Making Sense of Election 2016

For the past week I have been trying to process what happened in last week’s presidential election. I apologize for the misleading title, but I haven’t been able to make sense of it. For those who study history, the past 9 days have seemed like we stepped into a time machine and traveled to the 1960s, and that’s on a good day.

I know people in their 90s who voted for Hillary Clinton, and people in their 30s who voted for Donald Trump. I also know people who didn’t vote at all. Now I’m not suggesting that everyone in their 90s supported Hillary, but of those who did, I think I understand why. They lived through the women’s rights movement, the civil rights movement, World War II, and plenty of other wars. Having lived through so much history, they don’t wish to relive it. As one senior citizen told me, the good old days sucked.

America currently offers more freedoms to more people than ever, regardless of gender, race, class, religion, or sexual preference. More than ever, people feel that these rights are threatened since the election.

I can only encourage people who support equal rights for all to put their money or their time into organizations that will protect these rights. There are more comprehensive lists of organizations that other writers and bloggers have put together, but I will mention a couple of examples. If you’re concerned about First Amendment rights, visit the ACLU website at https://www.aclu.org. To combat anti-Semitism, visit the Anti-Defamation League www.adl.org; for African American rights, visit the NAACP www.naacp.org. Call your representatives to support or oppose legislation. Online petitions are great, but old fashioned phone calls stand out.

For those of you who feel that America is in crisis, remember John F. Kennedy said, “When written in Chinese, the word crisis is composed of two characters–one represents danger and the other represents opportunity.” Take the opportunity today to give someone who is hurting hope.

 

More Abraham Lincoln Pets and the First Presidential Turkey Pardon

Despite the fact that they left their dog Fido behind in Springfield, the Lincolns had other pets in the White House. Tad and Willie had two goats named Nanny and Nanko, both of whom had the run of the White House. The goats drove the staff crazy by chewing almost everything in sight and eating the flower bulbs in the garden. In addition, the Lincoln boys would hitch the goats to either chairs or carts and have the goats pull them around. On one occasion, Tad scared White House visitors by driving one goat-pulled chair through the East Room while shouting, “Get out the way!”

Lincoln told Elizabeth Keckley, his wife’s seamstress, “I believe they are the kindest and best goats in the world.” According to Keckley, Lincoln and the boys would play with the goats in the yard “and when he called them they would come bounding to his side.” The White House staff was so frustrated with Nanny, however, that she was taken to the Soldiers Home. Unfortunately, she also chewed up the garden there and was sent back to the White House. Nanny, probably confused by the move, disappeared one day. Lincoln reported the loss to Tad who was on a trip with Mrs. Lincoln. “Poor Nanny goat is lost,” he wrote. By the next spring, Nanny was either found or replaced by another goat. Lincoln sent his wife a telegram saying “Tell Tad the goats and father are very well– especially the goats.”

If goats made for unusual White House pets, Tad managed to find yet another exotic friend. In 1863 the Lincolns were sent a live turkey. It was to be eaten at Christmas dinner. Tad became attached to the turkey and named him Jack. When Tad found out his new friend was going to be cooked for Christmas dinner, he interrupted Lincoln during a cabinet meeting to plead for the bird’s life. Lincoln stopped the meeting and wrote an “order of reprieve” for the turkey. Jack continued to live at the White House.

colliers_1921_lincoln_abraham_-_cabinet_meeting

Lincoln and his Cabinet. William Seward, who gave Lincoln kittens, is seated in front of the desk.

The tradition of presidents pardoning turkeys was thus started by Lincoln even though his turkey was for Christmas dinner. The presidential turkey pardon did not become an annual tradition until years later. John F. Kennedy was the first modern president to let a Thanksgiving turkey go.

Lincoln himself seem to derive the most comfort from the company of cats. When asked if her husband had a hobby, Mary Lincoln might’ve answered cats.  Lincoln received two kittens as a gift from Secretary of State William Seward. He named them Tabby and Dixie. He reportedly spent quite a few hours of his time talking to them. At one point he exclaimed that they “were smarter than my whole cabinet.” During one White House dinner, Lincoln had Tabby seated next to him. This embarrassed Mrs. Lincoln but did not seem to trouble her husband.

