Griping about humanity’s state of affairs, especially when it comes to political shenanigans and spending public money, is timeless, universal and inevitable.
As the French novelist Alphonse Karr famously noted, “ Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” (“The more it changes, the more it stays the same”).
It’s been more than 80 years since my neighbor Tom Harter began his eternal rest across the street. Thirty years earlier, rural German communities throughout Pennsylvania knew him as the creator of Boonastiel, a series of commentaries written in Pennsylvania Deitsch dialect.
Gottlieb Boonastiel, the fictional resident of Hawsa Barrick (“Rabbit Mountain”), gave Everyman a voice.
Take this, for example:
“It’ll soon be that time again when politicians come out and say that the government’s goin’ to blazes if you don’t vote for so-and-so.
“Once these big-wigs especially start puffin’ up about patriotism, watch out. They only want to puff up their own pockets with our money. How many of these people do you think sacrifice their own interests for the sake of their country? They’re as rare as bacon in a doghouse.
“One party calls the other party thieves because they can’t get their own hands into Uncle Sam’s pants pocket.
“People in general are poor creatures. I say that if you wanna be successful in politics, you gotta sell your soul so you can buy more stuff.
“Politics everywhere is just like drivin’ a wagon. We’re the horses; the courthouses and the legislatures are the wagon; the party bosses are the drivers; and hunger is the whip.
“We drag the wagon through dirt and snow, winter and summer, and the officeholders sit up on top with fancy hats on their heads and kid gloves on their hands.
“And oh, how they feel sorry for us horses! Every four years they get off the wagon, stroke our shoulders and tell us how hard they worked to drag the wagon through the tax mud. They make us feel good, rubbin’ promises over that sore spot under the horse collar. They tell us how badly they feel because the wagon’s so heavy and the tax mud’s so deep.
“Then they call over their friends and relatives — who never even rode on the wagon before — and tell them to hop on board for the ride. That makes the load heavier and heavier, but no matter. We gotta pull the load anyway. Then when they’ve fattened us up with expensive oats, they crack their whip, and the wagon starts again on another four-year trip.
“Up and down hills, day and night, sunshine or rain — it’s always pull, pull, pull. Even when we horses need to eat our oats, they’re often taken away, and whatever isn’t stolen goes to pay for pet projects.”
The ways we travel and the languages we speak may change over time, but the same lessons are always there for us to relearn. Even a century later, Boonastiel’s words echo down the years, offering something for everyone across the political spectrum.
Perhaps the words of another Frenchman, Joseph de Maistre, would be just as fitting: “Every country has the government it deserves.”
Bruce Teeple, of Aaronsburg, is a freelance writer and local historian. Readers may write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.