Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Another thought about American Presidents

I have the feeling that many readers enjoyed my blogging about the religion of the American Presidents and why certain faiths are so represented historically. I also have the feeling that by grouping the Presidents in sets of ten, showing that we have had four sets of tens Presidents, plus four, that readers, especially the young, have a better feeling for the span of our history as a country. It is both a mature nation and a very young one.

I've always been a visual learner myself and teacher. I find that grouping information in certain ways helps give a quick and rich insight into what might otherwise be obscured by a lot of detailed text. For example, let's look at the grouping of ten Presidents in sequence again for another couple of insights.

If ten Presidents had only one four year term, a group of ten Presidents in a row represents only forty years. If a few of them have two four year terms that bumps the span of ten Presidents to forty eight or fifty two years. Think about that: a group of ten Presidents is well within a lifespan of an observer. Traditionally the phrase "one generation" refers to thirty years. So a group of ten Presidents could be thought of that way, in terms of generations, but isn't the idea that it's between forty and sixty years kind of interesting? It makes it more real because now you can imagine someone who lives a good long life as seeing over a fourth of the Presidents that we have ever had in our history. That helps you to understand how young our country really is, and it is far too soon and inappropriate to feel all old and jaded about the USA. I like that President Obama seems to view it that way too.

I've mentioned this before on my blog but now in this context this small story from my own family is even more interesting. My grandparents on my dad's side owned a small hotel in upstate New York, near the border with Canada. Thus it was a real country inn kind of place but the way it used to be not the quaint image people have today. Thus is was a saloon, a place to get home cooked meals, and lodging for my family and rooms for those who needed, for example, the single elderly.

Think about this. When my dad was a young man in the hotel there was a Civil War veteran who lived there, who went by the name "Pappy." Yep, you read that right. My father (who was born in 1903) personally knew a Civil War veteran and that veteran lived in my grandparents hotel, since he was a single and elderly gentleman. My dad died when I was a young child, so I did not have a chance to have conversations about such things, but my cousin who was much older than me told me about Pappy. I think that my cousin also met Pappy, but I'm not sure as Pappy would have had to have lived to quite a long age. However, what is significant is that between me and my father, one generation, we reach back to someone of the time of Lincoln and the Civil War. How cool is that?

This gives you another way to look at history, doesn't it? It shows that even though a struggle for something so crucial as Civil Rights seems to take so long, with decades of sweat and blood, on the other hand such a radical and amazing change as we have seen can take place in three generational jumps: Pappy, my father, me. Lincoln was the 16Th President. Thus Pappy to my father to me spans Presidents 16 to now President Obama, who is number 44.

So young people, do not think that your parents and your grandparents are boring and have nothing interesting to tell. Ask them to tell you about the earliest President they remember, for example, and try to get some stories from them. So many of my father's generation the "World War II" generation have died and it's sad that many of their kids and grand kids just were not interested in history or their family stories. I think that President Obama is stirring more relevance, pride and interest in American history and that's one of the implications of his presidency I find thrilling and very hopeful for rejuvenating the American spirit.

Again, think about my example... I was born during President "Ike" Eisenhower's first term so I remember him as President very well. While of course I was not yet born when his predecessor President Truman was in office, I remember him as having been current and just recently stepped down from the Presidency so he was a figure of great stability and honor along with "Ike." So just in my relative youth (ha) I have memory of (Truman), Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, GHW Bush, Clinton, GW Bush...one of those "group of ten" Presidents, twelve if you count Truman and now President Obama!

I remember Eisenhower governing and I remember, and even watched part of, the famous Kennedy-Nixon debate. My dad, a Catholic, lived to see Kennedy win and become President, but my dad died of a heart attack well before President Kennedy was assassinated. So I've been alive for and very aware of our Presidents and national and world events for just about one fourth of the Presidents our country have had!

Just think, my dad was born during the 26Th President, Theodore Roosevelt's, first term. So my dad would have been alive for and witnessed Presidents number 26 through 35, and would have obviously seen a lot more if he had not died at an early age of chronic heart ailments. But think about it: my dad was born just "ten Presidents" after Abraham Lincoln!

See. memorizing lists of Presidents is boring. But thinking about who was President and what the issues were during the time of your grandparents and parents is VERY interesting!

So even though much of the schooling in history is dismal in our schools (and thus I try to plug in some key information for you all whenever I think of something pertinent and interesting) you can make it interesting for yourselves by just sitting down with an almanac or the Internet, of course, and look up the Presidents that correspond to the lives of your family members. Then it would be fun to ask them what they thought and what they remember about each of the earliest ones.

It's not only educational but it is reassuring.

Of course it all goes back to Washington. Regular readers know that he is my favorite President because he was the first to walk the talk. President Washington had to become in reality what was needed, first as the Commander of the Revolutionary Army and then in the new role of President. As time goes on the wonder and marvel of what Washington did only grows, it does not diminish.

Washington's birthday is February 22. Lincoln's birthday is February 12.

I remember when each day was a separate national holiday, before they became mashed together into "President's Day."

I wish they were still two separate holidays, and I think with the election of President Obama you can see why. One was the father of our country, who took the impossible dream and made it honorable and real and his birthday should be celebrated with that in mind. The other fought the great Civil War, held the Union together and emancipated the slaves. Are these not two separate wonderful glowing deeds and men in our country? Should not our kids learn about them and celebrate them on their actual birthdays as national heroes and role models?

Instead President's Day is just a long weekend, a mashing together of "something about the presidents" and endless advertisements for automobiles and their "President's Day sales!"

It was really different when I was young and the days were celebrated separately. Just a little story here. In the 1950's if you did well on a school paper you would get either a sticker, a star or a rubber stamp on the top of your paper. The rubber stamps were of holiday themes, and thus included one stamp of Washington's famous profile for Washington's Birthday and another of Lincoln's profile for Lincoln's Birthday, and kids were thrilled to get one of those stamps on their paper! Kids really cared about and role modeled Washington and Lincoln, they were NOT boring. We loved Lincoln and I'm speaking as someone who grew up in a rural white community.

I blame the schools, society's rampant commercialization, and the secularization of our nation for the degrading of our education of our kids in the Presidency and in particular those two icons and heroes of our nation, Washington and Lincoln. Sigh. Remember, when you "purge" teaching about any history that mentions religion or God you are basically whiting out of discussion and textbooks half of factual human events. Look at how I had to explain why each President was of certain faiths because that is no longer taught in schools.

Anyway, I hope that you have found this more grist for thought! I've listened all day to the Inauguration activities and am very excited and hopeful. (I totally do not understand the "blah" attitude of some news personalities who were not "Obama supporters," I mean, duh, why are they not excited?) I have always been no matter who wins because that is the American way, to "give the new guy a fair shake" to use a classic expression. The snarky partisanship is so wearying and depressive and it really ought to stop. Like I said, I remember when no matter which candidate you voted for, you were still excited and supportive when one of them won and became President, even if he "wasn't your guy." That is one of the sad things about how this country's spirit has changed. I hope that people will regain that fairness and unity of American support for their President. Lord knows I've supported all the Presidents in spirit and dignity even when they have done the most dreadful things!