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Thanksgiving: Seafood -1621 Macaroni & Cheese – 1789 Pecan Pies with Molasses – 1863

Brad West Unsplash–Full array of seafood, representing New England’s coast, 17th century

 (Plus Mac & Cheese recipe with Parmesan from )

Plenty of stories about the original Thanksgiving float around at this time of year. I’m going with the Smithsonian’s story: Massasoit, the Grand Sachem of the Wampanoag Tribe received an invitation to thanksgiving from William Bradford, Governor of the Plymouth Colony in fall 1621.

The Pilgrims, who Bradford led, had fled England to avoid religious prosecution. To them “Thanksgiving” meant fasting and praying, so the original intent of the gathering might not have been a gourmet feast. But Native Americans had held Autumn Festivals for many years.

When Governor Bradford invited Massasoit, 90 warriors from combined tribes were meeting to form an alliance for mutual defense. Ousamequin, the warrior’s leader, had heard gunfire from the colony. (Colonists, not unlike future Americans, were celebrating by firing shotguns into the air.) The Tribe believed it meant a war had begun. But native leadership remained level-headed, thanks to the skill of translator Tisquantum. (Bradford called him “Squanto,” based on his community: Squantum.)  After negotiating with Bradford, the Wampanoag agreed to attend thanksgiving.

Backstory

Tisquantum had been kidnapped from the Patuxents on the coast of Cape Cod by explorer Thomas Hunt in 1614. Hunt took him to Spain, whereTisquantum was sold into slavery, but educated by monks. He escaped to England and learned English working for shipbuilder John Slanic, then returned to Plymouth. Upon his return, Tisquantum found his family and the entire tribe had died from Yellow Fever they caught from the European explorers. Alone, he joined the Pokankets.

After arriving on the Mayflower, forty-five of the 102 Pilgrims died of disease or starvation between 1619 and 1620. Maybe because of his own loss, Tisquantum agreed to share with the Pilgrims what he had learned about coastal farming, hunting, and fishing. He explained how to use a fish to fertilize the corn seed to improve the Pilgrim’s crops. His advice helped the Pilgrims to survive and become self-sufficient. This showed the true sense of community that could have marked a turnaround in Pilgrim-Native American relations. But as the colony grew, so too the need for additional land. Unfortunately, the value and scarcity of the rich land on the tip of Massachusetts created a desire to own it, which motivated the colony and later the growing nation’s efforts to push the Native Americans off the land.

1621: What Did the Warriors Bring?

Wampanoag warriors were fishermen and hunters, skills that ensured their tribe would have food. They came to the celebration loaded down with the fruits of their toil and the bounty of New England’s seacoast:

Venison, lobster, fish, wild fowl, clams, oysters, eel, corn, squash, maple syrup, and wild rice—a substantial feast. Maybe the warriors thought it was an “autumn festival!” It could easily take a three-day festival to consume such a feast. Over the centuries, the Native American tribes moved into the heartland,chasing buffalo and/or pushed west and south by federal policies. The tribes brought the foods they originally discovered on the coast that contribute to our Thanksgiving tables today: beans, potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkin, Chile peppers, and cacao, the basis of chocolate, another gift to us from Native Americans, is seen as an “essential” food by those craving sweets.

Did Anyone Say Pie?

Today most Americans take Thanksgiving pie for granted. If pie existed at all in 1621, it would come from a squash molded into a bowl and cooked over a fire. Move forward to 1863, when Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the first official Thanksgiving before the end of the Civil War. For his celebration, Lincoln made sure The Excelsior Pie and Cake Bakery had set aside one of his favorite Pecan Pies with Molasses.* Now we have a full spectrum of fruit pies year round, through the magic of freezers and pre-made pie shells. I’m depending on pumpkin blended with the modern miracles of Cool Whip and cream cheese for a Pumpkin Cheesecake Pie!  (See Plum Pudding Recipe below.

(President’s Cookbook, Poppy Camon and Patricia Brooks, 1968.)

Obviously, not Mac & Cheese in 1621, right? Well, the British came up with pasta made from breadcrumbs in the 1390s! They added a sauce made of stock and what they called chese ruayn, a hard cheese similar to brie. The result: a cross between macaroni and cheese and lasagne. But it wasn’t your mother’s or my daughter’s Mac & Cheese!

My update to Mac and Cheese couisine came on Wednesday’s National Public Radio’s “1A” discusson of 2021 Thanksgiving offerings. Stephen Satterfield, host of “High on the Hog” podcast, explained that the updated British recipe for Mac & Cheese came back across the Pond in 1789. Thomas Jefferson’s slave James Hemings (half-brother of Sally) trained to be a chef in Paris. He rose to head chef at the Hotel de Langeac before heading back to New York City when Jefferson became Secretary of State.

Englishwoman Elizabeth Raffald’s recipe “To Dress Macaroni with Parmesan Cheese,” brings together bechamel sauce, cheddar cheese,and pasta (see below) Published in 1769, it could be similar to what Hemings served to Jefferson’s guests.

I have my own favorite Mac & Three Cheese recipe my daughter fixes at Thanksgiving. Breadcrums on top bake up to an crunchy, brown crust. The treat lies below among the moist macaroni and the three flavors of cheese. Some things do get better with time!

Modern Thanksgiving

Anything goes in 2021 after a year and a half Pandemic that separated families and friends, isolating Americans. Now we have an opportunity to cook whatever your heart desires for the people you love, related or not. Whether it’s turkey or tofurky, to stuff or not to stuff, pumpkin pie or candy cames, the script is your to write this year. Take a moment to read about America’s Native Americans. You can start with the link below:

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/blogs/national-museum-american-indian.2019/11/27/do-american-indians-celebrate-thanksgiving/

Note: A six-foot tall stone marker and aging bronze plaque at Plymouth, Massachusetts, commemorates the meeting of the Wampanoag’s Massasoit and Plymouth Colony Governor Bradford. Fortunately, Tisquantum of the Patuxent tribes could translate.

The Experienced English Housekeeper, 1769

To Dress Macaroni with Parmesan Cheese

Elizabeth Raffauld   

Boil four ounces of macaroni till it be quite tender and lay it on a sieve to drain. Then put it in a tossing pan with about a gill (a quarter of a pint) of good cream, a lump of butter rolled in flour, boit it five minutes. Pour it on a plate, lay all over it parmesan cheese toasted. Send it to the table on a warm plate, for it soon gets cold.

Plum Pudding  Native American Traditional Recipe

Wild plums, sugar, cornstarch

Wash plums, put in a pot. Cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook until the plums split and fruit comes away from the seeds. Cool and strain juice and put juice in pot and boil. Make a paste with cornstarch and hot water. Used about e tablespoons cornstarch to ¼ cup hot water. Stir until lumps disappear. Slowly add paste to boiling juice to thicken pudding. Add cornstarch if needed. Remove from heat and add sugar to taste.

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British Ghosts: Does Anne haunt Henry VIII’s Dreams?

Coronation of Queen Anne Boleyn and King Henry VIII 1533 HistoryExtra,com

Does Anne Haunt Henry VIII’s Dreams?

Two figures from the deep, dark past adorn my lawn this season of spook. I thought a wee bit of ancient English history might interest my Texan neighbors or at least their curious children who might continue, given a taste of it. I have started with the two most referenced—the ones on my lawn—Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, his second wife. He had four more wives. (As king, Henry took advantage of his regal power.)

Anne Boleyn’s father, Thomas Earl of Wiltshire, served as ambassador to the Netherlands and France and encouraged his daughter to be educated there. Her date of birth is murky because records from the 16th century are spotty, but a birth in 1501 fits with her education in France and her courtship. While there, Anne served as a maid of honor to Queen Claude of France, learning how to appear in court.

Anne probably would not serve in court much before 14. She returned to England in 1522 to marry her Irish cousin James Butler, but the marriage did not take place. Instead, joined the court of English Queen Catherine of Aragon as maid of honor. King Henry would have been eighteen when crowned and married to Catherine. The king desired and achieved a court of unsurpassed glamour with he the handsome, athletic, and cultured lead. Henry liked to dress like a peacock, enjoyed wearing costumes, including a Turkish outfit of white damask, embroidered with roses made of rubies and diamonds.

Henry Declares War Against France, Builds Navy

But Henry was distracted. In 1522, he declared war against France. This required an increase in taxes, which was not popular. He built the British Navy from a few ships to fifty, earning the title “Father of the British Navy” and making England a serious contender on the water.

 Henry got on the wrong side of Hapsburg Charles V of Australia, who carried influence with the pope, from whom the king would eventually want a divorce from Charles’ aunt. Not likely.

By 1526 Catherine of Aragon had failed to produce a healthy heir (her male child died young). Henry took this as an afront to his manhood, damaging his growing ego. While he continued his marriage with Catherine for 24 years, he began to look elsewhere.

Then the king noticed Anne Bolen’s beauty as she danced and sang in court. Henry moved the courtship forward sending Anne love notes and a golden pendant that have survived through the ages. He thought these would sway her decision.

Initially Anne would not be convinced of Henry’s sentiment because she did not want to be a mistress, knowing that women who did not produce legitimate children would not have a long future in court. She brought back from France a knowledge of court and her formal schooling could have been a few paces ahead of Henry. (Although his knowledge of three languages speaks well of him.) The couple could have corresponded in French and few the wiser. (We know Anne wrote in French from a letter to her father.)

We see a different picture of this pair from more recent evidence. Five centuries later, given the picture of the rotund Henry, we find it difficult that Anne would come under the king’s spell. Bur we have learned as a young man Henry bore no resemblance to the portrait by Holbein that shows a guy who resembles a walk-on lineman for the Chicago Bears with the face of an emotionless simpleton. Their courtship lasted seven years. At the front of it, he was a 6’2” man when most everyone else was 5’7.” He kept in shape jousting and performed what we would consider extreme cross-fit sports to impress his subjects and his conquests with his prowess. Henry more likely came in around 175 pounds in his courting years.

. Venetian diplomat Sebastian Giustiani left behind his impression of the young king that draws an attractive suitor, which he shared with the senate:

He is very accomplished and a good musician, composes well: is a capital equestrian, and a fine jouster; speaks good French, Latin, and Spanish, is deeply religious. . . He is extremely fond of hunting…He is also fond of tennis, at which game it is the prettiest thing to see him play, his fair skin glowing through a shirt of the finest texture.

 Perhaps the diplomat wanted to score points with the king, but he gives a picture of someone NOT the size of a refrigerator (like the portraits of Henry VIII that come down to us.)

Pope Denies Annulment; Henry Names Self Head of Church of England

Desperate to end his marriage to Catherine with an annulment, Henry appealed to the Pope in 1534. Pope Clement VII excommunicated Henry from the church for dissolving convents and monasteries. Henry broke from the Catholic Church and went to the English Parliament to endorse his claim to be the SUPREME Head of the Church of England, launching the English Reformation and separating from the Roman Catholic pope. This gave the king authority to annul his marriage himself.

The year 1534 marks the beginning of Thomas Cromwell’s role as the king’s chief minister, Great Lord Chamberlain. A lawyer and statesman, he became a chief proponent of the English (Religious) Reformation and helped engineer the annulment of the king’s first marriage. This helped Cromwell become an ally of Anne Boleyn, but this soured by 1536.

Henry took Anne to France to get a blessing for their marriage from the French Archbishop, which they received and celebrated with a secret marriage in November 1532. That same year Henry conferred on Anne the title Marquess of Pembroke, a step towards their upcoming official marriage on January 25, 1533. By which point Anne has already conceived a child, the future Queen Elizabeth I, born on September 7. This pregnancy was followed by several miscarriages.