Lincoln was also fond of stray cats, but he didn’t bring them home too often because Mary didn’t appreciate it. While visiting Gen. Ulysses S Grant at army headquarters in 1865, Lincoln spotted three stray kittens. He scooped them up and petted them. Before he left he made sure that someone would look after them. Grant aid Horace Porter stated that it was a “curious site at army headquarters upon the eve of a great military crisis” to watch the president “tenderly caressing three stray kittens. It well illustrated the kindness of the man’s disposition, and showed the childlike simplicity which was mingled with the grandeur of his nature.”

Presidential Pets: Abraham Lincoln’s Dog Fido

Abraham Lincoln’s dog Fido was the first presidential dog to be photographed. Lincoln had the photo taken in 1861 just before he left Springfield, Illinois for his presidential inauguration. He told his sons Tad and Willie that they could take the photo with them to Washington, but not the dog.

fido_the_dog

Official Portrait of Fido, Abraham Lincoln’s Dog

During his time in Springfield Fido was a great companion to Lincoln. The yellow-and-brown mutt accompanied Lincoln on errands and often waited outside the barbershop for him. Unlike his master, however, Fido wasn’t meant for public life. After Lincoln’s presidential nomination, local politicians came to the house and tried to greet Fido, who retreated under the family sofa. Fido also was less than enthused about the fireworks and cannons going off when his master won the election.

Mary Lincoln was not a big fan of dogs and she was probably happy not to have to clean up after Fido anymore. Lincoln, however, loved dogs and made sure that Fido had a good home. Lincoln gave the dog to the Roll family who were friends and neighbors of the Lincolns and their children.

Before giving away his pet, Lincoln gave the Rolls strict instructions about Fido’s care. For example, Lincoln insisted that Fido never be punished for coming inside with muddy paws. He also wanted the dog to be allowed in the dining room where he could beg for table scraps. The Rolls were also given the Lincoln family sofa to make Fido feel more at home. It was his favorite place to sleep. Finally, the Rolls promised to give the dog back when the Lincolns returned to Springfield.

Fido was never reunited with his master, though he did watch the funeral procession in Springfield after Lincoln’s assassination. Several months later Fido ran away from the Roll’s home. John Roll wrote, The dog in a playful manner put his dirty paws upon a drunken man sitting on the street curbing. In his drunken rage the man thrust a knife into the body of poor old Fido. So Fido, just a poor yellow dog was assassinated like his illustrious master.” The Roll children buried Lincoln’s beloved dog in their yard.

 

Presidential Pets: Gerald Ford’s Golden Retriever Liberty

President Gerald Ford arrived in the White House without a dog. The family had owned golden retrievers before, so daughter Susan Ford and White House photographer David Hume Kennerly decided to surprise the president with a puppy. After contacting a breeder of golden retrievers in Minneapolis, they soon realized that it would be tough to keep the puppy a secret.

The breeder wanted to make sure the dog had a good home and asked a lot of questions. For example, the breeder insisted on knowing where the puppy would live. Kennerly said that the couple “lives in a white house with a big yard and a fence around it.” The breeder also asked if the couple owned or rented their home. Kennerly said, “I guess you could say they live in public housing.”

Unimpressed, the breeder refused to ship the dog. Finally Kennerly and Susan said the dog was for the president and explained that they wanted it to be a surprise.

In his memoir A Time to Heal, President Ford wrote about the day he first met Liberty. “I was in the Oval Office…when Susan walked in. ‘Daddy,’ she said, ‘if we ever get another dog, what kind are we going to get?’ ‘A female golden retriever about six months old,’ I said. At that moment, David entered with a copper-colored pup who raced around the Oval Office yelping excitedly. ‘Whose dog is that?’ I asked. ‘It’s yours.’ Susan and David laughed. ‘Her name was Streaker, but we’ve changed it to Liberty.’ Delighted, I grabbed the pup, put her on my lap, then got down on my hands and knees and played with her on the rug.”

256px-liberty-ford

President Ford and Liberty in the Oval Office

Liberty spent much of her time in the Oval Office next to Ford’s desk. If visitors came in, she would check them out. After they met with her approval, she returned to her rug beside her owner.

