Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Destiny of the Republic

The Devil in the White City is one of my all-time favorite books, and I’m delighted to announce I’ve found another story equally as enthralling.

Destiny of the Republic A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President, by Candice Millard opens in the summer of 1876, at the United States’ Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia where the first piece of the Statue of Liberty, the sixteen foot hand holding aloft a twenty-nine-foot torch was on display.

Alexander Graham Bell, a dedicated teacher of the deaf, had acquired a patent for the telephone, an invention he’d inherited from his father, three months prior to the opening of the fair. He was hesitant about participating and decided only at the last minute to seek a booth which lead to his assignment in the remote Massachusetts education section rather than the centrally located, more appropriate electrical exhibit. But thanks to his prior friendship with Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil, chairman of the judges, Bell was granted permission to demonstrate his “iron box receiver,” and his reputation grew from their resounding response.

A British surgeon, Joseph Lister, presented his theory on antisepsis during the exposition. He reasoned the same microorganisms that caused wine to ferment might also be the cause of infection in wounds and recommended an elaborate system of sterilization based on the use of carbolic acid. Representatives of the American medical community listened politely but dismissed his presentation as being ridiculous and too much trouble.

James Garfield attended the exposition with his wife and family. The author does a commendable job of introducing a lesser known president who by any standards was equal in intelligence, leadership ability and nobility of character to Lincoln.

The Republication Convention of 1880 was held in Chicago, a city in the process of re-building after the great fire of 1871. Although Garfield attended as a senator from Ohio, at no time did he seek the nomination. The leading choices were General Grant who had already served two terms as President, John Sherman, brother of General William Tecumseh Sherman, and James Blaine, a senator from Maine.

Day after stifling hot day drug by with the assemblage unable to settle on one of the leading contenders. One delegate persisted in voting for Garfield. In the ensuing ballots, favor gradually shifted until Garfield was nominated.

Although he would rather have stayed home to farm and raise his family, Garfield accepted the nomination because he felt it was the will of the people. It was not the custom then for the candidates to campaign in person, but Garfield did speak to those who made the effort to visit him at home where he addressed them from his front porch. Some days there were only a few; others, there were thousands. His greatest talent was public speaking.

Destiny of the Republic is the story of Garfield’s all too short term in office. The lives of Bell and Lister are intertwined in the struggle to save the president’s life from the bullet wound he sustained in an assassination attempt.

The story is enthralling on its own, but even more interesting and thought provoking in contrast to today’s politics.

Give yourself a treat. Read Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard.  


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Memphis-Style Christmas Pageant

Last week I was invited to attend our youngest grandchild’s Christmas pageant. I made room for it in my over-booked holiday schedule and left for the event with a dutiful attitude.

Grandmothers have changed completely since we were children. My granny wore high heeled oxfords and A-line dresses. Her skin and figure and attitude were elderly by 60.

Today’s grandmothers have been taking muti-vitamins all their lives resulting in healthier skin with fewer wrinkles. Thanks to better foundation garments and in some cases, discrete plastic surgery, our bosoms may sag but they don’t bang off our knees like our foremothers.

We dress fashionably. Those of us who were a bit tardy to the event comfortably jogged from our cars to the building.

The nursery school hosting the pageant is housed in a local Lutheran Church. The children were mostly Caucasian with a sprinkling of Black and Indian children reflective of the neighborhood.

I was delighted to see little girls still wear ankle-length smocked dresses with great fluffy bows in their hair. One accessorized her ensemble with white tights and brown cowboy boots. That’s my kind of girl.

With slicked down, carefully parted hair, the little boys were dressed in holiday colors. Some wore holiday sweaters and all had been threatened within an inch of their lives to stay clean and behave.

Our eldest daughter is the mother of our youngest grandson. He stood on the front row wearing a monogrammed shirt and didn’t sing but kept prompting his mother to take his picture. He also maintained careful surveillance of the audience as though counting the house and making sure everyone clapped.

The head of the two-year old class in this facility is our second daughter. She loves working with small children and claims she’s saving the world one bottom at a time.

The two year olds marched in after the older children had performed wearing headbands with antlers. It took the full attention of three teachers to keep all the headbands in place during their brief recital. Only one little girl on the very end of the second row cried and had to be carried off by her mother.

The music teacher conducted the event with great gusto. It was obvious from the first piano chord that she was equally comfortable playing blues and gospel. After the first number, she stood before the assembled toddlers and admonished them to crank it up with arm gestures to demonstrate, and they did to the delight of all. 

Memories came rushing back to me as I sat in the assembly of all the work involved in the production of this event: budgeting for the clothes, carpooling, practicing, and making time in two work schedules for both parents to attend. It made me tired thinking about it.

I was delighted with our grandson, but the best part was watching our grown daughters nurturing little ones with easy confidence. I remembered their nursery school days. At three, one had considered panties optional attire.  The other pinched her fingers in a door during class one day, and on the way home said, “I got hurt at school today and called for you and you didn’t come.” All the work and lack of sleep and anxiety were so worth it.

It was the best Christmas present any grandmother could receive; one that doesn’t require polishing or dusting and will always hold a warm corner in my heart.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Sisyphus Was a Sissy

The legendary king of Corinth, that’s Greece not Mississippi, Sisyphus was the epitome of self-serving underhandedness and renowned for his deceitfulness. As a result, the gods condemned him to spend eternity pushing a boulder up a mountain all day every day only to find it back down at the bottom the next morning.

I’ve been thinking about Sisyphus lately; not because of his regrettable reputation but because of his assignment. I believe the gods were slightly off target. They should have assigned Sisyphus to more useful tasks like laundry or cooking for a growing family.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Waist Not

I've approached this Christmas with a new attitude. There will be no major baking session to produce boxes of goodies for twenty of our nearest and dearest relatives. Most of the recipients from the past have died. The ones remaining don't need the calories.

In a moment of pure insanity or perhaps habit, I bought a large container of assorted chopped candied fruit suitable for one large fruitcake. It haunted me from a prominent position in the pantry for a couple of weeks until I moved it to a spot on the kitchen counter by the sink where it gathered dust while I considered recipes.

My immediate family doesn't like fruitcake. If I baked a fruit cake, I'd wind up eating it out of guilt to keep it from going to waste. So I threw the fruit away with only minor twinges of guilt.