Anne Fails to Bear a Son; Pays Ultimate Price in 1536

Henry became even less forgiving after he fell off his horse in a jousting contest in 1536, the third year of their marriage, and seriously injured his ankle and the front of his brain. He was unconscious for several hours and the physical damage to the control center likely harmed his emotional responses. Those who have studied his reign believe that he became a more brutal ruler after the accident, though he may always have had a mean streak to begin with.

This might have influenced his decision, to file treason charges against Anne considered false and self-serving. He wanted to remove her as his wife, so he could marry Jane Seymour. Anne’s execution took place in the Tower of London on May 19, 1536. This is where the GHOSTLY part comes. Henry brought in a professional executioner from France, known for a sharp blade, to complete her beheading. She left this earth at 35, leaving behind a daughter, Elizabeth I, who ruled for five years.

Are we to believe that Anne Boleyn did not haunt Henry VIII’s dreams?

Henry will marry four more times before his death in 1547, at which point his waist measured 54 inches. They buried him next to Jane Seymour, the only wife to present him with an heir—the only one he officially mourned.

Ian Crofton, The Kings & Queens of England. (New York: Metro Books, 2006) 128-135. Quote from Venetian and other information about the 16th century king come this source.

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Does Talent Beat Grit?

Manhattan’s myriad of high rises reflects the talent, creativity, passion, and perseverance that created them over a century.

America is mesmerized by talent or what passes for it. Nearly two decades of televised contests have drawn huge audiences: snarky Simon Cowell’s America’s Got Talent (despite the fact that he is a Brit), music’s chameleon + EGOT John Legend (1) provides counsel on The Voice, granddaddy show American Idol still selecting soloists, and aging Dancing with the Stars, where contestants have put on their dancing shoes and coaxed themselves into spandex for years.

But are we sending the wrong message? Does talent alone win the race?

No question American Idol Grand Dame Kelly Clarkson towers over country music, winning three Grammy’s (12 nominations), and a slew of Video Music Awards before expanding into television to be a judge on The Voice, and earning Daytime Emmy’s in 2020 and 2021 for her talk show. But would we even know her name today if she did not squeeze every opportunity out of her American Idol crowning and diligently work to assure her worthiness?

Most cannot boast a true “talent” that towers over others in our field, so does that mean we will never achieve “success?” Grammy Award-winning musician and Oscar-nominated actor Will Smith has thought a lot about talent, effort, skill, and achievement. “I’ve never really viewed myself as particularly talented,” he said. “Where I excel is ridiculous, sickening work ethic.” Since May the 51-year-old has worked the gym to turn his Pandemic-weakened body into a muscular physique, better than before 2000.

Psychologist Angela Duckworth studied the “talent vs. grit” question after teaching math to elementary students on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. She thought, like many of us, that talent trumped about everything until she had an average student who kept pounding away at the problems until the light went on.

Duckworth’s Chinese father was fixated on creating “genius” children. She assured him she was not one, even when she received a McArthur (“genius grant”) Fellowship in 2014. What she wanted to tell him as a kid: “I’m going to grow up to love my work…I won’t just have a job. I will have a calling. I will challenge myself every day. When I get knocked down, I will get back up. I may not be the smartest person in the room, but I’ll strive to be the grittiest.”

In 2016 after over a decade of research, plus writing time, she poured her thoughts into Grit, (2) a book documenting her work showing how people extend their passion beyond talent with perseverance. Unlike struggling to identify talent, her research shows we lesser mortals can develop “grit.” Duckworth conducted research at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point to test out her theory. Each year 14,000 juniors apply, just 1,200 are enrolled. Most of these men and women were varsity athletes, even team captains in high school. Yet one in five would drop out of West Point before graduation. A high percentage leave in the first summer, during “Beast” the “most physically and emotionally demanding part of your four years at West Point…designed to help you make the transition from new cadet to Soldier.”

These were cadets who scored well on the Whole Candidate Score judging preparation for the rigors of West Point. This included a weighted average of SAT or ACT exam scores, high school rank adjusted for the number of students in the graduating class, an expert appraisal of leadership potential, and physical fitness performance.

Military psychologist Mike Matthews, who worked with Duckworth, explained his personal reaction to Air Force training: “I was tired, lonely, frustrated, and ready to quit—as were all of my classmates.” What kept him and the remaining classmates from moving forward? A “never give up” attitude. Now Duckworth wanted to know if this applied to elite athletes.

Every four years elite competitive swimmers—multiple gold medal winners that included superstars Michael Phelps and Mark Spitz—bring their “talent” to our screens. Sociologist Dan Chambliss traveled with swimmers and their coaches for six years, from local meets to the elite teams composed of future Olympians. “It is as if talent were some invisible substance behind the surface reality of performance, which finally distinguishes the best among our athletes,” Chambliss said. “These great athletes seem blessed ‘with a special gift, almost a ‘thing’ inside of them denied to the rest of us—perhaps physical, genetic, psychological, or physiological. Some have it and some don’t. Some are natural athletes, and some aren’t.”

But Chambliss found biographies of great swimmers reveal many contributing factors: parents who were interested in the sport, earned enough money to pay for coaching, travel to swim meets and access to a pool, plus thousands of hours of practice in the pool developing muscle memory, all leading up to the “flawless” performance we see on our screens during the Olympics. All those hours polishing the apple until it turns gold.

 “With everything perfect, we do not ask how it came to be,” philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche writes. “We rejoice in the present fact as though it came out of the ground by magic.”

Duckworth points to Nietzsche, who preferred that we not talk about giftedness or inborn talents. “One can name great men (note: and women) . . .They all possessed that seriousness of the efficient workman which first learns to construct the parts properly before it ventures to fashion a great whole; they allowed themselves time for it, because they took more pleasure in making the little, secondary things well than in the effect of a dazzling whole.”

There is no better example of the “little, secondary things” (rivets) that build into a “dazzling whole” than the persevering craftsmen of the Iroquois tribe, Mohawks, trained ironworkers. They built the Victoria Bridge near Quebec in 1886. Their work required not just personal strength, but mental fortitude, willingly facing death from great heights every single day. They learned climbing skills and absorbed from their elders the courage to venture out onto steel girders suspended in space far above the city.

Mohawks are not superhuman. Thirty-three Kahnawake (Mohawk) died in the collapse of the Quebec Bridge in 1907. That did not end the tribe’s commitment to urban structures. The next generation drove 12 ½ hours to Manhattan (and home on weekends) to walk on 12-inch girders fifty or more stories above the city’s sidewalks while drilling rivets into the 1,046- foot Chrysler Building (1930) and the 1,250-foot Empire State (1931) and the Rockefeller Center (1932-1939). In cold weather, ice needed to be scrapped off the beams before work began. No safety lines existed in those days. (3)

The Mohawks continued to work above the city to constructing five more skyscrapers (the UN, the Woolworth Building, the Seagram Building before applying their skills. Then the veteran ironworkers applied their skills to erect the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers from 1968 to 1973. Over the years Mohawk families moved to an enclave in Brooklyn, so the ironworkers were in New York to help rescue people from the burning towers in 2001 and provided their expertise to disassemble the metal protrusions from the building’s remains following 911.

Being an ironworker throughout the 20th century and into the 21st requires a fearlessness to push higher into the sky, ensuring the buildings continued to rise. No better definition of “grit” exists than the work ethic of those who built America’s towers of business and entertainment, some sacrificing their lives, to provide these lasting monuments to their perseverance.

NOTES:

  1. Legend is one of 16 performers who have been awarded the ultimate creative quad–an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, and a Tony for their performances on TV, in music, film, and the stage.
  2. Angela Duckworth, Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance (New York: Scribner, 2016) Quotes can be found in her work.
  3. https://dailygazette.com/wp-content/uploads/fly-images/143928/0e-exhibit1-940×940.jpg Mohawk Skywalkers at New York City Museum

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Can We Be Optimistic?

Hot-air-balloon clip artwork

Can We Be Optistic?

(*Yes. we can. I took a short break from Past Becomes Present but didn’t do the promo because I didn’t know how long it might be.  Optimistic by nature, I believed it wouldn’t be long. And happily, my positive attitude bore fruit!)

Optimists get a bad rep. People say we’re Pollyanna’s, breezing along believing that everything is wonderful and will continue to be. True, we like to walk on the sunny side, but there’s the other half of the equation—we work to “make it so.”

The recent Delta strain threatens to scale back Americans’ escape from Covid’s 15-month hibernation. Some cities, like Austin, hang a return to level 4 restrictions over our heads (and dim dreams of mini vacations, while increasing infections nationwide).

How do our brains handle the dramatic pendulum swings we encounter now? Well, being optimistic doesn’t come naturally. Martin Seligman, a psychology professor, and director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, says we are “hardwired” to stick to a negative bias. He indicates this goes all the way back to the caveman, preparing us to address the worst-case scenario. It’s why we know not to touch a hot flame after we’ve been burned. Humans are more likely to respond to negative stimuli.

But we are not condemned to be grumps! Humans can learn to protect themselves and bounce back from misfortune—like divorce, unemployment, or health crises. But how? We’re not good at predicting how each of us will react to misfortune, according to Tali Sharot in From the Optimism Bias, A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain.

Imagination Helps!

How is it possible for humans to stimulate and predict the outcome of possible future scenarios? Using imagination can help us create and examine all the possibilities we might face, pulling away the drama that could prevent our success.

Like many others, prior to experiencing hip surgery I feared for a long, painful recovery unable to get around and completing the most basic tasks with great difficulty.

Sharot’s research points to the human mind is flexible enough to find ways to restore balance when facing a challenge. Our brains can change our perceptions of the physical world.

Matt Hampson, a 20-year-old rugby player, experienced a life-changing event that proves the point. In 2005 during practice, he dislocated his neck, paralyzing him. Suddenly this vibrant young man needed round-the-clock care and steers his wheelchair with his chin and breathes through a ventilator.

Rather than dreading his life, Matt has found a purpose. He created the Get Busy Living Centre, a rehab center for those with life-changing injuries in Leicestershire, England. The brain can find the silver lining in seemingly unimaginable circumstances, if only we can use our imagination. The brain is more flexible and adaptable than we imagine.

We don’t need to have a crisis in our lives to take a moment to check in about our own purposes—or to create something that enriches us or others. Putting a couple words together, even just for us, can start the ball rolling. What’s important to you? How could you make a difference in your life and maybe others?

Notice the balloons in the photo above. They are not your garden variety birthday balloons. No, these are Hot Air Balloons. Why this choice? Anyone can manage a single helium balloon but rising a hot air balloon high into the sky and bringing it back to the ground safely requires effort and skill—an optimistic approach paired with knowledge!


Optimism is my vision. Positive brings on more of the same, provided it’s joined by works! So now let’s just try it out and see if it breeds!

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Women’s History Month: Son’s Tribute to a Pioneering Journlist–His Mom

Jay Hamilton with his mother, Nancy Bradsher Hamilton, and his wife, Bonnie, when they received their first Emmy Award.

(Note: For Women’s History Month I’m sharing the story of a pioneering woman journalist, written by her son, Jay Hamilton, a talented writer-producer.) His mother also pioneered multi-tasking, a trait we talked about last week.)

Not a day goes by when I don’t think about my mother, Nancy Bradsher Hamilton, who along with my father were my inspirations. My current company, Hamilton Media DC, is an offshoot of Hamilton Productions, which my mother co-founded in the early 1980s. She was the driving force.

Looking back on her life, it’s hard to believe that a young woman raised by a single mother in the small town of Salisbury, NC, “took her shot” and landed in the “bright lights, big city” TV studios of Manhattan. There, she hosted numerous programs. Her pioneering journalism career included raising me and my sister. Looking back, I now realize that she epitomized the modern multitasker well before that term entered today’s lexicon.