Other presidents enjoyed the company of their pets, but President Ford often personally took care of Liberty. They went on long walks together. According to Betty Ford, the pair even got locked out of the White House together!

At three in the morning, Liberty licked the president’s face, indicating that she needed to go out. Ford took her on the south lawn, but when they came back the elevator was turned off. They tried the stairwell, but the door to the hall was locked. After much pounding by the president and a lot of barking from Liberty, the Secret Service finally let them in.

Liberty became a national celebrity when she gave birth to puppies. The public was so eager for pictures of the new mom that a rubber stamp with Liberty’s paw print was made. This way, Liberty could “autograph” photos of her and the puppies.

The Fords kept one of Liberty’s puppies, a blond one named Misty. Another named Jerry went to the Leader Dog School for the Blind. The others were given as gifts or bought by friends.

Even though President Ford only served one term, his fondness for Liberty increased the popularity of the golden retriever in America. To this day the breed remains a popular choice with dog lovers.

 

 

 

 

After Dallas: Searching for Peace in a Violent World

In the wake of the Dallas shootings and others across the United States this week, I have felt at a loss for words. This is not a good feeling for a writer, but so much senseless violence, whether motivated by racism or fear or just hate has made me stuck.

I did find this quote from Shakespeare, however.

“How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds / Make deeds ill done!” –Shakespeare, King John.

We need to make it more difficult for people to do ill deeds. I believe that people have a right to own guns to protect themselves and their families from people who would harm them. However, I don’t think the Founding Fathers could have envisioned semi-automatic weapons or rogue police officers. The proliferation and misuse of weapons isn’t our only problem, though.

We also have racism.

The Founding Fathers didn’t envision a society where people who did not look exactly like them would rightfully demand equal rights under the law. All men are created equal? The fine words of the U.S. Constitution didn’t remotely ring true in the 18th century. This week’s events, among others, has made it clear that we still fall short of thinking that everyone is equal.

Many of the Founding Fathers committed “ill deeds” by owning slaves. Sometimes the slaves escaped or even managed to revolt and use weapons against their masters. In many ways, our country still suffers from the evils of slavery.

White and black people too often look at each other with distrust. And when a gun is handy for either side, the results are often disastrous.

Babies aren’t naturally born with a racist gene. They have to be taught to distrust someone who looks different from them. Laws that limit the sale of weapons that only need to be used in war and require background checks are all well and good. However, if children continue to be taught by their families or by their everyday experiences to hate people who are not just like them, ill deeds will be perpetuated.

Presidential Pets: Socks, First Cat of the Clinton White House

When Chelsea Clinton finished a lesson at her piano teacher’s house in 1993, she had no idea that she would take home a kitty. Though Socks had been a stray, he was intent on finding a home. He and another cat had been hanging out in the teacher’s yard, and as Chelsea came out of the house, Socks jumped into her arms.

Socks settled in at the Clinton’s house. Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas at the time, and Socks had the run of the house and grounds. He could chase squirrels and other furry creatures to his heart’s content.

Socks’ life changed when the Clintons moved into the White House. Though he had the distinction of being the first cat to live in the White House since Jimmy Carter’s presidency, his owners decided it was unsafe for him to roam the 18 acres of his new home. They knew how much Socks liked to hunt, and that he might squeeze through the iron fence. Socks could go outside, but he stayed on a long leash on the South Lawn.

Even though he couldn’t hunt much, being the president’s pet had some advantages. For example, he got to sit on President Clinton’s shoulders in the Oval Office. He also made many new friends among the staff. One of his favorite people to visit was the president’s secretary Betty Currie.

Socks_the_Cat_Official_Portrait

Official Portrait of Socks the Cat, 1993

 

As First Cat, Socks had certain duties to perform. He often accompanied Hilary Clinton on visits to hospitals and nursing homes. Socks seemed to enjoy the attention he got from kids and senior citizens. During these visits, he sat on Hillary’s lap and purred away. He also knew how to make an entrance. When he went anywhere, Socks travelled in his own carrying case with the presidential seal on it.

Socks became the first presidential pet to have his own webpage. An animated version of Socks guided children through the White House website. He also got a lot of fan mail from kids. The Clintons made sure that Socks sent a card back to his fans with a paw print.

