Head and Heart

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“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.” Thomas Jefferson, January 1, 1802

President Jefferson did not mince his words. He drew a clear distinction between what is personal and sacred, and what remained secular and public. History had taught Jefferson that invoking the Almighty usually ended in bloody holy wars, rendering effective civil government unworkable. Of all the founders, President Jefferson grasped the importance of detaching faith from law.

If you follow my blog you already know I’m not a big fan of Jefferson. His actions, as well as his writings on race alone, provide a legacy of duplicitous thinking. For example the practice of beating young slaves daily was of no matter to the master of Monticello. But on the issue of natural rights, his Lockean take on the social contract– Jefferson’s views ring with authority.

This morning the Idaho Legislature killed a bill in committee that would “Add the Words,” (protecting the LGBT community) to the Human Rights Act in Idaho. Following three days of impassioned testimony from supporters and detractors, HB2 fell in a 13-4 vote. A significant amount of testimony came from various churches on both sides of the issue. The fearful tended toward the shrill, impassioned by their emotions. One fellow, in particular, ranted that his wife shouldn’t have to share a public bathroom with a transgender individual. He was so riled up the committee chair admonished him to control himself. His answer, “Well Praise the Lord.”

Now the Gay community in Idaho didn’t seek this fight. These folks have done their best get along in society. The term ‘closeted’ comes to mind here. The threat of eviction, job termination, and outright violence has demanded a covenant of silence. However, over time, the preponderance of social, economic, and political mistreatment has galvanized this movement for simple justice. These citizens have had enough. They ask for equal protection under the law in explicit, measurable language to deter the countless harms endured, that were so eloquently enumerated in this week’s testimony.

As a student of American History I understand this disconnect between contending factions. We are a nation founded under the tenants of the Enlightenment. Jefferson actually lifted John Locke’s language when he described ‘natural rights’ which he articulated as ‘certain unalienable rights.’ And at the same time America is one of the most religious nations in the world. Always has been. The trick is remembering to separate these two competing voices of law and of faith. Even my debate students were taught to keep God out of the tournaments. Once invoked, the open exchange of ideas is over. God has spoken.

For the longevity of the American Creed, our law makers must use their heads when shaping legislation. When kneeling to pray, worship with all of your  heart. I do.

But please leave those competing, conflicting, diverse, religious convictions at the door of the halls of law. Contending voices achieve nothing but a counter productive cacophony of discord.

And next time . . . Add the Words.

Gail Chumbley is a retired history teacher and the author of the nonfiction work, River of January

Hear Me For My Cause

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I wish to speak to-day, not as a Massachusetts man, nor as a Northern man, but as an American, and a member of the Senate of the United States. It is fortunate that there is a Senate of the United States; a body not yet moved from its propriety, not lost to a just sense of its own dignity and its own high responsibilities, and a body to which the country looks, with confidence, for wise, moderate, patriotic, and healing counsels. It is not to be denied that we live in the midst of strong agitations, and are surrounded by very considerable dangers to our institutions and our government. The imprisoned winds are let loose.

The above words were powerfully delivered by Senator Daniel Webster on the 7th of March, 1850. The occasion concerned the Fugitive Slave Act, a piece of volatile legislation forcing the return of runaway slaves to the South. Webster truly fell on a metaphorical sword to keep our nation whole. Notable in his grand eloquence was his specific reverence, and deference to the chamber Webster addressed, the august United States Senate.

I found myself quite uncomfortable viewing the State of the Union on Tuesday night. Each year, this duty is clearly defined for America’s Chief Executive. Article 2, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution mandates that the President shall . . . give to Congress Information on the of the State of the Union . . . The word is “shall,” not “may.” So it was with personal distress, that we all witnessed such bad behavior from the right side of the aisle.

Beginning with the President’s first State of the Union message in 2009, and the appalling “you lie” heckler, conduct from the opposition has deteriorated. Senator Webster’s expressions of propriety and dignity have been replaced by frat boy behavior, apparently condoned by party leadership. Texting, chatting, applauding inappropriately is, well, just embarrassing to this student of America’s distinctive political legacy.