This Women’s History Month you hear numerous women’s stories about their key influencers, also female. But I dare say, for each successful man, there is also a woman who inspired his success, too. Afterall, most men are unabashedly “mama’s boys.” I’m a member of that club.

Nancy Bradshur Hamilton with columnist Jack Kilpatrick

Nancy Bradsher wrote a dairy entry in 1953, when she joined the staff of the women’s department of the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “I was a Depression baby born bald September 7, 1929 at Mercy Hospital, Charlotte, North Carolina.” She went on to grow hair and become the Women’s Club Editor. Back then the only jobs for women in journalism were in the “women’s departments.” Journalism was a male dominated world.

Throughout the years, mom worked as a reporter on the Salisbury Post, The New York Journal American and as a correspondent for The New York Times before co-founding Hamilton Productions and stepping in front of the camera. Mom had the “looks” and the smarts for TV and thrived in New York City with her sweet-sounding southern drawl.

Most of this was happening during my formative years. I knew her simply as “mom” and never gave it a thought about how she successfully balanced family and career. One of her favorite playwrights was Shakespeare. This Women’s History Month, I am reminded of one of my mom’s favorite lines from “As You Like It.”

          All the world’s a stage and all the men and women are merely players; they have their   exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts.

So, too, one woman in her time can play many parts. My mom proved it as a pioneering journalist…wife…mother…grandmother. For her to play these many parts vindicates Shakespeare. I am enormously proud of all she accomplished and her contribution to women’s equality.

#internationalwomensday2021 #womensequality #journalist

Jay Hamilton is founder of Hamilton Media DC and Chief Media Strategist of Story Squad.

Note: I met Jay when he wrote and produced a Telly Award-winning safety training video backed by the Department of Transportation with Operation Lifesaver after students were killed at Fox River Grove, IL in a school bus-train crash. Jay led us to Dalton, Georgia, during a very warm summer to work with the city’s school bus drivers. By using actual drivers and students, the video captured the attention of school bus drivers from coast-to-coast, which saved lives.

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Endless Time Creates Endless Stress; Use it to Serve You, Not Abuse You

“Time isn’t the main thing. It’s the only thing.” Jazz Great Miles Davis

Endless time seems to move so slowly as to drip like a leaky faucet, making every moment pregnant with ideas, some alerting our fears to endless possibilities.

Time has taken on new meaning, while simultaneously dropping away into nothingness as we struggle to answer a multitude of WHEN questions.

It has been barely two months since my family flew off to work in London and a month since their dog, my part-time companion, joined them. Sometimes it seems like it’s been six months. Naturally due to the pandemic’s quarantine, I wonder when I might see them again. Even now, a visit this summer is rapidly slipping off the plate, but I am coping by writing, exercising, and appreciating every sunny day.

WHEN? The Universal Question

We’ve all joined in questioning WHEN?  When did life as we knew it screech to a halt? When won’t I depend on Zoom to see colleagues or Facetime for friends and relatives? When can I walk in the woods, go to the library, or gym, or get my hair cut, or leave home to hear any concert in person? When will I enjoy the aroma of cooking not my own? Far more important to more than 36 million Americans: When, if ever, will my job come back, so I can resume living without losing a place to live and be able to feed my family?

No matter where we sit politically, or whether we stand in the unemployment line, the food bank line, or the grocery line, stress rides along daily with each of us.

There are few universal answers to WHEN. Many are being made state by state or county by county. As of mid-May, 90,000 Americans have died from Covid-19 and 1.5 million tested positive, while 260,000 have recovered. This nationwide pandemic has only engendered more stress and fear and seems in some parts of the country to have widened the divide. But in some communities, people from a wide spectrum of political and religious beliefs are working together to feed the hungry unemployed and their children—taking action, which often lessens the feeling of helplessness and anxiety.

Use your stress to propel you forward. By Forgetmenot. Jancene Jennings

Recently I saw an article that sheds some light on this question:

“In Stressful Times, Make Stress Work for You,” by Karl Leibowitz and Alia Crum, which brings down to lay terms a study of the mindset of Navy SEALS, college students, and business leaders experiencing stress. They consider how to harness stress. Here are their three steps:

  1. Acknowledge Your Stress

Seems by taking on stress we move the place it resides in our mind. Normally before we address our fear, it sits in the amygdala, the brain center for emotion. When we begin the acknowledge our stress, our thoughts move to the prefrontal cortex of the brain. This is where executive control and planning take place–where we can be more thoughtful and deliberate in our actions– where we can do something about it.

Have you ever tried to stop thinking less about something and instead your mind returns to it even more often? That is the “ironic mental processing” at work in the brain as we stress over something. According to the scientists, the brain tries to help us out by constantly checking in to see if we continue to think of it. Suppression does not work.

Now is where you need to determine what is at the heart of your personal stress or anxiety.

Are you most concerned about getting sick yourself? Or your mate or partner? Is it your children, their education or health? Are you worried about a loved one who is at high risk? Is your anxiety caused by balancing working from home and family responsibilities?

Once you determine this, then you can examine your reactions to these stressors. What emotions come with this?  Frustration, sadness, anger? What do you notice in your body? Tight neck and shoulders or do you have difficulty sleeping?

  • Own Your Stress

 Why welcome stress into your life during a pandemic? We only stress, really stress, about the things (and people) we really care about. By connecting to the stress, we identify what is at the core of our anxiety. By denying or trying to avoid our stress, we can do the opposite and avoid what is really important to us.

Difficult task? Try completing this sentence, “I am stressed about (list answer you gave in step one) because I deeply care about. . .”

  • Use Your Stress—Make it Work for You!

If you connect to the core values behind your stress, then you set yourself up for the most essential ingredient: using or leveraging stress to achieve your goals and connect more deeply with the things that matter most to you.

Are your typical responses aligned with the values behind your stress? Think how you could adapt your response to this stress to facilitate your goals and your responses. There is a lot happening that we cannot control, but there are also unprecedented opportunities amid the fear. It is a matter of connecting with people and materials at hand. Action will help you overcome your anxiety and begin to tackle fear of the unknown. Addressing the here and now. The trick is to channel your coronavirus stress as energy to make the most of this time. Difficult though it seems, if we fail to embrace our stress and utilize it, it will only grow.  Take baby steps forward to tackle your anxiety.

WHY?

On a personal note, much earlier in my life, I needed to learn coping skills after a difficult period. I developed a calm approach to crisis that helped me professionally and has stood by me for three decades. Sticking to our universal values, working to overcome fear and anxiety, we can develop stable solutions to serve us and the next generation.

Notes:

Daniel Pink, When, the Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, (New York: Riverhead Books, 2018)

Karl Leibowitz and Alia Crum, Stanford University, “In Stressful Times, Make Stress Work for You,” New York Times, April 1, 2020

Alia J. Crum and Peter Salovey, “Rethinking Stress: The Role of Mindsets in Determining the Stress Response,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2013, Vol. 104, No. 4, 716-733

American Psychological Association   www.apa.org/help center/ 800-374-2721

 American Counseling Association   www.aca.org

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Don’t Let Them See You Sweat

“In this temple as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.” The words etched above Lincoln’s head explain why this place is an American shrine, not to be sullied.

A classic tenant of crisis management for savvy leaders. Even if your personal chipmunks are running a marathon in your stomach, when you have a team—whether its four classmates, a room full of colleagues, or all 328 million Americans—a time comes when it hits the fan, you set up your essential goal, put on your game face, hunker down, and pass out the assignments to the most qualified, most tested in the room. That makes it much easier to appear sweat less!

Establishing the Critical Goal

Leading a country and overseeing a military at war requires an intensely capable person. Lincoln wasn’t that person at the beginning of the Civil War, but he made it his business to catch up. Some say it took him until he hired U.S. Grant in March 1864, but Lincoln established his goal at the get-go. He did not waiver in his belief that preserving the Union was his prime responsibility. Everything else came second, was collateral damage, or would be a tool to accomplish this goal.

Lincoln preferred to focus on the essential foe and not push a blanket plan to prohibit slavery as he prepared the Emancipation Proclamation. He battled flames in front of him on the battlefield and saw significant matters smoldering behind him, threatening to ignite the abolitionists and the opposition Copperheads at his rear. This messy political stew revealed the alchemy he brewed while working to weave the nation together and draw his critics apart. Developing the persuasive mixture eluded him as his supporters began to lose faith that Lincoln could manage the broth before the wildfire consumed him.

Jousting with Journalists

Being a writer himself who appreciated a turn of phrase, Lincoln enjoyed mixing it up with journalists. Due to his seemingly “rustic” communications skills and quick mind hidden beneath a slow delivery, he could be waiting for reporters’ questions twenty steps ahead of them and have a fitting quip ready. Today wrangling with the media is a required sport for office holders, particularly if they seek or have achieved higher office. Disarming humor, not used as a spear but as a reminder of shared humanity, seems to have nearly disappeared with an earlier generation (think Ronald Reagan, who often appeared with a smile to friend or foe alike, or Barack Obama, who could flash a smile when he wasn’t preoccupied with a financial implosion).

Lincoln saw journalists as another branch of politics. (At the time 3,000, or three-fourths of the newspapers published in America, were supported by a political party). He worked to establish a mutual understanding with the big three of the day: James Gordon Bennett of the New York Herald, Democratic, pro-slavery, against most of Lincoln’s stands; Horace Greeley of the New York Tribune, an abolitionist who had a love-hate relationship with the President, but got special treatment on several stories; and Henry Raymond of the New York Times, a Republican and formerly Greeley’s chief lieutenant, later founder of the New York Times in 1851. 

Greeley, like Bennett. loved his role in journalism, but the two loathed each other, primarily for political reasons; A final Greeley-Raymond final split came when Raymond beat him to become New York’s Lieutenant Governor in 1854. Setting up the perfect storm between the three major newspaper editor’s Lincoln needed to cajole. In 1864 he helped engineer Lincoln’s 1864 re-nomination.

 Disagreeing Without Being Disagreeable or Worse

Bennett came from the pro-Democratic Party, pro-slavery and against pretty much everything Lincoln valued, but Lincoln wooed him rather than pushing him away, most of the time. Lincoln walked a tightrope between Bennett and Greeley when he fed stories and news tips to Greeley, but at times the Tribune bit the hand that fed it, angering Lincoln.

In August 1862, Horace Greeley published “The Prayer of the Twenty Million,” a plea of the “Loyal Millions” requiring a “frank, declared, unqualified, ungrudging execution of the laws of the land.” Greeley wanted Lincoln to enforce the emancipating provisions of the Second Confiscation Act (July 17, 1862) removing slaves from the Confederate states. Greeley believed his readers had carried Lincoln to victory and “now feel that the triumph of the Union is dispensable not only to the existence of our country to the well-being of mankind.” They expected Lincoln to deliver on their request.

 Lincoln responded on August 22, 1862 in the Daily National Intelligencer, a newspaper long a part of the Washington scene, founded by George Washington. Lincoln said he did not argue with what Greeley said, but reaffirmed his own chief goal to “save the Union and not either to save or to destroy slavery.” At the very bottom of the letter, Lincoln affirmed: “I intend no modification of my oft-expressed personal wish that all men everywhere be free.”

Concerning the letter, historian David Herbert Donald pointed out Lincoln sought to assure the large majority of Northern people that he did not want to see the war transformed into a crusade for abolition, while offering himself time to contemplate further moves against slavery.

