did not like me. First, a little background. The year was 1963. We were at the height of the Cold War, and the military-industrial complex had kicked into high-gear. Both Bendix and Martin Marietta had large installations nearby, and virtually my entire fifth grade class was the offspring of engineers. The whole year was a smart-off. Among the boys anyway, every test devolving into a competition to see which of us would be the first to casually strut to the front of the classroom to present his completed work to the teacher. Sometimes I won; other times I came up short by a matter of seconds. The competition was intense.

November 22, 1963 was the day President Kennedy (a true American hero) was murdered by factions in our own government. I will never forget my mother’s tears. One could certainly make a case for the events of 1913, or FDR’s abominations, but I truly believe this to be the day America died. To be buried forever, September 11, 2001.

Early the following year, my mother and father made the decision to escape the Timonium jungle. My last day at Timonium Elementary was February 7, 1964. I remember getting into a shouting match on the way home with Patty, the very smart, very pretty girl I secretly loved; with me telling her how much I hated her, and she telling me the same—and that she was glad I was moving! Hatred, I guess, trumps indifference. The following day we moved to our beautiful farm in the wilds of Northern Baltimore County. Our address was an R.F.D. number. My parents named it Sycamore Farm, for the two giant sycamores standing side-by-side in the front yard. After living across from the bowling alley’s live-action parking lot, I had to adjust to the quiet. It was spooky. And so dark. Floors still covered with paper from the contractor, and surrounded by stacks of boxes, Mom, Dad, my three brothers and I gathered around the TV set the next night to watch history: The Beatles first American appearance on Ed Sullivan.

Talk about culture shock. Country kids were different. They wore flannel shirts and blue jeans. Whoever heard of wearing jeans to school? And they all seemed to be related one way or another. Everyone was either a cousin, second-cousin, half-sibling, or something. I kinda felt left out. I found a best friend right away. Igor’s mother was a widow, a Ukrainian immigrant, who ran a hundred-acre dairy farm, her only help coming from her two sons. She was one tough lady. My brother and I supplied plenty of free labor putting hay away, partly because we didn’t know any better, but mostly because Igor’s mother was such a good cook.

It was beautiful in the country, but there wasn’t a whole lot to do (our being too suburban-blooded to go in for Huckleberry Finn stuff), so my brother and I started working on the neighboring farms (for pay now). My brothers took to farming, but a job where you had to work that hard seven days a week didn’t appeal to me. The winters were cold up there too, and they got a lot more snow. I remember the blizzard of ’66. We were snowed in for a week. The county eventually came in and hauled the snow away in dump trucks.

The 1964 presidential election was an eleven-year-old’s introduction to political smear campaigns. A principled man and patriot, Arizona senator Barry Goldwater lost in a landslide to the incumbent president, Lyndon Johnson; the shady Texas politico who had succeeded President Kennedy. Because of his staunch anti-communist views, Goldwater was portrayed in campaign ads as a trigger-happy extremist, bound to lead us to nuclear holocaust at the very least. In an irony of ironies, he had been a close friend of Kennedy’s from their days in the Senate. Though they clashed on issues, each considered the other an honorable man. With Goldwater the early favorite for the Republican nomination in 1964, the two had talked of conducting a civilized campaign, where they could debate the issues in a series of Lincoln-Douglas style debates.

The powers who ran things had taken care of both.  

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