dual personalities

Month: February, 2012

Dying of thirst

“Are you not thirsty?” said the Lion.
“I’m dying of thirst,” said Jill.
“Then drink,” said the Lion.
“May I–could I–would you mind going away while I do?” said Jill.
The Lion answered this only by a look and a very low growl…
“I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill.
“Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion.
“Oh dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.”
“There is no other stream,” said the Lion.

–C.S. Lewis, The Silver Chair

Signs of spring

Yup. Spring is just around the corner. At least in the corner of our yard!

Why does it always surprise us? And isn’t it wonderful? Have you seen signs of spring in your neck of the woods?

Don’t take your guns to town, son

Yesterday, February 26, was the birthday of the late, great Johnny Cash (1932–2003). Johnny and I go way back. I saw him on television singing his hit Don’t Take Your Guns to Town when I was 3 or 4 and I was hooked. Uncharacteristically, my mother bought the single. I like to think it was at my prompting, but my older brother probably had something to do with it. Johnny was just so great and his talent so magnetic that even a three-year-old could sense it. He was to singing what John Wayne was to acting, except he had a jagged, dangerous edge. He was, after all, “the Man in Black”.

He wrote so many great songs: Understand Your Man, I Walk the Line, Ring of Fire, Folsom Prison Blues, and the list goes on and on. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame (1977), the Country Music Hall of Fame (1980), and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (1992). Only thirteen performers are in both of the last two, and only Hank Williams Sr., Jimmie Rodgers, Bob Wills, and Bill Monroe share the honor with Cash of being in all three.

He also had a television show, wrote books, was a faithful Christian, and was friends with Bob Dylan. I never saw Johnny Cash in concert–it is one of my great regrets. Here is Johnny’s last video–a heart-breaking rendition of Hurt by Nine Inch Nails.

I always thought that Johnny and my mother had the same eyes of plaintive Scottish brown. (Apologies to J.D. Salinger)

Take me to the zoo

We lived relatively close to a famous Zoo and it was free so our mother took us there quite often. I was ambivalent about it early on because I was terrified of its most famous exhibit, Phil the Gorilla, still formidable in death (he was so beloved and huge that they stuffed him and put him on display).

Scary beast

A live portrait reveals his charming side, but how was I to know when I was three?

Friendly Phil

Eventually, I got over my fear and became completely fascinated. I attribute the switch to Sunday evenings spent watching Marlin Perkins on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.

Marlin Perkins in action

Honestly, I think Marlin Perkins was my first hero. He was kind, brave, and cool. When I found out he ran the zoo, I was thrilled. I wanted to grow up to have a job like his and I even checked out zoology books (silly me) from the library. Once I realized that it wasn’t all cuddly animals and fun expeditions to exotic places, I changed my focus to archaeology (it was the mummy’s toe in the museum that seduced me, but that’s another blog post), but I still loved the zoo and continued to visit.

Over the years I’ve spent many memorable hours there, some better than others. Once we went after church on a cold, cold day when it was sleeting, but it turned out to be one of our best trips ever because the polar bears were frolicking as we’d never seen them. They put on quite a show and we felt privileged to have seen them. We also felt intrepid for being out in such weather.

Another time, when a neighbor took a bunch of us to the zoo, I got my knee stuck in the bars at the reptile house. I was not a skinny kid. Everyone left and I couldn’t get my knee out! I distinctly remember the moment of panic. They did come back and I did get loose, but it was humiliating. The reptile house was always awesome though. Not like the smelly monkey house, which we usually avoided.

narrow railing...

Our mother was an adventurous person, but she had her vulnerabilities and the grand bird cage was one of them. It creeped her out to be in an enclosed space with birds flying around, but she made herself do it anyway. She was like that.

When I was a little older I spent a lot of time one summer wandering around with a friend whose mother worked in the office there — we got to ride the train for free and spent most of our time harassing the teenagers who worked at the train stations and generally running amok. I’m not sure how much animal watching we did, but we sure had fun.

all aboard!

After college, when I worked at the museum for a year, we used to walk down the hill to eat lunch at the zoo if it wasn’t too hot. On one occasion as we munched on sandwiches in front of the brown bears, we were shocked when one of them scooped up a bird taking a bath in the pool and bit its head off. It didn’t do much for our appetites, but it did remind us that wild animals are still wild, zoo or no zoo!

When my dual personality got married and had children we took them there and later, when I came to visit with my own kids a trip to the zoo was mandatory. I have always loved that place. It’s more crowded these days and on a really busy day, it can be hard to see the animals, but it still has a lot of its World’s Fair charm. There is no good zoo anywhere near where we live now, so we have made a point of taking the kids to zoos whenever we can. They’ve been to Toronto and the Bronx zoo and various wild life parks, but I haven’t liked any of them as much as the one Marlin Perkins made famous.