No doubt that Lincoln suffered at the hands of the press, but he also knew how to give as well as he got and used humor as honey to make the message go down a little easier. Yet he chastised a visitor to his office who pestered him for “one of his stories.” Lincoln noted his stories were not a “carnival act but were a useful way of directing discussion.” (Elihu B Washburne Chapter3 note 15)

Lincoln exercised patience, waiting for a victory, or close to it, to bolster his proclamation. He only freed the slaves in the states that were in Rebellion—the Confederacy, holding the freedom of slaves throughout the country for passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.

Who Was the Greater Martyr?                                           

The question came up recently as to whether Lincoln or the current President were the greater “martyr” (poor word choice, given that one made the ultimate sacrifice) to the slings of the press. While the current President has a wide array of broadcast and digital media to pester him, Lincoln could only rely on the telegraph and the vital coast-to-coast postal system to send his lithograph—with his warts, wayward tie knotted under his collar, and an unruly mop of black hair—far and wide. His tired, sympathetic mug became fodder for frequent political cartoons that etched in the brains of the electorate.

Lincoln’s low key personality and friendships helped him take on the darts that were flung his way. He had fewer instruments available to respond, being able to utilize only the overhead wires and the power of his pen. He aimed his words at “the people” of the entire nation—North and South alike. The modern president reacts by email or sends a barrage of Twitter messages laser-focused on those aligned to him, “his base,” not concerned about increasing his support or addressing the entire country.

Seven years ago, Mark Bowen of The Atlantic looked at “How Lincoln Was Dissed in His Day.” He said that the “bile poured on him from every quarter made today’s Internet vitriol seem dainty.” Lincoln seemed caught in a no-win situation, always criticized by those who felt he had gone too far versus those who believed he hadn’t gone far enough.   (Mark Bowen, “How Lincoln Was Dissed in His Day,” June 2013.)

Lincoln’s critics came not just from the South, but from Northern sources, causing him “great pain,” according to his wife, in part because he had thin-skin and felt the thorns others might ignore. Reverend Henry Ward Beecher ‘s attack specially grieved the President, who was sensitive about his lack of formal education. Beecher wrote:

” It would be difficult for a man to be born lower than he (Lincoln) was. He is an unshapely man. He is a man that bears evidence of not having been educated in school or in circles of refinement.”  

After reading such an attack, Lincoln exclaimed: “I would rather be dead than, as President, thus abused in the house of my friends.” Note, he did not take Beecher off his list of friends. When faced with a raft of such statements, Lincoln would wave his hand and say, “Let us speak no more of these things.” (Ibid.)

In 1861, Ohio Republican, Lincoln’s own party, William M. Dickson charged that Lincoln “is universally an admitted failure, has no will, no courage, no executive capacity. . . and his spirit necessarily infuses itself downwards through all departments.” Early in the war, Lincoln was still learning the ropes, but this had to sting. 

Charles Sumner, a Republican from Massachusetts, to whom Lincoln often turned for advice, opposed his re-nomination in 1864, wrote: “There is strong feeling among those who have seen Mr. Lincoln, in the way” of business, that he lacks practical talent for his important place. It is thought that there should be more readiness and also more capacity, for government.” (Bowen)

Could Jealousy Have Framed the Response?

If one looked at Lincoln’s Inaugural Address through a clear, clean lens, would not the words sing?

“I am loath to close. We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this  road land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

And yet, an editorial writer for the Jersey City American Standard (surely a Democrat) found the speech “involved, coarse, colloquial, devoid of grace, and bristling with obscurities and outrages against the simplest rules of syntax.” Ouch!

The Gettysburg Address Didn’t Fare Much Better

“We pass over the silly remarks of the President. For the credit of the nation we are willing that the veil of oblivion shall be dropped over them, and they shall be no more repeated or thought of.” The Harrisonburg Patriot & Union printed a much-belated apology 150 years later. Thank goodness they weren’t, and we have this example of clean, heartfelt writing.

The responses pro and con to the Gettysburg Address no longer sway modern opinions. It’s established that positive responses were from the Republican press, while the negative came from the Democratic. Those in-between might have been caught up in the custom of the times that believed the longer the speech, the better it was. Though the crowd that day, most standing throughout, would appreciate a two-minute speech. Perhaps the true nature of Lincoln’s pared-down speech, using exact, purposeful words and few of them (269 in the original speech) would fit nicely on the front pages of newspapers across the country. His intention: to reach the masses.  

The celebrated orator who spoke for two hours ahead of Lincoln, Edward Everett, knew a good speech when he heard it and gave credit to Lincoln in a note. “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Inside the Lincoln Shrine             

Since he did not sit for TV interviews, Abe did not require Pancake makeup and likely would not have taken to it, indicating with a quip that not much could improve his physical image. Today the lights in the Lincoln Memorial and the exquisite work by sculptor Daniel Chester French do not require a touchup. Recently the current White House occupant chose a respite in Lincoln’s shine to seat his favorite contemporary news team for a partisan report.

Maybe the 16th President would have equated that with his sit-down with Greeley of the Big Three Newsmen in the 19th century, but maybe he would have preferred the sound of school children instead.  Lincoln, accustomed to working in the White House all but three weeks of the Civil War, might have been surprised that a month sequestered there be such a burden for the current president. Likely Lincoln would see the visit inside as a respite—maybe to catch the draft from the former’s reputation.

The World Sweated After His Final Speech

Once the ink on the Appomattox surrender dried, Washingtonians rushed to the White House portico to hear a response from their President, expecting a grand announcement of victory. They didn’t know Abe, who asked the army band to play “Dixie” on the lawn outside his window, calling it a “good tune.”

Lincoln didn’t gloat, instead moved on mentally to the essential work–bringing the nation together. He called for national thanksgiving. He did not plan vengeance against the South’s leader and agreed with a letter he’d received that said: “The people want no manifestations of a vengeful spirit. They are willing to let the unhappy rebels live, knowing that at the best, their punishment, like Caine (sic), will be greater than they can bear.”

Instead Lincoln talked about the hard task ahead: Reconstruction and bringing the tattered nation back into one. John Wilks Booth, a late entry to the far edge of the audience, did not have to strain to hear the President’s high-pitched voice. His disgust grew into rage as Lincoln advanced the idea of the elective franchise for the colored veteran men.

Lincoln told the crowd that by keeping the vote from these men (now 140,000 strong after the deaths of 40,000 black Union soldiers), were saying:

“This cup of liberty which these, your old masters, hold to your lips, we will dash from you, and leave you to the chances of gathering the spilled and scattered contents in some vague and  undefined when, where, and how.”

The President sealed his fate when he spoke of rewarding those who had sacrificed the most, (see note) extending the vote to any black male veteran. With these words, the anger in Booth’s mind boiled over to rage. His initial plans were to kidnap Lincoln to exchange him for Confederate prisoners of war. In his wrath, Booth heard Lincoln’s words as the ultimate sin and from that moment planned for Lincoln to pay the ultimate price.

Yet the country and the Southern states suffered more because of Booth’s action. Bleeding emotions from those fateful days 155 years ago, misunderstandings and grievances surrounding race shape the national psyche and influence the nation’s divisions today, threatening to bring more destruction to America than a pandemic ever could.

You decide: Who was the greater martyr?

NOTES:

Jennifer Weber, “Lincoln’s Critics: The Copperheads,” University of Michigan Vol. 32, Issue 1, Winter 2011, p. 33-47

Mark Bowden, “How Lincoln Wad Dissed in His Day,” The Atlantic Magazine, June 2013

Mr. Lincoln ‘s White House, Notable Visitors: Henry J. Raymond www.mrlincolnswhitehouse.org/residents-visitors/notable-visitors-henry-j-raymond-1820-1869

David Blanchette, The State Journal-Register, Springfield, IL. “Abraham Lincoln, like Donald Trump had his media enemies, too” February 25, 2017

Horace Greeley’s” Open Letter to President Lincoln,” New York Tribune, August 19, 1862

Abraham Lincoln’s “Letter to Horace Greeley,” Daily National Intelligencer, August 22, 1862

Donald Herbert Donald, Lincoln, (London: Random House, 1995)

Ryan Holiday, “Abraham Lincoln as Media Manipulator-in-Chief: The 150-Year History of Corrupt Press,” Observer, November 5, 2014

National Archives: “Black Soldiers in the U.S. Military During the Civil War,40,000 of the 180,000 negro ground troops died in the Civil War; 10,000 in battle and 30,000 of disease, receiving different treatment than white soldiers. Thus 75% of blacks died of disease vs. 50% of whites.

https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/blacks-civil-war

Louis P Masur, Lincoln’s Last Speech, New York: Oxford University Press, 2014) p. 12

NOTE:   Michael Burlingame’s 1000-page tome, Abraham Lincoln, Vol II (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2008) p. 810 The week of the murder Booth was challenged as to what he had done for the Cause. While he had thought of the death of Lincoln, he had not moved on it, instead having put together a group to kidnap the President, planning since the prior fall. But the events including the surrender, pushed him to act.

Poynter.org, “Today in Media History: Reporters describe Lincoln’s 1863 Gettysburg Address,” Nov. 19, 2014

History.com, “The Gettysburg Address,” accessed Sept. 7, 2018

Saturday Night Live YouTube channel, “Weekend Update: Jedediah Atkinson on Great Speeches,” Nov. 17, 2013

Email interview with Eric Foner, historian at Columbia University, Sept. 7, 2018

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Impact the Future as you Live the Present

Favorite view during daytime flight. Fluffy clouds that change from minute to minute represent the future because you never know what you’ll find on the ground. The world has changed while you’ve been in flight.

In conversation, we often talk about the past as if it were the present.

Instead we should live in the present but prepare for a future that improves upon it. You say it’s hard to know whether the future will meet that expectation. Ah, but if you aim low, for a so-so or not-so-good future, it’s harder to envision the possibility of a better one and harder yet to obtain the desired future.

“Past Becomes Present,” is this blog’s title, pulling our combined history into present day for better or worse. Or turning history inside out. That seems legitimate. But in conversation this week, I found myself reliving the past, not so much to sample its lessons, but to examine points of trial and pain that should be soothed and digested by now. I decided to take a look at the role the past and future play in life. One might think my hands and mind would have little bearing on the future as I am over 60, but as long as there is breath in any of us, we can influence tomorrow–whether it is the next time we awaken or even possibly 30 years from now.

If we want to push forward, we need to go far beyond the past, carrying it with us, pay attention to our role in the present, embrace it, but hold in our minds a vision of the future that we will work to achieve.

Cruel realities of 21st century life—extreme fluctuations in temperature and rainfall, political philosophies that whiplash the country left and right, and an economy rising upper incomes but often neglecting the bottom–threaten to cloud our impression of the present and impose fears for the future.

As a grandparent, who frequently looks into the inquiring eyes two generations below, I seek the positives that could provide them a future worth moving into. While the current state of affairs has not reached the conundrum faced by Abe Lincoln in the Civil War and Winston Church in World War II, they exercised hope in bleak worlds when their people needed it most.

Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Message sent to Congress delivered a written review of the nation-(The tradition at the time minus tv cameras to register the clapping, standing, and sitting of the opposing parties). On December 1, 1862, Lincoln seemed to address my concern as he wrote:

“ The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

Abraham Lincoln December 1, 1862

Churchill ventured across the Atlantic Ocean peppered with German U-boats to address the Canadian Parliament on December 30, 1941. He asked for their assistance but also spoke to his countrymen:

Let us address ourselves to our task, not in any way underrating its tremendous difficulties and perils, but in good heart and sober confidence, resolved that, whatever the cost, whatever the suffering, we shall stand by one another, true and faithful comrades, and do our duty, God helping us, to the end.

