Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Thursday Thirteen #223


I am totally getting my geek on with the C-Span series, First Ladies: Influence and Image. While I'm pretty conversant about the ones of my lifetime, I've learned about the women who played a role in our early history.

1) Martha Washington. During the Revolutionary War, she visited General George and his men at Valley Forge and other difficult campsites. This troops loved this lady of means for slogging through the mud and snow to mend their socks and help them write letters home.

2) Abigail Adams just totally rocks. Both wise and literate, she wrote voluminous letters that reveal her influence on at least three of the most important men in American history (John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams).

3) Dolley Madison was the first President's wife to be known as "First Lady," though she didn't live to hear it. A beloved figure for decades, President Zachary Taylor called her "America's First Lady" when he eulogized her.

4) Elizabeth Monroe. When husband James was Minister to France, Elizabeth very publicly visited Madame de LaFayette in prison, which is credited for helping to secure her release.

5) Louisa Adams met and married John Quincy in London and then went with him when he served as a diplomat in Berlin. So she not only is our only foreign born First Lady, she never set foot on American soil until she was in her mid-20s.

6) Rachel Jackson died before her husband took the oath office and was buried in dress she planned to wear to his Inauguration. Andrew loved her to distraction, even though she was controversial during his campaign because she was not only (gasp!) a divorcee but her divorce hadn't been finalized, so she and the future President were unknowingly "living in sin."

7) Angelica Van Buren was widower Martin's daughter-in-law and acted as his hostess. Dolley Madison played matchmaker, bringing Angelica to the White House to meet Van Buren's oldest son.

8) Anna Harrison. At 65, she was the oldest First Lady when her husband took office.

9) Letitia Tyler was of frail health and appeared in public only once as First Lady. She died in the White House at age 51.

10) Julia Tyler was the daughter of David Gardiner, who lost his life in a naval accident during his service to President Tyler. They comforted one another through grief (her father/his wife) and married a year later.

11) Sarah Polk was the first First Lady to host a formal Thanksgiving Dinner at the White House.

12) Margaret Taylor was a genteel, religious yet rather stubborn lady. She made a deal with God when husband Zachary was fighting in the Mexican War -- if He returned her husband to her safely, she'd completely give up the society life she was raised to. As good as her word to Him, she never took part in formal activities at the White House. This caused much rumor and scandal, but didn't have any impact on her behavior.

13) Abigail Fillmore was the first First Lady to have a paying job before marriage. She had been a school teacher.

For more about the Thursday 13, 
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Blog Every Day in May -- Day 29

Day 29, Wednesday: Five songs or pieces of music that speak to you or bring back memories.

1) All My Loving. The Beatles. "Close your eyes and I'll kiss you, tomorrow I'll miss you. Remember, I'll always be true." I was 6 when I heard this the first time and this song, and that man singing it, defined romantic love for me. I've had the honor of hearing Sir Paul sing it live and he still melts me. Here's a lovely clip of Paul looking back on Paul.

2) September. Earth, Wind and Fire. Because it always makes me happy. Always.

3) Stoney End. Barbra Streisand. For me, Stoney End is a place, where I go when I'm hurting.When she howls that "the fury and the broken thunder's come to match my raging soul," that's the sound my heart makes. Babs has been there.

4) Hang Fire. The Rolling Stones. This is the only Rolling Stones song I have any affection for, but I love it to bits. It's so snotty and subversive and efficient -- less than 2 1/2 minutes long!

5) Peaceful. Helen Reddy. Helen Reddy recorded a lot of crap in her career, but this is really very good. I love the idea of it, that somewhere there's a place where no one's bending over my shoulder, nobody breathing in my ear.

Happy Birthday, Mr. President

Today, John F. Kennedy would turn 95. It's hard to imagine him as an old man, since he'll forever be contemporary and 46. Though his life was not long, it has taught me a great deal. Not the least of which is ...

No matter how good someone's life looks from the outside, you have no idea how it feels from the inside.

To outward appearances, Kennedy lived a charmed life. His father was fabulously wealthy, he grew up surrounded by brothers and sisters who adored him, he was a Harvard graduate and a Navy war hero, a lion with the ladies who settled down with the woman who would become a glamorous superstar in her own right, to this day, the youngest man to be elected President.

The reality was quite different. His father, Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy, was one of the most complicated men I've ever read about. Yes, he was a brilliant businessman and a loving, involved father. He was also a womanizer, an opportunist and (as Jacqueline would call her father-in-law in 1964), "the tiger mother" who believed that children needed to do punishingly hard work in order to be successful, because only success brings real satisfaction.

His mother, Rose, found herself in a nearly impossible marriage at a time when women -- even rich women -- had few options. So she retreated into piety and escaped to the fashion capitals of Europe. She had difficult, remote relationships with her oldest children, including the future President. To quote Jackie again, "His mother never loved him." And so he grew to become remote with women.

His favored and more conventional older brother overshadowed and bullied him. The sister nearest him in age, Rosemary, was "slow" and "special." Jack cared for and about her -- at socials, her dance card was always filled with the names of his friends who, at his suggestion, would pretend to compete for her attention. Imagine how he felt when, in 1941, he came home to find she no longer lived with the family. She'd undergone a disastrous lobotomy and was sent away to live at a convent. In the space of just four short years, his sister Kick, the one closest to him in spirit, lost their mother's affection when she married the titled but, alas, Protestant heir to the Duke of Devonshire, lost that husband in battle, and then lost her own life at the tender age of 28 in a plane crash.

Yes, he was awarded medals for his heroism on PT-109. The episode at sea also destroyed his never robust health. To support his shattered back he slept on a board and wore a corset under his clothes. (Did you ever wonder why, in Dallas, the first bullet that struck his windpipe didn't knock him down? His corset held him rigidly upright, making it easier for the assassin to make the kill shot.) He suffered from Addison's disease, low blood pressure, hypothyroidism and colitis. He grew accustomed to a life of pain, and he was so sickly that brother Bobby used to joke, "A mosquito bit Jack and died."

There is much, MUCH gossip about his marriage to Jackie but this much is fact: during their 10 year marriage she was pregnant five times, yet only two of their children survived to adulthood; her father died; his father suffered a massive, debilitating stroke. Doesn't sound like theirs was a charmed union, does it?

And yet John F. Kennedy prevailed. Overcame. Excelled. In his own way, and on his own terms. He is remembered for his brilliant mind, his wit and his vision.

He's always reminded me of the real Gatsby, the ultimate self-invented American man. I used to think he was gone too soon but now I'm not so sure. I think perhaps his lifestory ended the only way it could have.

Good News!

Got my test results first thing yesterday morning and got the glorious news that both moles were benign. What a great way to start the week! It's funny how quick I stopped worrying about my health and started worrying about my scar. The one on my lip, that is. If the one on my back turns out to be all raised and pink, well, it'll just match the one on my tummy.