If you can, go to a zoo!


“I lay in bed for a few minutes, wanting to get up but unable to exert the necessary energy. From the girls’ room, small voices rose in song, and I listened happily, thinking how pleasant it was to hear a brother and two sisters playing affectionately together; then, suddenly, the words of the song penetrated into my hot mind, and I was out of bed in one leap and racing down the hall. “Baby ate a spider, Baby ate a spider,” was what they were singing.”
–Shirley Jackson, Life Among the Savages

As parents we have all had those moments Shirley Jackson is talking about. This photo makes me think of the realization our mother might have come to at just the moment when she hears the boy saying, "Go ahead, Katie, pet the doggie! Go ahead!" And our mother launches out of the chair to save her baby.

This picture really needs a follow-up photo. The one where little Katie (barely a year old and unsteady on her feet) has been pushed into the Great Pyrenees by her laughing older brother. Unfortunately that photo does not exist. Only this one:

Something has happened! The big dog is up; Katie is restrained (or being helped to her feet). She looks a bit discombobulated–maybe she did fall into the dog! But the boy is still smiling (i.e. he has not been balled out). It’s a mystery!

[I think this picture was taken at the Coughlin’s house. They were our grandparents very good friends.]

A good start

Well, I got off to a great start with Lent. I was too tired after work, so I did not go to the Ash Wednesday service at 6:30 as planned. Pathetic. However, daughter #1 went to the Noon service at St. Bartholomew’s in NYC, elbowing her way through the crowds outside St. Patrick’s on Madison Avenue to get there.

Extra credit for me, right? Just kidding. It’s not like we’re keeping score…

Let’s do our best

Tonight I had pancakes for dinner at Grace Church. It is a pretty low-key, family-friendly event. And who can say no to pancakes for dinner? Especially if someone else is cooking? But let me say, I am not a Mardi Gras kind of person. I do not wear cheap plastic beads or drink in public or attend events where public urination is an issue. The idea of overdoing it in anticipation of some fake fasting is somewhat repellent to me. I know that makes me sound like an old lady and I suppose I am too much of a puritan. But I have always felt that way, even when I was a young lady.

But I do like Lent. I like the idea of trying to be more intentional about prayer and bible study. I like the idea of taking on rather than just giving up. I like having a “Mite Box”.

So I will be blogging some about this darker season leading up to Easter. I even have my favorite Lenten movies to share.


Welcome deare feast of Lent: who loves not thee, He loves not Temperance, or Authoritie,
But is compos’d of passion. The Scriptures bid us fast; the Church sayes, now:
Give to thy Mother, what thou wouldst allow To ev’ry Corporation.
… It’s true, we cannot reach Christ’s fortieth day; Yet to go part of that religious way,
Is better than to rest: We cannot reach our Savior’s purity;
Yet are bid, Be holy ev’n as he. In both let’s do our best.
Who goeth in the way which Christ hath gone, Is much more sure to meet with him, than one
That travelleth by-ways: Perhaps my God, though he be far before,
May turn, and take me by the hand, and more May strengthen my decays.
Yet Lord instruct us to improve our fast By starving sin and taking such repast
As may our faults control: That ev’ry man may revel at his door,
Not in his parlor; banqueting the poor, And among those his soul.

George Herbert

U.S. Grant Part II: our flyover connection

On the other side of this flyover state they have Harry Truman. Here on the mighty Mississippi River we have President Grant. This is the cabin he called “Hardscrabble”– a two-story cabin which is actually quite substantial.

It sits on the grounds of “Grant’s Farm” of Anheuser-Busch fame. We are told that in 1848, Ulysses S. Grant and his new bride, Julia Dent, received 80 acres of Dent family land southwest of St. Louis as a wedding gift. In 1855, Grant started sawing and notching the logs that would be used to build a four-room, two-story cabin on the property. The cabin was completed in just three days with the help of friends. Grant established his farm and named it “Hardscrabble.” Grant did most of the work on the cabin himself. He laid the floors, built the staircase and shingled the roof. The Grant family lived in Hardscrabble for only a short period of time, from September to the following January when Ulysses and Julia moved back to the Dent family home following the death of Julia’s mother.

Across the street from “Grant’s Farm” is a National Historic site, White Haven. This is the home of Julia Dent Grant’s parents to which they moved.

In 1885, the Hardscrabble cabin passed out of the hands of the Grant family. It was sold to various people and was finally purchased by August Busch Sr. in 1907. In the intervening years, the cabin had been moved to Old Orchard, Mo., and displayed at the 1904 World’s Fair. August Busch Sr. had the cabin moved and reassembled approximately one mile from its original location.