Winston Churchill December 30, 1941

Each man had the ability to see beyond the current difficulty to believe in their nation’s ability to overcome, not in a Disney-esque fashion, but in a positive reality built out of turmoil.

Few could have predicted what post-war Reconstruction would bring without a fair and steady hand, like Lincoln’s, at the helm. Some might say America still suffers from the missteps after 1865 that resulted in Jim Crow laws in the South that punished blacks and might have been avoided had race relations been handled differently immediately following the Civil War. Fortunately for Europe, Germany, and Japan a more progressive hand administered the Marshall Plan after World War II, yielding strong partners today. But still this did not prevent backward looking nationalist tendencies from cropping up throughout Europe and the U.S. today.

Every country and every era has been divided by serious issues, but without agreement about the need to draw the sides together and ease opposition by finding areas of agreement and common need, stagnation or worse begins to destroy a country and upset global harmony. On so many issues America seems to be at a stalemate, but as Churchill so memorably proclaimed to students at Harrow School on October 29, 1941:

“Never give in. Never give in. Never. Never. Never in nothing great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense.”

For modern America facing the future this seems to translate: Stick to your guns, don’t give in to petty challenges. If, however, your country is at stake, work like heck to preserve democracy, just like Lincoln worked to preserve the Union, and Churchill sweat blood to protect England from the Nazi horde.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Best Mother’s Day Flowers 2022 Tom’s Guide

Aretha Franklin raised the roof and our self-confidence with that song in 1967. Yes, 55 years ago, but the music resonates to this day. Why? Because as Aretha said: “Everyone wants respect.”

Being respected –no matter what makes the national headlines of the day—is the issue of prime importance. If we feel “dissed” and people don’t consider our needs, we melt on the inside and no longer stand up straight. We may not even look others straight in the eye as our self-confidence has taken a hit.

If you’ve read my blog during the Pandemic, you know that I have struggled to understand what’s really behind the divisions in our country. In the beginning, I thought Americans would find ways to tie the ends of the frayed rope between us after Covid passed. That might have been naïve. The differences among us only tightened when we were stuck away alone. Nothing good comes when we don’t attempt to communicate with others, particularly those with a different view. Instead, we let the concrete set around our ideas and beliefs. Our thoughts spool in our brains in an endless loop. No new ideas arise from that cycle.

It’s more difficult for new friends and ideas to come into our lives if we don’t create room for them. No two people think exactly alike, so there will always be areas of difference, possibly disagreement. Our current friendships already have a foundation of mutual respect that allows us to patch over the rough times when conflicts arise. But when we encounter people or ideas that appear to be the polar opposite of our own, it’s even more challenging to grant them a moment’s consideration.

I know listening to “the other side” strains my patience when I strongly disagree, but we’re stagnating –yelling across picket lines or opinion pages. This discourse does not improve the situation. Instead, we find ourselves digging a deep crevice across which are lobbed some of the ugliest words and images ever used in American public discourse (and there has been strong language used in the past). We are providing a hideous example for our children and laying down an embarrassing digital record that will live long after 2022.

If we as a nation take a small step back from this, we might begin to make a long-term change. Of course, it will take more than a finger snap to solve. But we can start by offering respect to all the people we meet at work, no matter the job they perform, the process can begin. Then if we can carry this on to those we see at the grocery or on a walk, the ball could get rolling. Even our partners and children could appreciate a spur-of-the-moment friendly smile or a nod of understanding. 

None of this will cure what ails the world, but you might feel better yourself, and it might be contagious.

That’s all I’ve got for Mother’s Day 2022.

Living Up to Lincoln’s Sacrifice

Abraham Lincoln lithograph, JoAnn 10, istock

After viewing the devastation in Richmond in April 1865, Lincoln knew the Civil War would be over soon. Yet he also realized that the most challenging task remained—bringing the country together as one people, not unlike the difficulty the nation faces today. This weekend we once again recognize Lincoln’s sacrifice156 years after his assassination. But few acknowledge his death came because John Wilkes Booth could not stomach giving even a few African American veterans the right to vote.

Lincoln wasn’t sure he had the words needed to temper Americans’ anger with their opponents or ease their grief for what we’ve lost. But he agreed to address those gathered in Lafayette Park across from the White House. His first words met their expectations: “We meet this evening, not in sorrow, but in the gladness of heart. The evacuation of Petersburg and Richmond and the surrender of the principal insurgent army (he did not identify it as Confederate) give the country hope for a righteous and speedy peace whose joyous expression can not be restrained.”

Speaking from the White House balcony, Lincoln didn’t notice a tall man dressed in black stalking the fringes of the crowd. John Wilkes Booth scowled at the President’s remarks. Less than a month earlier, on March 20, Booth and his conspirators had attempted to capture Lincoln to use him as a bargaining chip to negotiate Southern freedom from federal rules ending slavery.

Then Lincoln turned to the purpose of his speech–Reconstruction—to restore and unite the nation after the war. “No one man had the authority to give up the rebellion for another man. We must begin with and mould (sp) from disorganized and discordant elements,” he said.

He noted the political differences that stood between Americans. Nevertheless, Lincoln sought to begin to bind the wounds of Americans now that the war had ended. The President stated the nation’s problem: “We, the loyal people, differ among ourselves as to the mode, manner, and means of Reconstruction.”

But then, the critical message that would seal the President’s fate. Lincoln told the crowd the nation should grant African American men, particularly those who fought for the Union, the right to vote. Before this speech, no president had ever publicly endorsed even limited suffrage for blacks.

Booth became enraged when he heard Lincoln speak of suffrage. The thought of giving any African American the right to vote infuriated Booth. Standing in the shadows across from the White House, Booth turned to his co-conspirator, Lewis Powell, and nearly spat out his disgust: “That is the last speech he will ever make.”  As an actor well known at Ford’s Theater, he learned when Lincoln would be coming to see Laura Keene perform there in Our American Cousin.

On April 14, 1865, just after 10 pm, Booth’s lightning-quick tempter drew him up the stairs, where he pushed open the door to Lincoln’s box and pulled out a derringer that fit into the palm of his hand, which he used to shoot the President. Booth shouted: “Sic Semper Tyrannus! (Ever thus to tyrants!) The South be avenged.”

Lincoln’s plans to restore the country equitably died with him. His vice president, who took control, Andrew Johnson, a Dixie Democrat and an enslaver from Tennessee, came from the opposite political view. Johnson believed in States’ rights. He allowed Southern governors to make their own decisions regarding the treatment of African Americans.

Four million enslaved people were freed when the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery passed on January 31, 1865, while Lincoln was alive. However, laws to establish freedom of movement and voting rights for African Americans would not become law for a century.

What would Lincoln say today as Congress fails to support voting rights for all Americans? He acted because he believed it to be right and just. Today’s Republicans, who express their pride in being “the Party of Lincoln” but can’t support voting rights, the principle for which he gave his life. fail to live up to his sacrifice. They lack the courage to stand up for all the voters in their state. They betray Lincoln’s legacy and further rip apart our delicate democracy.

Sarah Moore Grimke: Trailblazer

Women leaders throughout history. Sarah Moore Grimke takes the pole position in this modern rendition “feminists at work” of the 1932 photograph of steelworkers taking lunch 850 feet above NYC by Lewis Hines.

How did I not know about the contribution of this woman born in 1793, just 17 years after the Declaration of Independence? But if I missed her contribution earlier, I can’t be the only one. So, younger women of all hues and backgrounds with dreams of becoming lawyers or setting right the wrongs in our society, I present Sarah Grimké. Today, she comes to mind as the House of Representatives confirmed Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson as the first black woman to join the Supreme Court.

The picture above of 11 women and a youngster posed on the steel beam, just like Lewis Hine’s photograph of the steelworkers in 1932, provides a unique view of America’s female leaders throughout the decades. Sarah sits at the head of this group. The Bill of Rights came before her. Yet, even if you were to say that “We the People” meant everyone, the nation did not treat everyone the same. For example, women could not vote until 1920, yet Sarah worked to achieve voting rights more than 100 years earlier.

Sarah Moore Grimke

If you believe we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us, Sarah’s strong shoulders and nimble mind form a good foundation. She grew up in South Carolina, the sixth of 14 children on a plantation supported by slave labor. Despite her quest for knowledge, she knew then she would not be admitted to law school as a woman while her brother Thomas was. Nevertheless, she consumed the books he studied for a degree at Yale College while fulfilling all the required “female” arts—embroidery, French, watercolors, etc.—required of a proper Southern maiden.

Her father, an attorney, and speaker of the House of Representatives in South Carolina, realized her intellect but would only allow her to study geography, history, and math, but denied her an opportunity to learn Latin. Her brother, Thomas, secretly filled in the gaps with Greek and a bit of Latin.

Ironically her father praised her ability, saying if Sarah were a man, “she could be the greatest lawyer in South Carolina or the greatest jurist in the country,”

On Sundays during her teens, Sarah would teach the Bible to young enslaved people, which was against the law in South Carolina, where they feared educated enslaved people would revolt. Secretly she taught reading and spelling to her slave, Hetty, by screening out the light in the keyhole to her door and lying flat on their stomachs before the fire. On the plantation, she became aware of the inhuman treatment of African Americans.

Soon realizing that South Carolina would not tolerate her belief that slavery was wrong, she went to Philadelphia when she was 26 and joined the Quakers. They were early abolitionists and allowed women to preach. But Quakers did not tolerate her growing interest in women’s rights and were critical when she and her sister, Angelina, preached to mixed audiences of men and women. They called these groups “promiscuous.” Nevertheless, they were the first women to address a legislative body in New England.

Sarah’s writings, considered radical, were among the first to express the links between racial and sexual oppression boldly. Sarah wrote to the clergy against the evils of slavery. She wrote “Letters on Equality,” which received a rebuke from the General Association of Congressional Ministers. Churches and the public burned her writings, and Sarah received threats of arrest. But Sarah wrote on. In 1839, Sarah, Angelina, and her husband, the abolitionist Thomas Weld, published American Slavery as It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses.

The sisters walked the talk. When they learned that their brother fathered mixed-race children before his death, they took the boys in and supported one through Harvard Law and the other as he completed the seminary at Princeton. Sarah didn’t give up. She passed out copies of Harriet Taylor Mill and John Stuart Mill’s pamphlet The Subjugation of Women on the street when she was 79.

Decades, even a century would pass, but the relentless courage reflected in her writing became the bedrock upon which other women built a political case to have their say-so concerning the nation’s decisions.

In her confirmation hearing, Ruth Bader Ginsburg paid tribute to Grinké by using her quote: “I ask for no favor for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks.” Her predecessor also gained recognition in 1998 when Grinké became recognized by the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Looking back upon Grinké’s work, we recognize her contribution to women in 2022. Yet we wonder what she could have achieved if she and others could have reached their whole potential centuries earlier in her lifetime. Today Judge Jackson opens a new chapter in the history of the Supreme Court, recognizing the capability of an African American woman.

Maybe we will come closer to a paraphrased quote from Grinké: “I know nothing of man’s rights, or woman’s rights; human rights (and human intelligence and judgment) are all that I recognize.”

Notes:

APA: Alexander, K.L. (2018). Sarah Moore Grimké. Retrieved from https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/sarah-moore-grimke

Chicago: Alexander, Kerri Lee. “Sarah Moore Grimké.” National Women’s History Museum. 2018. https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/sarah-moore-grimke.

MLA: Alexander, Kerri Lee. “Sarah Moore Grimké.” National Women’s History Museumhttps://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/sarah-moore-grimke. Accessed [date]. 