In 1997, the Clintons got a Labrador retriever named Buddy. Everyone was thrilled–except for Socks. Hilary Clinton said that Socks “despised Buddy from first sight, instantly and forever.” Socks enjoyed being the only furry member of the family, and couldn’t stand having to share the spotlight with a boisterous dog.

To be fair, the dislike seemed mutual. As Hilary Clinton said, “if they were left together, Socks would be found hissing, fluffed up and with his back arched, while Buddy tried to chase him under the sofa.”

Bill Clinton’s second term ended in 2002, and the family decided it would be best to separate Socks and Buddy. Socks left with his old friend Betty Currie for her Maryland home. Even though he was no longer First Cat, Socks still made appearances with Betty for charities.

Socks died in 2009 at the age of twenty. Some of his ashes were scattered at the governor’s mansion in Little Rock, Arkansas. A plaque near the mansion’s back porch reads: “Socks. 1991-2009. First Cat of Arkansas 1991-1993. First Cat of the U.S. 1993-2001.”

History Book Review: When Marian Sang by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Instead of trying to tell the main character’s whole life story, this engaging picture book focuses on Marian Anderson’s singing. Readers follow Marian’s development from a young girl singing in her church to a professional performer. Elements of Marian’s personal life are only included if they influenced her singing. For example, we learn that Marian’s father died in an accident because his passing filled Marian’s voice with sadness.

From the illustrations the reader knows that Marian is African American, but she isn’t discriminated against until she tries to apply to a music school. While waiting in line, she hears the person behind the counter blurt out “We don’t take colored!” Despite this setback, Marian took private music lessons. She became a popular performer throughout the U.S. Still, she still had to travel in railroad cars that were separate and dirtier than the ones reserved for white people.

The most obvious example of discrimination came in 1939 when Marian attempted to perform at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. The manager refused and said only whites could perform there. When First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt heard about this, she publicly resigned from the organization that sponsored the hall. With the permission of President Franklin Roosevelt, Marian got to sing at the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday. Her encore performance of “Nobody Knows the Trouble I See” silenced the crowd of 75,000 people.

256px-Marian_Anderson_-_NARA_-_559192

Painting of Marian Anderson by Betsy Graves Reyneau

Though Marian is portrayed as a determined person, the author also makes her human. For example, Marian was often nervous before her performances and sometimes sang with her eyes closed. Anyone who ever gave a presentation at school or work can relate to how Marian felt. Not everyone gets to study music in Europe as Marian did, but readers can still understand Marian’s homesickness.

The author points out that even though Marian was determined to achieve her dream of someday singing at the Metropolitan Opera, she had help along the way. Marian’s mother encouraged her to continue her private lessons when her daughter was rejected by the music school.

Famous music teacher Giuseppe Boghetti was less concerned with Marian’s skin color than with her talent. He told her that after two years with him, she would be able to sing anywhere. In addition, Marian’s church community helped out by paying for her lessons with Boghetti.

At the end of the story, Marian finally realizes her dream of singing for the Metropolitan Opera. She had to wait 16 years after her performance at the Lincoln Memorial, however. Readers can takeaway from this book that dreams can come true, but it might take time and some support from other people to accomplish them.

The back of the book contains a helpful timeline of important events in Marian’s life, including those the story doesn’t cover. I was disappointed that the CD that came with the book did not include Marian’s voice (it’s a narration of the book), but the bibliography says where readers can find recordings of her performances. Unfortunately the bibliography is hidden in the author’s notes at the back of the book, making it somewhat difficult to find.

In summary, this book does a wonderful job of introducing kids  and adults to a courageous African American woman who realized her dreams despite some people’s prejudices.

President Lyndon Johnson and his Dogs

When Lyndon Johnson became president, he brought two beagles named Him and Her to the White House. Both Him and Her attended official White House functions. Even though Him once left a puddle on a chair during a party, the president refused to make Him stay elsewhere while his master entertained. Both Him and Her had the run of the Oval Office. Johnson signed the law that created The Great Society–a set of programs that gave more rights to African Americans and poor people–in the presence of his dogs.

