So, if yesterday’s talker was from West Virginia, this one comes from Ohio. I see Sherri, who apparently reads the entire internet every morning before I’ve had my first cup of coffee, referenced it obliquely yesterday.
I can’t keep up with you, Sherri, but I have a one-degree-of-separation connection to this one. Here’s the top:
BLANCHESTER, Ohio — A life of farming taught Roger Winemiller plenty about harsh twists of fate: hailstorms and drought, ragweed infestations and jittery crop prices. He hadn’t bargained on heroin.
Then, in March 2016, Mr. Winemiller’s daughter, Heather Himes, 31, died of an opioid overdose at the family farmhouse, inside a first-floor bathroom overlooking fields of corn and soybeans. Mr. Winemiller was the one who unlocked the bathroom door and found her slumped over, a syringe by her side.
Nine months later, Mr. Winemiller’s older son, Eugene, 37, who once drove trucks and tractors on the family’s 3,400-acre farm, overdosed at his mother’s home. Family members and medics had been able to revive him after earlier overdoses. Not this one.
This native Buckeye had to look up Blanchester on a map. Turns out it’s not far from Mt. Orab, where my best friend Deb grew up. I sent her the story, but she’d already heard about it via her connections there, and of course, this is not a new story in Ohio; her sister’s best friend lost her youngest son to a fatal OD not long ago. The wrinkle on this particular story is that this farmer’s last surviving child is also a heroin addict and while he says he wants to stay clean and take over the family farm someday, he’s only been clean for a couple of months. His father now carries a naloxone dose with him at all times.
So that’s the angle: Heroin in the farm belt, and its implications for the next generation of farmers. I wish I were kidding.
I’ve seen urban poverty and rural poverty, and both are terrible, but there’s something about the rural variety, perhaps because we’ve all been coached to believe the country is where the bedrock virtues are nurtured most tenderly — hard work, faith, family. Of course, these farmers aren’t poor, but it won’t be long now if their kids are sticking needles in their arms.
You know there’s a punchline in all of this, right?
The elder Mr. Winemiller, who was among the 68 percent of voters in the county who supported Donald J. Trump for president, was rankled by scenes of political protest on the news. He saw only disorder and lawlessness.
“There are too many people who are too wrapped up in their lives. All they want to do is go out, bitch and complain,” he said. “My view on Donald Trump, he’s what this country needed years ago: someone that’s hard-core.”
He likes the toughness. After his son and daughter died, he began meeting with sheriffs and politicians at forums dedicated to the opioid crisis, urging harsher penalties, such as manslaughter charges for people who sell fatal hits of opioids.
Mr. Winemiller, with all due respect and sympathy for what you’ve been through, manslaughter charges aren’t going to help. What pulls people into drugs, from both the supply and demand ends, is no respecter of get-tough policies.
Deb’s family was by no means well-off, and staying put in southwest Ohio would have been the easiest thing in the world. Inertia always is. But she enrolled in a little Catholic two-year college, founded by the Ursulines and open to anyone with a high-school diploma or GED. From there, she was able to transfer to Ohio U. and finish with the most transformative credential available in this country — a bachelor’s degree. Her boyfriend went to Berea, a Christian college in Kentucky that charges no tuition and is founded and run strictly for low-income students.
Some people have to be farmers, because we need farmers. But I am tired of this Wendell Berry-worshiping, Rod Dreher claptrap about the saintly virtues of small-town life. Of course it’s nice to live on a street called Main or Elm or Oak, surrounded by people who are all nice and friendly and exactly like you, but there’s also a reason heroin is a growth industry in these places. “Get Out” would be a nice title for a movie about them.
Which brings me to the other story of the day, about a string of break-ins in the neighborhood where we used to have a lake cottage, in Branch County. One of the girls arrested used to play with Kate when we went up there on weekends. She was a bit of a pistol then, and the rumors about her pilfering from boats and other easily accessible places started not long after they spent a summer or two hanging in the summer sun, next to the sparkling lake. Still. I looked up both girls on Facebook, and they’re both pregnant, apparently by the two young men they were arrested with, both of whom have priors. It’s like they’re born under a bad sign, before they even get their neck tattoos.
This is one reason red and blue America keeps pulling apart. Where would you rather look for a job? Columbus or Blanchester? Grand Rapids or Coldwater? Where are the essential virtues more likely to be found? Where can a family have the modicum of stability that comes with a steady paycheck, the better life for one’s children that can only be gained through education?
Tell me again how getting tough is going to solve everything. These are, as they say, “diseases of despair.”
Sorry for being such a downer.
Just a reminder, too: The AHCA won’t cover drug treatment. Get tough!
Speaking of drugs! And not to end on a total bummer note, here’s what I’ve been working on lately — Nance gets her medical marijuana card, and goes looking for her medicine. In Bridge. Click and learn.