Books for more information:

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

Life Up Thy Voice  by Mark Perry

The Grimké Sisters from South Carolina  by Gerda Lerner

Lincoln – Kids 2 Turning Around a Bad Situation

President Lincoln, a rendering of his Gettysburg Address, given November 16, 1863.

If you have a bad day, think the next day will be better! Thinking positive can help good things happen. Abe Lincoln had nearly 4 X 365 days of bad days during the Civil War. Everyone came to him for answers, but there weren’t any easy ones. He worried about the loss of life both in the North and the South. He prayed he could find a military leader who could bring the war to an end. Unfortunately, Lincoln did not find the right general until March 1864, three years after the war began. So it might be difficult to believe that Lincoln used humor to turn his bad days into better ones.

In this time of war in Eastern Europe, it might seem a strange time to think of humor. But Mark Twain, known then as the Nation’s humorist in the 19th century, denied that joy created the Nation’s laughter. Instead, he found sorrow to be humor’s, as did Lincoln. Of course, Lincoln had a lot of sadness in his life: the loss of his mother when he was nine, death of his only sister in childbirth when he was 19, typhoid took his first love at 20, and two of his sons died in childhood. Nevertheless, he self-treated himself with humor and even published a book of jokes when he was in the White House.

One tale about two Quaker women particularly tickled Lincoln. They discussed whether Confederate President Jefferson Davis or U.S.President Lincoln would win the war. “Well,” one reasoned, “Davis is a praying man.” The other said: “Lincoln is a praying man, too.” The first smiled and said: “But God won’t know if Lincoln is kidding.”

He liked to poke fun at himself.

After moving to New Salem, after his family went from Indiana into Illinois in 1830, he joked about the nearby Sangamon River being so curvy and serpentine that “he had camped at the same place on three different nights.”

He helped build and then managed a general store there. Clark Carr, who worked with Lincoln, said he was “the most comical and jocose of human beings, laughing with the same zest at his jokes as at those of others.” Carr added that he’d never seen “another who provoked so much mirth, and who entered into rollicking fun with such glee.”

“He could make a cat laugh.”

Lincoln didn’t waste his time between customers at the store. He borrowed books and studied math, philosophy, astronomy, history, and poetry. He asked for help from one of the local teachers to learn English Grammar in Familiar Lectures. Lincoln particularly enjoyed Shakespeare’s plays Hamlet and Macbeth and went to see them in Illinois and Washington.

 After participation in the Black Hawk War in Illinois (leading a group of men, but seeing no military action), at 23, Lincoln ran for a seat in the Illinois House of Representatives. In announcing his run, Lincoln said:

“Every man is said to have a particular ambition. But, whether it is true or not, I can say for one that I have no other so great as that of being truly esteemed of my fellow men that they would have conferred upon me for which if elected I shall be unremitting in my labors to compensate the favor. He got 277 votes out of 300 in his home county but lost in the final tally. He was not well known outside New Salem, but that would change.

Before entering national politics, Abe Lincoln worked as a lawyer in Illinois’ Circuit Court. He rode on horseback from one tiny town to another. In Illinois’ Eighth Judicial Circuit, lawyers who opposed each other during the day would be in the same local hotel or tavern at night. Lincoln, according to historian Ronald C. White, Lincoln “seemed to possess an inexhaustible fund” of humorous stories and anecdotes. No one could relate a story without reminding him (Lincoln) of one of a similar character.” Lincoln became known for his laughter, taking pleasure in his humor and others’. “The heartiness of his own enjoyment” drew others to him, even more than being the “Rail-splitter” energized the North for his first Presidential run in 1860.

Lincoln did not take for granted that the country loved him and wanted him to be their President again in 1864. He knew he had the support of half the country– the South DID NOT like or want him to be President. The President expressed as much when the votes for Indiana and Ohio favored him. He knew then that he had the support he needed.

He told the telegraph operator at the War Department down the block from the White House: “It does look like the people wanted me to stay a little longer, and I shall have to if they do.”

Lincoln wanted to stay for a second four years. Finally, as the war wound down, many problems would remain after the war ended. He did not have an opportunity to bind the Nation’s wounds because he died at Ford’s Theater a few days after General Grant signed the surrender.

Gordon Leidner, Lincoln’s Gift: How Humor Shaped Lincoln’s Life and Legacy (Naperville, IL, 2015.)

Vote Your Choice!

Primary voting begins in Texas on Tuesday, March 1. November’s General Election Ballot choices are being made in each state starting now. See dates at bottom. No right to complain later if you don’t vote in your State Primary! Find candidates at http://www.vote.org.

Sure, there’s less whoopla about the candidates, no Presidential or Senator’s races in some states, but here in Texas we have candidates for the top State offices, including Governor. If you are one of the 17 million eligible voters in Texas (who haven’t voted in the Early Voting) March 1 is your last opportunity. (For a list of dates for Primary in the other states -see below.)

It’s your right and responsibility to go to the polls to vote to help solve local, state, and national problems. Particularly right now, as citizens in Ukraine are fighting to remain free and hold tight to their free and fair elections, you who can do so must exercise this right.

I live in Texas, where people are flocking to avoid state taxes. * We do have our own challenges. Voting precincts are being carved up to favor one Party’s candidates, but that is even more reason for Texans to VOTE. Texas historically has had one of the lowest rates of voting in primary elections, 25% in 2020. Even general elections do not entice substantial numbers of voters to turnout here –the rate rose to 66% in 2020, but that’s not a number to brag about. Texans don’t like to rank so low, preferring to be at the top. SO help Texas get on top as a voting state.

Important choices indeed. By failing to vote in a primary, you are leaving it up to others to decide who will be on the ballot in November. Write in candidates very, very rarely stand a chance to win. Others will decide, leaving you with a far-left or a far-right candidate from which to pick. Today’s much smaller net of Primary voters tends to cling to the two sides of the political spectrum because they are voting with their ideology, not their community in mind.

Do not forfeit these crucial primary decisions about who will represent you and be on your ballot in November. If you sleep in, work late, or go out to lunch instead of voting, you let someone else make the decisions about who will lead in Washington, your State Capitol, your local government, and your neighborhood.

If you want to help America to pull back from the edges, check out the League of Women Voter’s Voting Guide online. www.vote.org It publishes a nonpartisan flyer about the candidates and short biographies. If you cannot find this in your community, then go to your local library for a listing of the candidates along with biographical information.  Be informed. If you go to the polls without doing a bit of research, you might actually vote against your best interest. It is well worth the effort to strengthen your community, your State, your country by participating.

Now MORE THAN EVER is the time to vote in your STATE’S Primary. Here’s a list of the Primary voting dates in the States. Check for 2022 Primary times and locations. Go to www.vote.org for local information by inserting your zip code to get specific information about candidates you will be voting for in your precinct at the time of the primary in your state.

State Primary Timetable

DATE                                 STAT

March   1                          Texas, Georgia, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania 

                                           Michigan also listed on Aug. 12. First date is the primary.

May 3                                Indiana, Ohio

May 10                              Nebraska, West Virginia

May 17                              Idaho, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania

May 24                              Alabama, Georgia, Arkansas

June 7                                California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, South Dakota

June 14,                            Maine, Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina, Virginia

June 28                              Illinois, Colorado, Maryland, New York, Oklahoma, Utah

August 2                            Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Missouri, Washington

August 4                            Tennessee

August 9                            Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont, Wisconsin

August 13                         Hawaii

August 16                         Alaska, Wyoming

August 23                         Florida

September 6                    Massachusetts

September 13                  Delaware, New Hampshire, Rhode Island

November 8                     Louisiana

Exercise your right. Get to the polls early or before 4 pm, so you don’t get lost in the 7-8 pm and avoid the wait.. Insure you don’t miss your opportunity. I commend those of you who stand in long lines. Bring water or snacks, just in case. Trust me, it is worth the effort!

*There are no state taxes and the schools are supported by local property taxes in Texas. Tough decisions will need to be made to maintain quality elementary, secondary, and higher education institutions Texan’s brag about. With the growing number of people flocking to the state, timely decisions about the energy grid that supports the Lone Star state are also essential to those living here. So important decisions need to be made here and in every state. Primaries are the entry point, so we have the most qualified people running in November.

Who Knew Nixon Would Not Be Last?

Tall stack of paper against a background of stormy sky covered with dark clouds represent the rising stack of documents protected by the Presidential Records Act to givde Americans an insight into our past to provide wisdom in making future decisions.

How 44 Years of the Presidential Records Act Impacts Us Today

When Congress passed the Presidential Records Act (PRA) in 1978, it placed the records of subsequent Presidents in federal custody to prevent their destruction. Congress reacted to Nixon’s destruction of incriminating documents. PRA reduced secrecy, allowed the public a peek behind the veil of government, and provided historians and journalists the resources to do their jobs. Politics being politics, PRA didn’t have enforcement teeth, nor could it overcome future Presidential Executive Orders designed to limit what power it did carry. As a young Congressional staffer and future amateur historian, I believed PRA would be a highlight of my four-year career on Capitol Hill. Ignorance was bliss.

A House Government Operations Subcommittee crafted the PRA bill in 1977 to assist America in preventing a future President from swiping or destroying documents created in the Oval Office. At the time, it seemed impossible to believe there would be another President whose ego, fear of reprisals or concern about his (or her) legacy would supersede an interest in the public’s need to examine the Chief Executive’s records.

Specifically, the PRA put the ownership of official Presidential Records in the hands of the American people to build trust in the work of the federal government and its Chief Executives. The National Archives and Records Administration scheduled retrieval of documents under PRA to begin January 20, 1981, as the Reagan Administration began.

Under this custody and management of Presidential records, the Chief Executive would file personal papers separately from official Presidential records. Then, when leaving office, the official records would be automatically transferred into the custody of the U.S. Archivist at the National Archives.

Under PRA, the Archivist has five years to process the documents from a retiring Chief Executive before releasing any. Unfortunately, processing has become a Herculean task with a minimum of 30 million records coming from a single four-year term, including audio files, and videotapes. Freedom of Information requests, based on the 1974 law from citizens, journalists, and historians, are accepted after the documents are processed. But can in emergencies, like court orders seen recently, can be applied earlier.The Archives can have 12 years to protect various aspects of a President’s records. (The Pandemic partially halted the Archives’ efforts to process documents, increasing the timeline.)

Presidential Documents Release: Nixon’s Secret Tapes

President Richard Nixon’s worries about being defeated are evident in the secret tapes he recorded in his office. That marked the beginning of his demise in August 1974, when he left the White House. While Nixon died two decades later, the final release of those secret tapes did not occur until 2013—thirty years after his death and 48 years after he left D.C. for California. LBJ’s audiotapes, recorded in the Administration before Nixon’s, were released piecemeal, but the last batch did not open until 2016.

The temptation to Presidents to protect “certain” documents from public view has stretched America’s patience, and now we are in another battle that could rival what’s gone before. I mention the role Executive Orders have played to amend, stretch, and sometimes erase the intent of the Presidential Record’s Act.

Power of the Pen: Executive Orders

Today, with the nation politically sliced in half, winning legislative battles has become an eternal struggle. However, to accomplish some segments of the legislative agenda that don’t require a Congressional vote, a President can take advantage of the Executive Order.

Now with changes made sinde 1987, the complexity of the guidelines issued by Executive Orders requires a spreadsheet to comply. During the last four decades, the weaving routes of politics and culture have complicated the process.

Three critical Executive Orders concerning Presidential Records have been signed since 1978, adjusting PRA or countermanding the prior President’s penned desires. Ronald Reagan signed Executive Order 12667 in 1989 when he left office. It allowed former U.S. Presidents to limit access to certain records created in their terms. Before releasing any presidential records, the Archivist must notify both the incumbent and former President which document is requested and whether they may claim Executive privilege.

