Above is my breakfast this morning. In the words of that great philosopher the Cookie Monster:
C is for cookie and that's good enough for me.
Today my writing is accompanied by all three movements of Pour le Piano by Claude Debussy performed by Gina Bachauer.
Years ago, the first time I moved to New Jersey, I was facing some hard financial times so my mother came up to stay with me and watch my toddler son while I worked. Tuesdays were my day off so my mother, one of the most organized people I know, mapped out all of New York City and each week we would go and explore some part of the city.
One Tuesday it was the Roosevelt house. Not only was it a fascinating tour but the information provided about our 26th President provoked an interest in that has lasted me the rest of my life. I have read Roosevelt's own writings and have a couple of other biographies lined up after this one.
Mornings on Horseback by David McCullough
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If you're looking for a book describing Teddy Roosevelt's time in office this is not it. Lion in the White House by Aida Donald or Roosevelt's own autobiography would be where to start.
McCullough brings us to the brink of Roosevelt's political career and aside from a small afterward informing us of how all the Roosevelt children turned out, there he ends.
The book is still rich with information. Starting with Theodore Roosevelt, Sr, we get a solid and colorful background in which Teddy Jr grew up, as well as what sort of child he was which gives us insight into the sort of man he developed into.
Theodore Sr. was an intensely honorable and devout man. A strong Christian and the adoring and adored father of his children. A good third of the book narrates the close relationship Theodore Sr. had with all of his children.
He married a Southern woman, Mittie, the decade prior to the Civil War. Mittie was the quintessential Southern woman. Gorgeous, charming, flirtatious but completely in control of her destiny. Theodore must have fallen hard, even besotted. Their letters are filled with ardor on his part and teasing banter on hers.
They married and she, her sister, and her mother moved up to New York to live in the Roosevelt mansion. This must have been hard in many ways for the Southern ladies, New York being a drastically different culture than their dear Georgia. But it was also a blessing because a few years later, when the War broke out, they did not suffer the fate of the rest of their family and friends. Their home and all they knew was destroyed. Mittie's mother prayed she'd rather die than see the fall of Richmond. Her prayer was answered and she did die a year after the war started.
What Mittie's feelings were on the matter, we don't know because it seems to have been the culture at the time that one's feelings were not for exhibition. We see this later in her son, Teddy Jr, after the death of his first wife. He simply never speaks of her, not even mentioning her in his autobiography, yet from the records we know he loved her extremely.
The Roosevelts' lives would probably be deemed distasteful to modern sensibilities. They were unapologetically rich and lived a lavish lifestyle. Ironically, not because many people don't live that way now, in fact with our modern conveniences, the average person lives a more comfortable life than the richest person in the 19th century, but today it's gauche to be in favor of wealth, even if we enjoy it.
Teddy Roosevelt was sickly and an asthmatic. The Roosevelts traveled all over the world, taking an entire year to visit everything from Europe to India. This influenced Teddy in many ways and years later, as a grown man, he sought to replicate those experiences by returning to India and also living out west as a rancher.
Before that we read about his experiences at Harvard, and the impression he made on his fellow students. He was deemed a strange, awkward character with a high pitched voice, but he soon commanded their respect and he never lacked in confidence. Growing up in the Roosevelt household no doubt instilled a strong sense of self-worth.
One thing I must confess that I found disturbing was the utter delight in killing animals. Teddy describes with relish all the huge and powerful animals he hunted and conquered. I know there was a time when that was fashionable but I personally abhor killing for sport.
We also get to know Teddy's siblings. Corinne, the youngest, smart, devoted sister and the only one to live long enough to see another Roosevelt in office.
Elliot, the father of Eleanor Roosevelt, a tragic figure whose uncontrolled drinking put him into an early grave.
And the one Teddy was closest to, Bamie. Bamie had different physical handicaps, one being a curved spine. Her father treated her with the utmost care, usually carrying her everywhere and making sure she was deprived of nothing. Theirs was a special, close relationship.
And despite her physical challenges she turned out to be the most brilliant of them all, advising Teddy on everything from personal relationships to political directions. And I was glad to see that she did finally marry and marry happily, especially since everyone at the time had consigned her to "Old Maid" status. I would very much like to find a biography of this fascinating woman.
If anything struck me the most it was the strong commitment and tender devotion Theodore Sr had towards his family.
The next thing would be the political shenanigans of the late 19th century and how Theodore Sr. did his utmost to eradicate the political corruption in New York and how this mantle was taken on by his son after the father's untimely and unexpected death while he was still a young man.
The courage both Theodores had in striving to remove the entrenched corruption and cronyism in the political arena of their time, how they fought against the majority of politicians, powerful crime bosses and indifference by the middle and upper classes toward the plight of the exploited lower classes is reminiscent of William Wilberforce's fight against slavery.
I found this book to be an inspiring account of one of my favorite presidents.
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