As a teacher, that blatant disruptive rudeness would have sent you to the hall. And speaking of classrooms, why should any student show respect for any institution when elected role models behave so badly, so publicly. I’ve seen you at 16, you’re the boneheads in the back row, working overtime to shift the attention from the focus of the lesson to your own self important, corrosive conduct. To validate the lowest kind of public behavior is the last example our students need in this divisive era. Demonstrate honorable behavior, show some restraint, if only for the great legislative leaders who served and sacrificed before you. Conduct yourselves with the dignity your office represents.

If, indeed, the majority party aspires to national leadership you must be a party worth following. Last night represented and celebrated the best thinking on the part of our nation’s Framers. This condoned pack mentality to publicly belittle the sitting President, does not serve your future aims.

As the first president, elected in 1860 from your emerging party once stated,  “All members of Congress swear their support to the whole Constitution—to this provision as much as to any other. “

In his 7th of March Speech, Webster explained to his listeners the urgency of his words. The Senator continued,

I speak to preserve the Union.
Hear me for my cause

Gail Chumbley is a retired History educator, and author of River of January. Available on Amazon

September Song

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This was our first book talk of the new year. We left the house around noon to travel to a small senior facility with an equally small number of residents. I held low expectations of selling any books, but hoped to brighten up the day for a few folks. We had earlier decided to focus on retirement homes because River of January touches on many events that this elderly generation finds familiar.

Finally securing a couple of extension cords my projector flickered on, illuminating an empty wall, and the power point show began. The nurses aides rolled in some residents in their wheel chairs, where they remained quietly seated for the duration. Two other people wandered in at the same time and began a turf war over the ‘good’ chair. The gentleman didn’t move, nor did he say a word, but he meant to sit in that chair. The woman who demanded that same seat kept insisting that it was HER chair. Watching the showdown, I was reminded of how ornery my kids could get, fighting over preferential seating, either in front of the television, or riding in the car. In this instance, the feisty woman prevailed, and the old guy had to settle for the love seat. Once he settled into the cushions, he promptly fell asleep–for the whole presentation.

Two other fellows seemed to enjoy the pictures and the talk. As images of Helen Hayes and Maurice Chevalier flashed on the wall, I caught both respond with slight nods and faint smiles. Another woman sitting apart, back in the corner appeared very sharp, seeming to deliberately separate herself from the her failing comrades. Perhaps I sympathized with her, hiding in that corner, when our victorious friend from the ‘chair wars’ piped up, “I saw this show on tv!”

When I attempted to engage the group with rhetorical questions, they just stared, eliciting next nothing. And in a brief moment of insight I decided that these  people had given enough in life. I was there to bless their day, perhaps make it better for that short time, than it otherwise might have been. All was as it should be, I was in the right place at the right time.

After I finished the program one of the quiet gentleman from his wheelchair tried to speak. His voice was quite weak with age and poor health. He was difficult to understand. Listening hard, reading his dry lips I made out B-24’s. “You flew B-24’s in the war?” I asked. He nodded and smiled. I took his hand, shook it and said, “Thank you sir for your service.” He whispered a couple more unintelligible words, and I smiled in return.

Time is a demon. For these people, idle hours can feel an insufferable burden. Still, sealed up inside their frail bodies exist dramatic stories, from dramatic lives already lived in full.

The old standard, September Song captures the beauty and melancholy of those facing a day identical to the day before, until those days run out.

Oh, it’s a long, long while from May to December
But the days grow short when you reach September
When the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
One hasn’t got time for the waiting game

Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few
September, November
And these few precious days I’ll spend with you
These precious days I’ll spend with you

I am looking forward to our next retirement home visit in February.

Gail Chumbley is the author of River of January. Visit the website at www.river-of-january.com