President George W. Bush increased the number and types of documents and the withholding timetable for Presidential Records when he issued Executive Order 13233 on November 1, 2001. It permitted a President or former President to withhold several types of documents. In addition, his father’s papers (George H. Bush’s Vice Presidential and Vice Presidential papers–1981 and ended in 1998) fell under enhanced protection.

Executive Order 13233 allowed a President to retain certain types of documents longer, including:

“military, diplomatic, or national security secrets, Presidential communications, legal advice, legal work, or the deliberative processes of the President and the President’s advisors and to do so in a manner consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision in Nixon v. Administrator of General Services, 433 U.S. 425 (1977), and other cases….”  

Some aspects of George W. Bush’s executive order were a reaction to 9-11, which occurred less than two months before he issued the order. As a result, security rose to top priority. Still, the only way to avoid future disasters would be to know how the intelligence community failed and where America could be better prepared.

The Society of American Archivists and the American Library Association criticized the President’s exercise of executive power. They charged George W. Bush’s order with “violating both the spirit and the letter of existing U.S. law on access to presidential papers as clearly laid down in law. They noted that the order “potentially threatens to undermine one of the very foundations of our nation.”

John Wertman, a member of former President Bill Clinton’s White House staff, wrote in 2006: “Order 13233 “represents a wholesale change in the way the federal government preserves and promotes our national public memory.”

Going Backwards to Iran-Contra

Questions arose about the Iran-Contra Affair in Reagan’s second term. The official justification for arms shipments to Iran in 1985 was that they were part of an operation to free seven American hostages in Lebanon held by Hezbollah. Reagan needed to return these Americans, fearing a repeat of the backlash that chased Carter out of the White House ahead of him.

Senior Reagan Administration officials secretly facilitated the sale of arms to the Khomeini government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, which was the subject of an arms embargo. (President Jimmy Carter established the ban after  Iranian students stormed the U.S. Embassy in 1979 and took 52 hostages. Reagan pledged to continue the arms sale ban after his inauguration in January 1981.)

Congress had passed the Boland Amendment in December 1982 to prohibit further funding of the Contras. Oliver North and his assistant testified before Congress in 1985 that National Security Council documents related to the arms sale were destroyed to prevent proof of the arms sale and funding to the Contras.

International relations and national politics wound their way around Reagan’s pledge. Under the Reagan Administration’s plan or one devised among his advisors, the U.S. would use $15 million from the sale to Iran to fund the Contras fighting the Communist Sandinistas in Nicaragua.

Reagan vocally supported the Contras but told the independent Tower Commission (in testimony as a sitting President addressing the arms-for-hostages scandal) said he did not authorize the deal. The Commission’s 200-page report criticized Reagan’s oversight of the National Security Council (where Oliver North served as a military aide, who was indicted and fired for his role).

Bush’s Executive Order sealed documents related to Iran-Contra for an extended period. This frustrated historians and others trying to piece together American foreign policy decisions in the Middle East and Central America that still worry the U.S. and the world.

In 1985, personal health considerations arose in the Reagan Administration, which were not broadcast widely. The Gipper underwent a seven-hour surgery to remove two feet of his colon for cancer in July 1985. Three days later he met in the hospital with National Security Advisor McFarlane, who engaged in shuttle diplomacy with Iran to get hostages released. Later McFarlane resigned as one of the two dozen Reagan Administration staff or cabinet members indicted in the Iran-Contra Affair. Ten of those were found guilty, but George H. Bush, Reagan’s Vice President and a former director of the CIA, pardoned all on the last day of his presidency.

Before the PRA, Jimmy Carter, no questions asked, turned his Presidential Records over to the Archives at the end of his term. Former President Gerald Ford said: “I firmly believe that after X period, presidential papers, except for the most highly sensitive documents involving our national security, should be made available to the public, and the sooner, the better.”

Obama Reflects Faith in History

The day after his inauguration Barack Obama signed Executive Order 13489 revoking George W. Bush’s Executive Order. It would be unfortunate if Presidential Papers were to be tossed from one Administration to another like a ping pong ball or hot potato. I merely touched on the current matter of the former President’s records because of their coverage in the daily news, but this background information might shed some light on how we got here.

The lack of trust in American culture today has multiple sources, but locking up Presidential Records for an extended time further erodes confidence in the American government. As we live through dark political times, ignorance of our history can pull us full circle to relive the worst of our past. Or we can learn from our history and shine light into the future.

Lincoln’s: Kid’s Story Birth of Lincoln’s Beard!

Lincoln reaches out to shake Grace Bedell’s hand in 1861. Lincoln stopped on his pre-inaugural train tour in her hometown to thank her. SONY DSC

Did an 11-year-old influence a national election?

Story to remember Abraham Lincoln on his birthday 213 years ago (February 12, 1809).

On October 15, 1860, * eleven-year-old Grace Bedell from Westfield, New York, wrote a letter to Abraham Lincoln, a candidate for President from Illinois. She admitted it was “very bold” for her to write just a few weeks before the national election. But she “very much” wanted Lincoln to be President.

Grace Bedell statue in Westfield, New York, commemorating the meeting with Lincoln (1861).

Grace wrote Lincoln that her father “came home from the fair and brought your picture.” She noticed in the picture that Lincoln had a narrow face. “You would look a great deal better if your whiskers grew,” she wrote. Then suggested that “ladies like whiskers” and would “tease their husbands” to vote for Lincoln.

Judge for yourself. Remember facial standards of beauty change throughout time. The image on the left showed Lincoln as a younger man. The right shows Lincoln during the Civil War, when his worries show.

Her four brothers were split on who they preferred for President. But both of her parents supported Abe. She agreed with them.

Before completing her note, she asked Lincoln if he had any daughters. If you have any daughters “as large as I am,” give them my love. Grace thought maybe this older daughter, if he had one, could write her back if Lincoln were too busy.

A copy of Lincoln’s return letter latter typed for preservation. Typewriters were not invented until 1874.

Lincoln responded within the week, thanking Grace for her “very agreeable letter of the 15th. Regrettably, I have no daughters, but three sons: seventeen, nine, and seven.”  At the time of the letter Lincoln questioned the whiskers: “As to the whiskers, having never worn any, do you think people would call it a piece of silly affection if I were to begin it now?”

He closed with “very sincere well wishes.”

After the 1860 Presidential Election, Lincoln took a long train trip to Washington, D.C. from Illinois for his inauguration. Lincoln visited several larger cities, including New York City and Philadelphia. But he made a special stop in one small town: Westfield, New York. There he thanked Grace and had a surprise. He bent his tall figure down to shake Grace’s hand, so she could get a better look at his face:

“You see I grew these whiskers for you!” +

Your chance: Presidents and governors answer letters from Americans of all ages. Maybe you would like to express your thoughts and opinions. You can write the President today at:

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Washington, DC 20500        or      open   White House.gov   to send an email message.

Your thoughts and ideas are important because you will become voters who are especially important to America’s future!

————————

*More than five months into the Civil War  

+ America did not have national pollsters in 1860 and the letter came so close to the election, the impact Lincoln’s whiskers is impossible to judge. But Lincoln did continue to wear them. He either thought they helped soften his image or he liked not needing to shave!

Hey, Jude, Let It Be. . . Better!

A pillow on my couch reminds me to relax and enjoy life, not sweat the small stuff!

Hard to believe the Beatles hit the charts 60 years ago. We learn the backstory about Paul McCartney’s creative work in Lyrics. Now the British Library that I visited in January carries the exhibit. Here’s an inside view on the thoughts and melodies that grew into “Hey, Jude,” “Let it Be,” “Yesterday,” and “Eleanor Rigby,” plus hundreds of other songs we hum, dance to, and are inspired by–the background music of our lives.

“My interest in music came initially from my father, who was a musician,” McCartney said in an interview with Barnes & Noble and Waterstones (UK) CEO James Daunt, when Lyrics dropped late last year. Daunt noted that seven years of research took place to find and retrieve the Beatles archives around the country and stage interviews with the creators, directors, and producers of this tremendous trove of music. The book on the lyrics from 1956 to the present runs to 863 pages, but as one reviewer said, “It reads like having a conversation with Paul. It flows easily, and it’s a lot of fun.” As the Brits say, songs are alphabetic from A to Zed, which make it easier for casual readers.

Although his dad worked at the cotton exchange and his mom was a nurse, the McCartney’s were not wealthy. They lived in “Council Estates,” the low-income housing projects in Britain. But they had a piano in the living room, so Paul learned to play early on. When his mother died of cancer when Paul was 14, music helped him cover the wound. He traces his beginning in music and songwriting to the Liverpool Institute for Boys of 1,000 students that he joined at 11. A teacher who gave him insight into Chaucer’s unexpected “bits” spurred McCartney’s interest in reading. It led him to Shakespeare and nurtured his curiosity, nourishing the ideas that worked their way into his songs.

His collaboration with John Lennon, his schoolmate in graphic design, grew on their shared interest in songwriting. Quickly they realized they both enjoyed Jabberwocky, a nonsense poem by Lewis Carroll included in Through the Looking Glass, the sequel to Alice in Wonderland.

Coming to America in 1964

Initially when they were Liverpool blokes trying to make a go of it, the Beatles’ financial aspirations were for a guitar, a car, and a house. But that changed when the Brits flew across the pond to perform on the Ed Sullivan Show. Five-thousand crying and screaming teenage girls greeted them at LaGuardia Airport in New York (only 1,000 saw them off in London). Seventy-three million people watched the program; the crime rate went down that night! The audience included Elvis Presley, who sent them a congratulations telegram. Young Billy Joel and Bruce Springsteen were also listening. The Beatles saved “I Want to Hold Your Hand” for their viewers, sending shouts throughout the audience.

McCartney wrote “Hey, Jude” for the next generation. Bandmate John Lennon’s affair with Yoko Ono resulted in his divorce from his first wife in 1968. Their son, Julian, felt sad and alone, like Paul had as a youngster. Lyrics like “Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders” and “Foolish to make the world colder” led to encouragement: “Take a sad song and make it better.” Julian poured himself into creative arts–producing seven albums since 1984, exhibiting his fine art photography, and authored children’s books.

Let It Be”

The easy-going theme of the Beatles’ “Let it Be” could be living proof that there are fewer innovative ideas (or songs) than we might think. Consider “Let it Go,” an earworm for parents of eight-and-under daughters mesmerized by Disney’s Frozen. “Let it Be,” has a line recorded on their last album in 1970, “When I find myself in trouble, Mother Mary speaks to me.” In the November interview, Paul says this refers to his mother, who died when he was young. He said the phrase came to him in a dream, as she offered advice.

How Eleanor Rigby Evolved

As a British Boy Scout, McCartney visited an older woman and traded groceries and cheer for her counsel and friendship. He looked forward to his conversations with the older women, translating their lonliness into the song. In the song, the woman picks up the rice after a wedding, but never had her own. The sad story served with an upbeat tune. Paul created”Eleanor Rigby” as a name that fit the song’s tempo.

The song became a joint effort: John Lennon encouraged Paul to change the pastor’s name. Father McCartney became Father McKenzie, a name they picked out of the phone book under ‘MC.” George Hamilton suggested putting the song in C significant to provide drama, then added the trumpet and sax. Throughout their years together, McCartney and Lennon created 300 songs together.

Yesterday”: Popular Melancholy

McCartney’s song, “Yesterday,” earned praise as one of the best songs of the 20th century. A dream inspired this song too. He thought of the composer Cole Porter and dancer Fred Astaire. It started in F chord, but George suggested they detune their guitars to get the mellow F tone he sought. Their manager George Martin suggested putting a string quartet behind it. Paul offered the song to the band, but they agreed this was a tribute to his mother. As a teenager in Ohio, I knew none of this, but a friend and I tried to sing it for a school variety show. If you ever try it, you will realize how difficult it is!

