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This Day in My History


If you don't know [your family's] history, then you don't know anything. You are a leaf that doesn't know it is part of a tree.

~ Michael Chrichton

Yesterday's Entries

2000: Stop the World--I Want to Get Off
 Good Bye, Kid
2002:  Southern Baptist Sissies
2003:  I Can Be Easily Manipulated


A Walk in the Woods
Bill Bryson


at Music Circus

Buy my stuff at Lulu!



tug-o-war.jpg (21720 bytes)

In the evening, after I've had my dinner, there's nothing I like better than a good game of tug-of-war, though my person wants to throw these toys for me instead of letting me hang onto them.  What a silly person.



August 12, 2004

Among the books I found when sorting through my mother-in-law’s things was a book that actually I had put together a few years ago. It’s a book about Walt’s family. The first half was copied out of a book his grandmother had made when his father was a child, up to the age of 10. It offers insights on what his life was like growing up, and also some of his relatives that the offspring of this generation knew nothing about.

I never met Walt’s father, who died when Walt was 15, and I kind of got to know him a little bit through typing up this section of the book.

The second part of the book is a long interview I conducted with his mother. I did the interview shortly after I finished the Lamplighter history and was still in "interviewer" mode. I decided that it was necessary to get down "the stories" of the grandparents while they were still here to tell them.

I don’t have those stories of my own grandparents, who certainly must have had marvelous stories to tell. My grandmother was a young girl in the big San Francisco earthquake in 1906 and lived in a tent city in Golden Gate park for several months. She and my grandfather were both in vaudeville. My grandfather’s siblings were all famous in whatever field they entered--one uncle was a champion boxer, another a champion bicycle racer, etc.

But I don’t have those stories. I only have the headlines and I’m sorry that the stories are lost forever.

I was determined that the stories of my own children’s grandparents would not be lost. (I also have a similar interview with my own mother; I never did get an interview with my father before he died..)

The fun thing about interviewing Walt’s mother was that we did the interview at her vacation condo at Lake Tahoe, when all the family was there. I invited everyone to join in and her 3 kids asked questions that I wouldn’t have thought of. They also learned a lot about her childhood that they never knew before.

I think we tend to minimize our childhoods because it's all we know--it was our norm and who would be interested in the normal day to day life? I listen to the children of famous people on television and none of them thinks that their experiences were in any way unusual or of interest to the general public, when, in fact, there are parts of everyone’s history that are fascinating to others.  (I remember Liza Minnelli once saying "Everyone couldn't believe that Judy Garland was my mother   I couldn't believe that mother was Judy Garland.")

Walt’s grandmother worked as a lady’s maid to Evalyn Walsh McLean, whose husband owned The Washington Post and The Cincinnati Enquirer.

When we lived in Washington we’d go down to The Washington Post and watch all the parades. And then at the World Series. They had a great big thing out in front of The Wasington Post with like a baseball diamond. They would have somebody there to run the players around the bases.

Walt's mother says she "worked for the McLeans too," as a playmate for their children.  In that capacity she had a number of unique experiences.

I dined with them a lot.  And I went to a lot of the things that they had.  I saw Will Rogers.  And President Harding.  I was on the same yacht with him in Florida one time.  We went to Florida and then came back.  He was on the McLean yacht through some of the inland passages.

I used to go on the elevator in Woody's and Grace Coolidge would be on the elevator, with one Secret Service man.  Now they can't even step outside of the White House for fear someone's going to take a pot shot at them.

I suppose it was an interesting life, but it never impressed me.  At least I got around and saw different things.

The famous family story, of course, is about the Hope Diamond, which Mrs. McLean owned.   Walt's brother, at age 5, carried the diamond in his bag to Florida because the family decided that nobody would think to look in the maid's son's suitcase if they were thinking to steal it.

I held the Hope Diamond, but you know, at the age when I was doing that, it didn't impress me.  I mean, here's this big stone that has a lot of diamonds around it.   It's got this big thing in the middle and it was pretty, but I don't remember being impressed with it.

She was more impressed with the animals that the McLean family owned.

They had a whole lot of animals.  They always had a lot dogs.  They had ponies, Irish donkeys.

Growing up in the Washington, DC area, she had an avid interest in politics, which continues to this day.

When I wasn't teaching, I'd go down to Capitol Hill and sit and listen to the debates in Congress.  They were debating the World Court at the time.  I'd ride the little train that goes back and forth between the House Office Building and the Senate Office Building.  One time I got on it with John Nance Gardner.  I was a little more impressed than with Harding.  John Nance Gardner, the vice president.

I had a friend whose father worked at the White House in the telegraph part.  That was when FDR was in office and we'd go down there.  You could wander in and out of the west wing.  Nobody paid any attention to you.

It's funny how we downplay the parts of our lives which are the most interesting to others.  I don't know if my own kids realize that their aunt worked for Robert Kennedy and was in the hotel the night he was shot.

The thing is that unless someone makes the effort to ask the questions and record the answers (or unless someone is so vain as to keep an on-line journal :) ), these sorts of memories are forever lost to future generations.  I'm glad that we were able to record Walt's mother's stories while she was still around to tell them.


Walsh.jpg (38737 bytes)

Evalyn Walsh McLean wearing the Hope Diamond
(look closely--those are dogs she's holding--not a feather boa!)


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