You are currently browsing the daily archive for Tuesday, December 20, 2005.

Sunday, just as Pastor Monte was starting announcements, he said, “Merry Christmas… or should I say, ‘Happy Holidays’?” The crowd of Lutherans began jeering with boos (and a few hisses) which confused me because I thought Lutherans only jeered at the end of the sermon and I had completely missed it! Of course, there would be no booing or hissing following Pastor Monte’s sermons as he ranks up there with pastors Mike Johnson and Steve Makofka. Monte was, of course, deliberately poking at the recent controversial wave of “Happy Holidays” vs. “Merry Christmas.”

I have always purchased cards with “happy holidays” as I always considered it to include my New Year’s greeting as well, and never thought more about it… I always write notes so “Merry Christmas” was always on the inside – and that was it.

A few years back, I tried to do the right thing with the politically correct fad that was so short lived… now, I just don’t even try. African Americans are back to being “Blacks” – which many seem to prefer; I never played cowboys and Native Americans as a child; and the heavy set disgruntled customer in front of me at Meijers last week became “that fat old biddy.”

I was raised knowing one can never please everyone… afterall, has God ever truly won this battle??? If He can’t accomplish this after billions of years and dealing with so many personalities, why should I try anything other than my best? So, if I accidentally greet a Jewish brethren (who has no name tag with Joel Frankl) with a “Merry Christmas,” I goof. If Ahkmead, the pharmacist at the CVS pharmacy counter is offended by my”Merry Christmas” – great! At least it might change the blank expression he generally wears…

Like I tell my sons, sometimes it is more effective being the small stone that makes a ripple rather than the big boulder that makes a splash. Sometimes, splashes are necessary – very necessary to get some of the excess water out of the pond or puddle; however, with a small stone, there are ripples and you generally do not loose much, if any, water…

I walk through the stores with a smile on my face – if it catches on, great. If it doesn’t – great. I at least tried… and that fat old biddy in front of me in the check-out lane cannot go to bed that night saying, “No one smiled at me today.”

Today is a day I have always enjoyed celebrating – the birthday of my great-grandmother, Mary Belle Jones-Clary.

This is a post from December 20, 2005…

Once upon a time, there was the most darling little lady, christened Mary Belle Jones, the daughter of Joel Monroe Jones & Anna Greenlee Jones. Mary Belle, or Belle, as she was to be called all her life, was born December 20, 1897, (one hundred eight years ago today) in Boone Township of Madison County, Indiana.

Belle, though a beautiful young girl, had a somewhat sad expression,but was always full of cheerfulness and tremendous kindness to all who knew her. Little is known of her early years – childhood or teens. We know she had three younger brothers, Alphie, Henry (who died at age two years) and Harry. However, beyond that, the accounts are thin.

In September 1920, she married John William Garrett Clary, also of Madison County. Garrett’s maternal family, the Nobles, were prominent pioneers of Clearmont County, Ohio, having lived in Snow Hill, Maryland since the 1600’s. The Nobles moved near the Ohio River settling Clearmont County in 1801. One of the Noble sons went on to become the first mayor of Cincinnati. Despite his “noble” ancestry, Garrett was a farmer, working a variety of odd jobs as a young man in Elwood, Indiana. How Belle and Garrett met is unknown.

A month past their first wedding anniversary, Ronald Monroe Clary was born, followed two years later by Donna May Clary (Barmes). Nine years after Donna’s birth, Joyce Ann Clary (Riser) was born. There are plenty of accounts about Belle and Garrett as strong, fun-loving, practical-joke-playing and loving parents. Still to this day, anecdotes of their humor is a familiar topic after family dinners.

In 1937, tragedy struck when fifteen year old Ronald was thrown,or fell, from a horse. Belle, a short woman standing barely 4′-10″, and 13 year old, Donna, who barely reached 5′-0″ as an adult, trampled a wire fence to recover the fatally injured Ronald. Sadly, Ronald died and was buried in Forrestville Cemetery with five previous generations of his family. Fifty years later, Donna’s son, Ronald, named for the uncle he never knew, was killed in a tragic automobile accident.

The years passed and Belle became a deeply beloved grandmother, and by 1964, a great-grandmother, when I was born. In the home of their family farm, there was a coo-coo clock. As a little baby, Grandpa Garrett would hold me up to the clock, wind the hands so the little bird would peek out to my delight. As I began talking, they were dubbed, “Mamaw & Papaw Coo-coo.” Until he died in 1997, I was the only one who could call him “Grandpa Coo-coo.”

Although I can barely hear the sound of her voice in my memory, her spirit is still very much a part of my life. Those who knew her often comment on her extreme kindness towards everyone. I can still remember the day in December 1968 when she was wheeled from her home in Elwood to the hospital for the last time. I was instructed to remain on the davenport in the living room and as they wheeled her past me, she reached out her hand for mine. “Be a good boy.” The following January, one of earth’s own angels went to be with the heavenly angels.

