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Viewpoint: Family lore guides legislator's view of policy-making

As a young boy in the early 1900's, my Grandpa Stark was forced to leave school in the 6th grade and go to work in the strip mining fields of southern Kansas to help support his family. No stranger to hard work, he fulfilled his duty to his family, growing to be a responsible young man, marrying and starting a family, and moving to a small farm.

He was a young husband and father of five during the Depression, and he continued to work tirelessly to support his family, while still extending a hand to those who had even less than he. One of those people was a man named Gobey Lucas.

Gobey lived on the margins, known as the town drunk, a man who many shunned or avoided. But not my Grandpa Stark.

Whenever they crossed paths in town, my grandfather would say, "Gobey, come on out to the farm. I've always got work digging posts or picking rocks, and you can get a hot meal and a clean pair of overalls." And Gobey would come, and work hard for my Grandpa, knowing he would be treated with respect and his work would be valued.

The family story continues until one year Grandpa and Grandma and each of their five children contracted scarlet fever. Their house was put under quarantine, and as was typical in those days, no one dared breach the quarantine line. One neighbor did leave a 10-pound sack of flour at the end of the road, but my grandmother was too weak to go out to pick it up. As was the case for many families of that time, it seemed likely that some, if not all of them would die.

But hearing the news that my family was sick, Gobey Lucas showed up at the house to care for them. Walking through the door no one else dared enter, he tore clean rags to bathe their fevers, made weak broth to feed them, and changed their soiled linens.

He stayed by their sides when no one else would, and treated them with the dignity and respect with which my grandfather had always treated him.

According to the stories I've heard from the time I was a young girl, Gobey Lucas saved my grandfather's life, and the lives of his entire family.

When they recovered their strength, Gobey left. He went back to his life on the margins, yet his bond with my family remained strong. You could say that Gobey is responsible for me being here today, and that by recognizing his inherent dignity and worth, my grandfather helped him reach his true potential.

I share this story with you as backdrop, as we prepare to confront challenges unprecedented in our state's recent history. In the months ahead, the choices we make will determine how Minnesotans live and work in years to come, and we'll have plenty of chances to speak about the policies and politics of how to make those choices.

But just for today, I hope we'll keep a little bit of Gobey and Grandpa Stark's story in mind, and to take care not to forget those who live on the margins, nor their potential to make our lives richer; those who've lost their homes or their jobs, or those without health care.

Our responsibility as we balance this budget is to lay the groundwork for an economic recovery that will lead to a stronger and more prosperous Minnesota, while taking care that the solutions won't cause additional harm to those who are already suffering.

That's a pretty tall order, especially when it's clear that some cuts are inevitable. But if our state budget is a reflection of our values, then we must take care to ensure those values aren't compromised, and to offer hope and help for all Minnesotans to reach their full potential.

Swails (DFL-Woodbury) represents District 56B in the Minnesota House. To contact her, call (651) 296-1147, 409 State Office Building, 100 Martin Luther King Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155 or e-mail