They also built a little home for themselves:

I am very grateful to the Busch family for saving Grant’s cabin. (In 1977 Anheuser-Busch restored the cabin to its present condition.) A similar two-story log cabin built by our great-great-great grandfather in Westport, MO (now Kansas City) in the 1830s, which was reputed to be the first building built there, survived for nearly a hundred years, but was torn down in 1907. What a shame! The Buschs may have turned Grant’s Farm into a tourist destination, but they managed to preserve a bit of history before it was fashionable to do so. Grant’s Farm has always been a very pleasant park which is full of exotic animals and a tram, not to mention free beer for visitors over 21! There is also a cool fence surrounding the park which is made of gun barrels from rifles used in the Civil War.

Coolest of all, of course, are these popular icons who reside in the Grant’s Farm stables:

When Anheuser-Busch was sold to a foreign beer company a few years ago, there was much speculation as to what would happen to Grant’s Farm. So far no news on that front. We’ll let you know if we hear anything.

Real presidents

Lightly tinted image by Charles H. Crosby of the profiles of Ulysses S. Grant, Abraham Lincoln, and George Washington in a medallion.

It’s President’s Day. In Missouri, while Washington’s Birthday is a federal holiday, Abraham Lincoln’s birthday is still a state holiday, falling on February 12 regardless of the day of the week. Today the holiday is observed, honoring both presidents, Washington and Lincoln.

Nevertheless, I am at work, while my husband is home. So some work places observe it, others don’t. Hmmm.

Anyway, all hail to Washington and Lincoln–two great presidents. However, I am thinking of another president, Ulysses Grant.

Or “Cousin Ulyss” as we call him in our family. He was our great-great grandfather John Simpson Hough’s cousin through Grant’s mother, Hannah Simpson, a Quaker, originally from Pennsylvania. According to family tradition, Grant, while a cadet at West Point, spent school vacations with the Houghs. Also according to family legend, John Hough was offered the office of U.S. Postmaster General when Grant was president. Supposedly he turned down the job, saying (rudely), “I’ll not work for that Republican!”

John Simpson Hough

Funnily enough, Grant refers to the familial political rift with his typical rye wink in his memoirs.

“…She [his mother’s sister] thought the country ruined beyond recovery when the Democratic party lost control in 1860…Her brother…was a supporter of the government during the war, and remains a firm believer, that national success by the Democratic party means irretrievable ruin.” (p. 8 Personal Memoirs)

(It has taken us generations to admit that our ancestor came down on that side of the division. Nobody’s perfect.)

Anyway, I am a great admirer of U.S. Grant, as a general, defender of the union, president, family man, and writer. If you have not read his aforementioned Personal Memoirs, you really should. According to British military historian John Keegan, they are “perhaps the most revelatory autobiography of high command to exist in any language.” And they are so well-written! What incredible powers of recall he had and what determination it took to write them. Faced with terminal throat cancer and the loss of his fortune, he set out to write them, backed by Mark Twain who knew they would be a best-seller, in order to leave his family enough money to live on. He wrote them by hand. He could not dictate them, because he frequently could not talk. He was a hero up to and including the day he lay down his pencil and died.

Grant has been portrayed in many, many movies and television shows, by the likes of Harry Morgan, Jason Robards, Anthony Zerbe, James Gregory, Rip Torn, Rod Steiger (!), Aidan Quinn, and even Kevin Kline. But there never has been a movie about him. He has been the victim of every negative kind of stereotyping, most commonly that of alcoholic. In truth he drank when he was separated from his wife Julia and only then. During the war, John Rawlins, his chief of staff, guarded him zealously and kept him from drinking. Once the war was over and he was reunited with his wife, he did not drink.

He was also, contrary to popular opinion, a good student, graduating in the middle of his class at West Point. And he was also one of the finest horseman ever to graduate. He had been handling horses all his life and really loved them. When he was “seven or eight years of age” he began hauling all the wood used in the house and shop from land where trees were cut down. He could not “load it on the wagons,” but he could drive them. Can you imagine? Can you imagine this boy driving a wagon load of timber?

WRC 1994

Well, Maybe. Again, read his Memoirs. You’ll be glad you did.

Picture for a typical Saturday

I always wondered if someone took this picture to document the (one) time we played nicely together, or maybe it was just that we had such clean, shiny hair. Dual personality, is that a barrette in your hair? I believe this picture was taken just before Cream Puff (pictured next to the rocking chair) suffered the knife attack. And just to be clear…neither of US did it.