Johnson often combined press conferences with dog walks. Most of the time, these walks went well. The walks made good copy for reporters because the public loved seeing the president with his beagles. Johnson tried to get his dogs to do different tricks for the cameras. He stuffed his pockets with candy-coated doggy vitamins to get Him and Her to perform.

One act, however, made the American people and Johnson’s dogs howl. During a press conference, Johnson picked one of the beagles up by its ears. Animal rights groups complained that Johnson was mistreating the dogs. Suddenly Johnson and his dogs were front-page news. Other than that incident, however, Him and Her seemed to enjoy their time as presidential pups.

After Him and Her died, Johnson felt pretty lonely in that big house. Fortunately his daughter found a stray running along the highway. She stopped at a gas station to ask whom he belonged to, but no one knew. She decided to bring the little white dog to the White House.

Lyndon_B._Johnson's_family_Xmas_Eve_1968

Lyndon Johnson Family on Christmas Eve 1968. Johnson is holding Yuki

 

Johnson loved the little mutt and named him Yuki. Johnson said that Yuki was “the friendliest, the smartest, and the most constant in his attentions of all the dogs I’ve known.” The president took Yuki with him everywhere. He and the dog travelled together on Air Force One. Yuki attended cabinet meetings, though he did so under the table. Unlike President Harding’s dog Laddie Boy, Yuki did not sit in his own chair for cabinet meetings.

One of Johnson’s favorite things to do with Yuki was to howl with him. Johnson claimed that Yuki “had a Texas accent.” Yuki and the president howled together in the presence of important visitors like the Chancellor of Germany, who was a bit shocked at the performance!

The president needed the support of his loyal dog as protests against the Vietnam War increased.

Yuki went back to Johnson’s Texas ranch after his master retired from the presidency. He was at Johnson’s side in 1973 when the former president died.

President Theodore Roosevelt and his Dogs

During President McKinley’s time in office, the White House was pretty quiet. He and his wife had no children and only two pets, a parrot and a cat. When Theodore Roosevelt came to the White House, he brought a zoo with him. Snakes, a coyote, and a zebra were among the Roosevelt’s many animals. However, dogs were the family’s most cherished pets.

The Roosevelt dogs ranged in size from Rollo, the enormous St. Bernard, to Manchu, a tiny Pekingese given to the president’s daughter by the Chinese Dowager Empress.

Rollo’s size did not stop him from being a loving friend to the kids. As one newspaper noted, “No doubt visitors to the White House or Sagamore Hill [Roosevelt’s home in Long Island, New York] were often startled to see the Roosevelt children racing across the lawn, pursued by the bounding Rollo, who looked like some huge beast, ready to destroy them. But Rollo was a children’s dog, and he protected the president’s children as efficiently as the Secret Service men.”

Most of Teddy Roosevelt’s dogs were not quite as large as Rollo. Roosevelt’s son Kermit had a Manchester terrier named Jack. Jack would have enjoyed his time at the White House much more if the cat hadn’t tormented him. The cat thought jumping on Jack was great fun.

TR's dog Jack

Jack, the Roosevelt family dog at the White House, 1902. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs.

 

Though he never made friends with the cat, the rest of the family adored Jack. The president described Jack as “absolutely a member of the family.” He thought Jack was a gentleman, even though Jack sometimes chewed on the president’s books.

When Jack died, he was buried behind the White House. Roosevelt’s wife Edith refused to leave Jack there after her husband’s second term as president. She worried that Jack would be “beneath the eyes of presidents who might care nothing for little black dogs.” Jack’s little coffin was brought to the family home in Long Island, New York.

Roosevelt’s son Archie loved a dog named Skip. Skip may have been a rat terrier or a mutt. Teddy Roosevelt found the dog while he was on a bear hunt, and he probably liked Skip best. Roosevelt took pride in Skip’s courage. The dog stood his ground when facing a bear. Similarly, the president stood up to members of Congress.

President Roosevelt often took Skip on his hunting trips. When the dog’s short legs got tired, Roosevelt scooped him up and let Skip ride on his horse. On a typical evening, Skip raced down the halls of the White House with Archie. Once the kids fell asleep, Skip would find the president, who was usually reading. Skip climbed up on his master’s lap and snoozed. Skip died the year before the Roosevelt’s left the White House.