Judd Gregg: An Irish friend and wisdom

Judd Gregg: An Irish friend and wisdom
© Greg Nash

I have this friend. I call him that, although he may call me an acquaintance.

He is in his early 70s.

He has had a life of working with his hands. In fact, he says he has broken 13 fingers over time and fixed 12 of them himself.

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He is, of course, still working.

He grew up in Dorchester, which is sort of part of Boston. It was an ethnic neighborhood back then. It was mostly Irish but had a great number of Italian families too.

It was a place where you learned your values when you were young.

It was a place where the pecking order of learning, at least in terms of everyday, important things, was your family, your priest and then your neighborhood — not necessarily your school.

His values are simple but strong: Family, friends, hard work and humor.

When he was eight, he and his buddies would take the MBTA into Boston alone, no adults. One of his buddies would go to Boston Common. He would have lots of breadcrumbs and use them to capture a few pigeons that he would stick under his coat.

Then they would go to Filene’s Basement and let them go.

“Oh, what a commotion it caused,” he recalls with a chuckle. “Nothing bad really, we just had fun.”

At 14, he worked in the kitchen at the local nightclub. He would get home around two in the morning. He worked 20 or 30 days straight. The money he made was $400 a week — “a lot in those days, and at 14,” he said.

At 16, he was driving a garbage truck.

“Can you image that today, at 16 years old driving a garbage truck?”

His mother had five kids in five years, including one set of twins. His growing up gave him a distinct sense of place and purpose.

He has led a life of pure grit.

He has seen much and knows more.

It is fun to listen to him.

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“A little full of himself, if you ask me. How many times can he use ‘I’ in a sentence? My mother always used ‘we’ when she wanted to get something done right. Seems he missed that point.

“You know the old Irish saying: This guy only tells the truth when the lies don’t fit. How many lies is he up to now? 8000?”

On the Democrats running for president:

“There is very little the government does well, so why do they want the government to tell us how to do everything, like on our healthcare?

“Whatever happened to logic, they [the Democratic presidential candidates] just throw stuff at the wall to see what sticks…makes no sense to me.”

On Congress:

“They should take back some of the stuff they have lost to the president, like trade. Seems they can’t lead and they can’t follow. Can’t see why they want to be there."

On political candidates:

“I don’t care what they have after their names, an ‘I’; a ‘R’; or a ‘D.’ I would just like them to have some common sense.”

He spends a lot of time simply shaking his head.

Maybe because he has been many places and done many things, he has a keen sense of what is right and wrong about politics and our government.

He is like many Americans, one suspects.

People like my friend are a little befuddled by our present state of government — befuddled by the people who claim to run our country and befuddled by those who wish to do so.

He intuitively reflects the basic good sense of our culture as he muses on the state of our nation.

It is not only refreshing but reassuring.

Underneath all the bombast and rhetorical excess that we are now subject to from our politicians, ordinary Americans are just trying to live their lives in a decent way, knowing some obvious truths.

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In Dorchester, when my friend was growing up, this type of language would have gotten your mouth washed out with soap by your mother.

Times, of course, have changed. Dorchester has changed.

But my friend’s observations, built on a good life of work and family, have a distinct clarity that is applicable to any time.

He is, I noted, in his early 70s. This is the perfect age to be a senator. It puts him right near the median age of the Senate membership.

“You should be in the Senate,” I suggested once, after listening to him ramble on about the state of things.

“Nah, I am happy doing what I do. Got a great family, still working, have a big garden. What else could a man want?”

“People in government who think a little like you do,” I thought to myself.

Judd Gregg (R) is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee.