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During an early scene in Still Mine, a thoughtfully true story of lifelong love recently released on DVD, 87-year-old farmer Craig Morrison (James Cromwell) learns that he won’t be able to sell his strawberry crop for the year. A new federal regulation has decreed that retailers can only sell produce that’s been transported by refrigerated truck. Craig protests—he just picked his strawberries a couple hours ago, and it’s not a hot day. Nonetheless his regular buyer has no choice but to refuse the beautiful produce. “Seems like there’s a regulation for everything these days,” Craig mutters as he drives away.
If the strawberries represent the minor inconveniences wrought by bureaucracy, the rest of the film illustrates how very personal impersonal government can become.
Craig returns from his meeting with the grocer to discover that his Alzheimer’s-afflicted wife of 60-plus years has fallen down the stairs. Craig doesn’t want to put her in a nursing home. His father taught him all the skills of expert carpentry, and he owns a lovely piece of land—all he needs, he figures, to build a single-level home better equipped to meet her needs.
What he doesn’t figure on is a building inspector who flags Craig for everything from his lumber not being stamped by a certified inspector (though it exceeds the quality of most certified wood) to his trusses not being engineer-approved (though they are more sound than typical professional work). Complying with a work stoppage order means Craig won’t have his new home ready for the worst of his wife’s illness. Ignoring it means a jail sentence.
We’ve all read stories of bureaucratic overreach and shaken our heads. But the image of a loving husband fighting the powers of the state to care for his wife shakes our hearts. The Morrisons’ relationship is real and complicated (Craig’s frequent swearing and a brief glimpse of his bare backside account for the PG-13 rating). But the specifics of their experience illustrate better than a stump speech ever could what we lose when we promote a safety net mandated by government over the freely given support of spouses, families, and churches.