At Amazon

West Palm Beach

logbook2An excerpt from River of January for your Sunday evening.
At first he told himself that Howard Hughes’ good wages kept him in West Palm Beach. But Chum also knew his curiosity played a big part in remaining at the field. The famous tycoon was already a legend in aviation, as well as in motion pictures, and the young pilot had long admired self-made men. And though he looked forward to his new job, he was just as eager to watch the millionaire up close.
Over the next few weeks, Chum noticed that Hughes followed the same pattern each day. His driver motored up to the hangar in a Cadillac LaSalle, closely shadowed by another large Oldsmobile. The famed pilot stepped from the backseat, unfolding all six foot four inches of him. At same time, an entourage of followers poured out of the second car, casually circling the celebrity.
Chum also noticed that the aviator only spoke to his head mechanic, nodding frequently while he smoked a cigarette. Then Hughes and company inspected the rest of the facility—the tall tycoon facing the ground, continuing to acknowledge his lead man’s comments.
If he looked up, Hughes sometimes nodded to Chum or to the other men in the hangar. Then with this morning ritual finished, Mr. Hughes and his retinue returned to their waiting cars and drove off to other unknown destinations.
On one especially stifling afternoon, Hughes unexpectedly turned up at the steamy buggy hangar, departing from his usual routine. Caught off guard, the crew quickly picked up their tools and bustled around, appearing busy. Hughes seemed not to notice.
Instead the famed pilot looked at his head mechanic and loudly announced, “These gentlemen and I,” pointing to his cohorts, “are leaving for Los Angeles. Since that plane,” Hughes stuck his thumb toward the Waco still on the tarmac, “was used, we will travel by rail.” A few of the boys glanced Chum’s way.
“Yes, sir, don’t worry about a thing here, sir,” the foreman answered. Hughes nodded again, and he and his associates left the field in a caravan of black autos.
“Wonder which beautiful actress Hughes is meeting.” A young grease monkey sighed as he twirled a ratchet around his finger.
“Jean Harlow, you think?” said a kid still staring out the hangar doors.
“My money is on Paulette Goddard,” added another, plunking coins into a soda machine.
“Back to work, boys.” The head mechanic laughed. “We’re not going anywhere.”
Chum smiled. Just the phrase, “back to work,” began to amuse him. As far as he could see the commotion was all “make work” instead of real industry. He was becoming restless from boredom.
After Hughes’ dramatic exit, the crew mostly loitered around the hangar, sweating in the muggy heat—listening to the radio, smoking, sipping cokes, and playing cribbage. After a week of this meaningless inactivity, the young pilot, staring blankly into an immaculate engine, abruptly resolved, “As soon as I’m paid, I’m gone.”
Three monotonous days later, Hughes and his party surprisingly reappeared at the field. The aviator had apparently changed his plans at the rail switching station in Jacksonville and never turned west. Still, Hughes’ return made no noticeable impact, and the days continued to drag on: Cokes, cigarettes, cribbage, and heat.
While he was perched on a ladder examining another pristine Lycoming engine, Chum heard his name from across the facility.
“Over here,” Chum called back, “Up on the ladder.”
“Telephone call, buddy,” a mechanic hollered. “In the hangar office.”
“Thanks, JJ,” he yelled, climbing down.
The voice on the line hollered, “Chum? That you, sport?”
Chum paused, trying to place the echoing but familiar voice. “It’s me, boy, Hugh Perry.”
Recognition lit Chum’s eyes,
“Hey Mr. Perry, good to hear your voice. How are things up north?” Perry worked as the executive of sales for Waco Aircraft in Troy, Ohio, the company that manufactured his airplane.
“Well, now, I’m real good Chum, and business is pretty good. In fact, that’s what I’m calling about.”
Chum felt his pulse quicken. “What can I do for you sir?”
“You know, you did so damn good in that race and, well, would you be interested in working for us, Chum?”
Feeling his spirits begin to soar, Chum had to ask, “What would the job entail, Mr. Perry? Would you want me in Troy?”
“No, no, wouldn’t do that to you, Chum, Troy is no place for a dapper gent like you,” Perry chuckled. “We have this new model and there is some interest for it in South America. Smiling, Chum sensed the skies were opening and the archangels were tuning up a hallelujah chorus.
“That sounds real attractive, Mr. Perry. I think I would be interested in a job like that,” even his voice smiled.
“And here I thought you would be all star-struck, slumming it with Howard Hughes,” Perry laughed. “But when this position came up, your name was the first to come to mind. I thought I would give you first refusal.”
“I’m glad you did Mr. Perry, and your timing is pretty good, I was thinking about a change anyway. Guess I miss my Waco,” Chum laughed. But before hanging up, the young pilot suddenly wondered, “Mr. Perry, what equipment are the South Americans interested in?”
“Keeping up with our new aircraft are you, kid?” Perry sounded pleased.
“I guess I have, sir.”
“Well, the Brazilians are very eager about a new fighter plane we’ve developed.”
“A fighter?” Chum repeated, baffled.
“I know, I know—don’t understand what they would need it for either.”
Chum quieted in thought, wondering who could possibly threaten Brazil. “You still there, kid?”
“Yeah, Mr. Perry, I’m here. Just strange to imagine any South American trouble that would require machine gun strafing.”
Shaking off that concern, Chum again became enthused. “You shipping the demo model to Roosevelt Field?”
“At the moment the plane’s with the Navy. They want to test it, too,” Perry explained. “Our agreement was three months for those flyboys to check it out. We’ll ship it down to Rio de Janeiro after the military is done with it.”
Chum hung up the office telephone, and stood motionless, absorbing this implausible change of fortune. Chum slowly walked out of the office, stopping to appraise the entire, immense working space.
Mechanics continued to poke around the equipment, the lead man in the far corner looked over a clipboard, a cigarette, ash dangerously angled, wedged between his right hand fingers. Silently, the young pilot made his decision and headed out the open hangar door, leaving behind Ailor’s Waco Cabin, still parked to the side of the facility, and away from Howard Hughes and his West Palm interests. With a sense of elation, he cheerfully hiked the three miles to his hotel, collected his belongings, and caught a taxi to the train depot.
Restored, and back in control for the first time since the air race, Chum looked forward to returning to New York.