Every December 20th, I remember this darling little woman. Unlike the women in my previous submission who served as first ladies, Belle Clary never attained national prominence, and the only monument to her memory can be seen in Forrestville Cemetery. However, thirty-six years since she passed away, her indefatigable legacy of kindness and compassion is still enriching the lives of her family – even those who did not know her.

“Someday, I hope that someone will take the time to consider the role of the First Lady and assess the many burdens she has to bear and the many contributions she makes.” Harry S. Truman, President, 1945-1953

Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Roselyn Carter, Betty Ford; 1993

Before the invention of photography most Americans had little idea what their president or his wife looked like. As photograph and film images became available it was easier for the American public to develop a relationship with the First Family. The activities of the First Family became a part of the everyday life of John Q. Public. Researchers call this kind of relationship, “para-social interaction.” Viewers begin to believe that they know the people they see in print or on television in the same way they know their friends and associates. Psychologically these relationships have the same characteristics as a real friendship or enmity which is why there is often a massive outpouring of public grief when a President is injured or ill, or a national frenzy over a wedding in the White House.

Lady Bird Johnson

America’s interest in and affection for the various women who have served as First Lady has depended largely on the way the media has portrayed her. Jacqueline Kennedy was the first president’s wife to have her own press secretary who managed the relationship between the President’s wife and the media. Each First Lady since then has developed her own relationship with the press through her own efforts and through the careful attention of the President’s advisers. Presidential advisers closely monitor the way the First Lady is perceived by the media and the public because her approval rating can have a direct effect on the popularity of the President.

Bess Truman

The role of the First Lady of the United States of America has evolved since the days of Martha Washington. Each of the women who served in this capacity has made her own contribution to the position. Some of the women such as Abigail Adams, Dolly Madison, and Eleanor Roosevelt publicly played active roles as adviser to their husbands and were influential in his decisions about political issues. Other women such as Leticia Tyler, Lucretia Garfield, Eliza Johnson and Ida McKinnley played little or no role in public life after their husbands were elected. The first three women had serious illnesses that prevented them from participating in social or ceremonial activities; Mrs. McKinnley was in deep mourning for her son who died shortly before her husband’s election.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Even though she is neither elected or appointed to her position, the job requires that the First Lady be on call twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. She receives no salary or other monetary compensations for her work. She has to be willing to accept that everything she says, everything she wears, every action she takes will be closely monitored, reported, and commented on by the media. Every thing she does in her role as First Lady will be criticized and praised. Her life before her time in the White House will be closely scrutinized and it will be necessary for her to build a relationship with the American public that is based primarily on how the media portrays her.

Jackie Kennedy

All of them have faced challenges that might break a lesser woman. Each of them has touched a different place in America’s heart. Being the First Lady is a difficult job that each of these women performed with their own particular grace and style.

The first musical I ever wrote was begun the spring of 1987. I was intending to write a rather lengthy choral piece on the life of Lincoln and was including a moment with Mrs. Lincoln. I had always believed her to be the shrew portrayed in history, and thought, “Poor Abraham Lincoln, married to Mary Todd.” After finishing my initial research my thought was, “Poor Mary Todd, married to Abraham Lincoln.”

My musical, Love Is Eternal, is a tender, thorough portrayal of the vilified former first lady, opening with the widow in the asylum to which she was confined after her eldest, and only surviving son had her committed for fear she would spend his inheritance.

The story of Mary Todd Lincoln, one of history’s most misunderstood heroines, cannot fail to leave its audience moved and breathless, no matter what their age. The fierce divisions and blistering passions of post-Civil War America, as well as the ever-changing influence of women in the halls of American power, are made profoundly personal in this highly accurate account of an extraordinary first family.

Historians have often recognized Mrs.Lincoln as America’s first “first lady,” in the modern sense. Never content to sit idly by, Mary Todd took an active interest in her husband’s administration, causing ever-increasing controversy and uproar among congressional leaders who resented her access and influence. Also, she took it upon herself to redesign and refurbish a White House that had been woefully neglected. She added heating and plumbing, often at personal expense, ultimately throwing herself heavily into debt. Having already lost two sons prior to the horror at Fords Theater, she plunged into a depression made even worse by bankruptcy. Then, in what seemed a final finishing blow, she lost yet another son to illness and in her grief became delusional and uncontrollable. Though well intentioned, her oldest and only surviving son, Robert, added one last insult to injury. Fearing for her safety, he went to court to have her committed, causing a lasting rift in both her family and in the already scandalized southern society in which she was raised.

Mary Todd made a miraculous recovery. Swiftly recapturing her sanity and grace, she held tenaciously to the wit, lucidity, and love for life and family that were the hallmarks of her character. Hers is a story of an unquestionable triumph. Against all odds, Mary Todd Lincoln emerged as an indomitable woman who refused to surrender her spirit and dignity, and found the strength to rise above the unbelievable trauma and loss that had been repeatedly dealt to her.

To see photographs or portraits of our country’s first ladies, please visit:

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December 2005
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