When McCartney and Lennon were not getting along in the late 1960s, John told Paul, “All you ever did was “Yesterday.” But, of course, he wanted the dig to reach beyond the single song. After Lennon was assassinated in New York, McCartney wrote, “If I Said I Loved You,” feeling that in the 1960s, it was not common for men to say that to each other. Instead, he remembered John’s smile and how he would lift his glasses and say, “It’s only me,” and laugh, putting them back in place.

Now that he writes alone, McCartney says, “I always have a song on the go.” It starts with a guitar or a piano, working with a melody. Then, if a line or a word doesn’t seem right, he moves over it, looks into a poetry book for inspiration, or considers how others’ songs he likes handled similar problems. If he can stretch out three hours in the afternoon, Paul says he can get the crux of a song, but it works best if he has an inspiration to ignite.

Words for Young Songwriters

McCartney encourages aspiring songwriters to read widely. He pulls inspiration from others and carries a poetry book in his back pocket to trigger the right word to fit into an open phrase. He also draws inspiration from world events. For example, McCartney wrote “Blackbird,” thinking about the little Black girl who integrated the schoolhouse in Alabama.

 Not Afraid to Shake it Up

When the Beatles started making albums, audiences were satisfied with their picture on the cover. But Paul and John began to commission artwork. “Our agents were appalled that we spent 75 pounds on the (cover) art,” noting that the cost and variety of covers just kept going. They started the rush towards artistic album covers.

McCartney’s black lab comes into the room as one interview concludes, and he pets him while concluding the discussion about his music. Much as his composing work moves on, at a less frenetic pace, giving us more music to contemplate!

January Requires Bright Lights!

Kew Gardens’ digital light show delivers in London.

Palm House (above), a turn-of-the-century greenhouse, provides the ultimate setting

My crazy time in London (see January 17 blog) offered me a chance to see the digital light display at the Royal Botanical Kew Gardens before coming home. But much more than just a light display, Tchaikovsky’s classical Swan Lake creates sugar plum fairies and toy soldiers and helps us imagine the fluffy white swans on the lake in front of the showpiece multi-story, antique Palm House.

Become a kid again as you walk the magical trail through the grounds at Kew.

Kew’s imaginative winter wonderland provides digital delights for young and old. Plus, the two-mile jaunt winds through well-tended gardens aglow with imaginative light displays designed by London’s finest. Everything kicks off its first tour at 4:20 pm because London’s December brings total darkness ten minutes later. Along the way to help bolster the spirits of youngsters: hot chocolate with whipped cream, gingerbread cookies, and miniature mincemeat pies. Adults could choose from mulled cider, hot rum, or champagne paired with gingerbread, waffles, or churros (nice and crunchy, which I would expect to find in Texas!).

Take an opportunity to roast some colorful marshmellows among the forest of imagination!

My iPhone photos can’t do justice to the array of colors or the creative pairing of twinkling, syncopated, throbbing lights along the path, draping the trees and far overhead. My daughter’s skills far exceed mine, but the urge to enjoy the evening’s festivities overtook our desire to record the sights. So, without stepping on others ‘ creative work, I will attempt to dip into photography from Kew and other sources.

Trees are aglow with a silver beauty that resembles ice cycles. Christmas at Kew

I hope those who view this blog will consider a trip to London in a non-Pandemic future to see Kew Gardens for yourselves. It is a spectacular display that envelops and uplifts the spirit with music, color, and creative genius. Wonderful anytime, but there’s a reason it reaches out at Christmas and as the beginning of 2022 stretches out before us with promise!

A walk through this block of arched creamy-white lights seems almost a religious experience, as it reminds one of a cathedral of solitude.

As we move into February, take a little solitude, match it with hope, and thoughts of future joy in the year ahead.

There you have it. A roundabout comparison of language and a few tidbits tossed in for flavor. Next: I will finish my tales from the UK discussing Paul McCartney’s Lyrics book on display at the British Library and an interview he gave regarding the Beatles’ songs. Next I’ll address managing our habits for good or ill—how we can gear up for change.

London Sunrise

Positive British Words

East Sheen, a neighborhood south of London, 6:00 am. December 27, 2021

Nothing like a burning sunrise to encourage the day’s potential to shine. I took this photo from the third floor of a townhouse in East Sheen, off Richmond Road, about 20 minutes from Heathrow Airport. A few days later, Omicron descended upon everyone in the townhouse, one after another.

Looking on the positive side, being vaxxed and boosted paid off for the family and me. I got off with a few days sounding like an imitation Lauren Bacall with her deep voice. No fever or loss of taste or smell. Even the youngest only experienced fever at night. Being together for Omicron certainly beat being apart and not knowing its impact on the family.

As I settled in for a few Omicron days, I decided to use the time to make an amateur’s study of the differences in the British take on “English” and words employed by their American cousins. I enjoyed a quote by George Bernard Shaw: Britain and America—”two countries divided by a common language.” At the end I will include a comparison of the words that appealed to me. Some words surprised me, for example, my grandsons wore “jumpers.” Really? While I think of myself as open-minded, this didn’t seem likely. Until I learned their school sweaters were called “jumpers.” I got used to it.

Even though gray skies are the norm (50% of the time) and the pitter-patter of rain falls frequently in London, the Brits take it in stride. They manage to maintain their sense of humor. The words most likely to be heard are “lovely” and “cheers.” The cakes (British Baking Show), garden roses (even in December), and children are “lovely.” One thinks of earlier references to Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon in America, where “the women are strong, the men are good looking, and the children are above average.”

But this is different. The language expresses a refreshing outlook, particularly as we roll into the second year of the Pandemic. Omicron races through neighborhoods in London, just as it does in America. Yet “lovely” expresses a tone, that denotes a positive forward attitude, whether  or not it’s just the usual response in Britain. “Cheers” is a multipurpose response. “Cheers, I’m glad to see you.” “Cheers, your team/my team won the game.” “Cheers, to the high school/college graduate” (though the term high school is somewhat different in England). To be authentic, you want to sound more like Prince Charles or his mum, the Queen, and pronounce it “chairs.”

The third word that often reached my American ears: “brilliant.” You might judge that not everything that gets this tag could live up to the American meaning; that isn’t the point. I believe people strive for higher goals based on expectations. Rather than judging children’s initial attempt as being below the bar and criticizing the attempt, would it be more productive to find their effort “brilliant” in some area? Then they might be encouraged to “give it a go,” as the Brits would say, and continue striving?

As Omicron took the East Sheen neighborhood by storm, neighbors would say “touch wood” to wave it off in a comical way. Later I learned this was the British version of “knock on wood” and wondered how it evolved (see below). Challenges occur on both sides of the Atlantic. How you react is the key to your success.

{Touch Wood Superstition – Pick your as version. The first traces to the Celtics, who were said to knock on trees to prevent ruining their good luck and to “thank the leprechauns.” Or the Christian version—the wood of Christ’s cross was said to protect against the evil of the devil. Then, the German perspective: Stammtisch’s tavern had a table made of oak. According to legend, the guests believed that touching the table brought protection against the devil, who was unable to touch oak. Finally, in the 1800s, children developed a chasing game, “Ticky Touchwood.” Those children who touched wood were immune from being tagged.}

Downton Abbey Incentive

Like many American females taken by the male accents they heard on Downton Abbey, I enjoyed listening to British speech in London, even if I did not always understand the meaning of the words. To continue my British education, I listen to the BBC report on NPR in Austin. I have produced a chart of British words and equivalent American usage—some from first-hand discovery, others unique comparisons I thought you would enjoy.

Traffic Safety – Britain vs. America

Finally, I could not finish without a few words about traffic safety. It amazed me that there are many fewer stoplights in London than in Washington, D.C. or any other major American city. Scattered along city streets are “pelicans”– large yellow dots of light about five foot above the pavement that arise from single poles along highways, like Richmond Road. (Thus the name “pelicons,”in keeping with the British sense of humor.) Pedestrians push a button, then step out into the street as traffic stops. It’s hard to believe cars will stop, but they do. Roundabouts are circular roadways that allow drivers to cross to one of three directions–to the first right, straight across, or the second right–from where they entered. Virginia installed some further out rural areas, where highways met. They worked, but drivers would need to adjust!

Driving on the left side of the road also requires drivers to make their left-hand turn without driving in front of oncoming traffic–one of the more dangerous moves American drivers make. But drivers coming in from sidestreets depend on courtesy of other Britaish drivers, who let each other into the lane of traffic. It works because drivers exceed expectations. The statistics show the difference. Britain’s population is one-fifth of the United States, with 68 million Brits to 335 million Americans. The U.S. had 36,560 traffic fatalities (not collisions or injuries, but deaths) in 2018 vs. 1839 in Britain. Based on population, one-fifth of the fatalities would total 7312. Granted Britain is much smaller geographically, with fewer large cities and smaller towns not as far flung, but England lost a fraction of its people to driving fatalities.

One possibility might be that getting a driver’s license in England is more complicated than in the States. People study seriously to pass. Some compare it to getting a PhD. in safety. This may be too much of a challenge, but somewhere in the middle of the British difficulty and frankly the American ease in getting a license might be called for. Teenagers, as a rule, in Britain don’t attempt a license until they are older. Senior drivers are increasing in both countries, creating other challenges. Making it more difficult to get a license in America would be difficult to sell–but are we willing to lose more people on the highways? The simple fact is that in the U.S. highway fatalities are roaring back after the Pandemic’s emptier roads.  

OK, off soapbox. So what do they call khaki pants in the U.K.? Trousers. Look below for a more complete list comparing American and British English words.

British                                   American

            agony aunt                          advice columnist

            (dust) bin                             garbage can     An aging aunt: “I don’t think I’m ready for the bin.”

            barrister                               attorney           A barrister prepares documents but is not in court.

            biscuits                                cookie

            bonnet                                 car hood

            casualty                               emergency room

            draughts                              checkers

            flats                                     apartments

            car park                               parking lot

            chemist                               pharmacy/drug store

             crisps                                  potato chips

            dual carriageway              divided highway

            football                             soccer          Parents of elementary kids play in the evening.

            high street                         main street      See: “London’s High Streets” my December 17 Blog.

            (bank) holiday                  vacation            As we have vacations, Brits have holidays.

            Juggernaut                        18-wheeler        In London, commercial trucks are smaller in UK.

            jelly babies                        jelly beans

            ice lolly                             Popcycle

            green fingers                    green thumb

            knickers                           female underwear

            maths                               math                  British figure there is more than 1 type of math.

            nappy                               diapers

            pet hate                            pet peeve

            pavement                         sidewalk        Not paved, but ill-fitting 12″ squares mashed together.

            pub                                   bar               Pub food is better. Variety. Well beyond wings & BBQ.

            reception                          preschool                                                         

            reception room               living room Ground floor, floors above are the first floor.

            removals                         movers

            ring road                         beltway

            roundabout                     traffic circles  

            torch                               flashlight                                                                                              trousers                           pants

underwear            pants Confusion: When you say “pants” in UK, it means underwear.

            vest                                 undershirt

            Wellies                            rain boots

There you have it. A roundabout comparison of language and a few tidbits tossed in for flavor. In February will folow up with Paul McCartney’s Lyrics exhibit at the British Library (and a link to his YouTube interview discussing his life’s work. Next we’ll address the habits that we seek to manage at the turn of the year to see if we might turn a leaf on our own 2021 old songs.