Cultural shifts usually happen so slowly that we rarely notice them.
Back in the late 1950s and early '60s, when I was growing up in Parkland, my limited child's view was that everyone was a Democrat. Those were the only yard signs I saw during political seasons. The Democrats held an annual summer picnic at Spanaway Park.
My mother was full-blood Norwegian, which meant Lutheran - and Democrat. All the enlisted military people we knew as friends and neighbors were Democrats. The American South (until 1964) was solidly Democratic. Working people, especially union members, and the poor (though no one called them that) were all Democrats. Even Billy Graham was a Democrat.
Republicans lived in a different world; they were the rich people who lived in cities - downtown Tacoma, or even more likely, urban centers like Seattle.
The Republicans of Washington state were "moderates" like Dan Evans, who founded and later became president of The Evergreen State College.
Parkland had a John Birch Society bookstore that featured shrill, paranoid (and sometimes hilarious) stickers that I posted on my high school lockers and notebooks.
The adults surrounding my childhood had lived through the Depression. The men had battered and worn hands and did a hard day's labor for an honest day's pay, and they were all Democrats.
All except one.
I had one staunch Republican uncle, from Seattle (of course) who always had a new car, no children (too expensive) and railed against the government, but didn't care about the tax rate. His political philosophy was very simple: "The role of government ends at my door. What I do in my house is my business."
As a kid, I had not the slightest idea what he meant by that statement, but I liked it.
We kids envied his stuff, but we didn't care for him very much. And he didn't like kids. Or pets. Or almost anything else that mattered to us.
We probably weren't poor, but I spent most of my childhood summers, with or without friends, roaming the nearby woods climbing trees and making makeshift camps - almost never spending money on activities.
All I wanted as an adult was what I had then: maximum freedom. Rules and cities had their place, but my youth was more Huck Finn than Mr. Rogers.
Most of the woods have turned into strip malls, and I barely recognize my old neighborhood. And when I look at a current electoral map of Pierce County, I can hardly believe it; it looks like a photographic negative reversal.
Rural Pierce County - especially around Joint Base Lewis-McChord, is solidly red Republican while the city blurs from pink to pale blue and the core is the deepest Democratic blue. Everything is the opposite of what it was a generation ago.
I'm not sure about the Norwegians.
Political claims, accusations and allegiances baffle me as much as they always did. I still feel as if I am just getting my bearings. I still try to make sense of the slogans and signs, door-bellers and infomercials.
There are those who call themselves conservatives who act more like anarchists with their belief that "government is the problem."
As this election season heats up, take note of the yard signs that are sprouting up like litter on a stick in a blooming summer season. They just might be a barometer of the political atmosphere of each neighborhood.
But like every barometer, this one is not always accurate. Years ago some neighbors used to post signs just to annoy others. Some avoided putting up signs altogether, even though they had strong beliefs.
Four years ago, two of my neighbors had two sets of Obama signs stolen from their yards. The one McCain sign in the neighborhood stayed there for months after the election.
And now, in the era of Stephen Colbert, and with politicians like Sarah Palin, Newt Gingrich, Donald Trump and Dale Washam, I am never certain whether a candidate or issue is serious or satire.
And given the productivity of Congress lately, even a Mickey Mouse candidacy wouldn't strike me as such a bad idea.
M. "Morf" Morford of Tacoma is a former reader columnist. Email him at email@example.com.