Gail Chumbley is the author of River of January. The book is available at www.river-of-january and on Amazon.com

 

Buzzing the Train

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Friday excerpt from River of January.
She found a berth facing a woman and her child. Unable to generate a polite smile, she looked out the window. Chum stood below on the platform wearing the same gloomy expression.
Throwing aside her decorum, Helen passionately placed her right hand onto the window. He responded to her gesture with a sad smile, and raised his palm on the opposite side. They both continued to press the window, even after the train shuttered forward. Chum jogged a few steps, gradually pacing to a stop. Helen dissolved into grief. The lady in the opposite seat quickly produced some chocolates and oranges, distracting her gawking son with the snack.
After nearly two hours of bumpy travel, a puffy-eyed Helen was abruptly jolted awake. She looked around, momentarily disoriented. Then she and the other riders detected a distinct whining, mechanical, hum rising above the din of the train’s thundering locomotive.
Alarm spread, passengers in the car raising a panicked chatter. Shouting at once, the riders moved chaotically about the train car, most rushing to the windows. At the same time a porter burst into the car, rushing down the aisle, shouting in both Spanish and English, “Please return to your seats. All is well; nothing is awry with the equipment. Please calm yourselves and quickly sit down!”
Frightened, Helen searched out her own window looking for smoke or worse, fire streaking past the glass. Instead, a deep sense of wonder spread through her being, replacing any fear of danger. She caught sight of a lone Waco Cabin biplane soaring above the trees and power lines parallel to the speeding train. Both of her hands now caressed the window, as an enchanted smile lit her surprised face. Then, as though he knew she was watching, the pilot waggled his wings in hello, soon pulling up, gaining altitude, and then Chum looped back toward Rio. Helen, her heart full, sat back, marveling at the power of her cascading emotions.

Gail Chumbley is the author of River of January

www.river-of-january.com

on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/River-January-Gail-Chumbley-ebook/dp/B00N1ZLWZI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1420826936&sr=8-1&keywords=river+of+january

The Power of Wonder

I needed to read this today. I’m back to piecing and fitting evidence for book two.

Gail Chumbley

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This morning we jumped out of bed at o-stupid thirty for a book talk in town. It was for a Rotary Club’s weekly sunrise breakfast gathering. The meeting quickly came to order, beginning with the Pledge, a brief prayer and a Rotary song. Then the agenda moved quickly to business.

These people seem to pursue all sorts of public service endeavors: literacy programs, charity work, and supporting community health projects. It was quite impressive to think that these folks could have stayed in bed an hour longer, and not involve themselves in public service, but they choose otherwise to make a difference.

When my slot came up in the program, my husband pressed the power button on the projector, and the show kicked off with alacrity. You see, I love not only talking about the book, River of January, but the process behind the writing, as well. On this occasion…

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