I don't know if I ever took the time to blog about my hero, but since today is you-know-who's birthday, I'm going for it.
Those who know me well, even some who have known me briefly in passing, have had to deal with my obsession for our 16th President. Now, I probably know more details about the Civil War than the average person, but my interest in Lincoln was not really politics or war-related. I was always fascinated with him as a person.
It started, I think, when on a family vacation, our parents took my sister and me to Lincoln's birthplace in Hodgenville, Kentucky. Family vacations created the foundation of some of my best memories. Dad would use profit-sharing from the bank where he worked, and every summer, off the 4 of us would go, taking in as many parks and historical sites as we could in two weeks. To be able to afford these vacations, we took along a cooler full of ice and shopped local grocery stores along the way, where we would buy things like Vienna sausages, bread, baloney, milk, pork and beans, cheese, chips, fruit, juice, and Cokes for the next leg of the trip. We went everywhere, and each new place fascinated us.
Those trips instilled in me a love of history, and especially a love of Abe Lincoln, starting with his birthplace. Years later, Ed and I took our kids to the exact same monument. I assumed they would be just as passionate and excited as I had been, but, of course, the picture above says it all - if you look at Rachel. Matt, bless his heart, would have been excited to watch paint dry. Even Ed was barely tolerant. As we walked up the steps to the cabin, I was doing my usual thing of spouting trivia. "Did you know there are 56 steps here? One step for each year of his life." And what did Ed say as he huffed and puffed his way up? "I wish John Wilkes Booth had gotten to him sooner!"
Back to my childhood. We at various times visited Ford's Theatre, the Petersen House (where Lincoln died), the Lincoln Memorial, all in Washington, DC; boyhood homes in Indiana; New Salem where Lincoln lived as a young man in Illinois; Springfield, his home as an adult; Gettysburg; and, of course, Dearborn, Michigan, at the Henry Ford Museum, where you can see rocking chair in which Lincoln sat when he was assassinated. So you see, Lincoln is all over the place, and we did our best to cover the territory.
At East Elementary School in Memphis, every time we had a vocabulary lesson and had to use the assigned words in sample sentences, I made sure Mr. Lincoln was mentioned in every sentence I created. It probably drove my teachers crazy. In study hall at East High, I rarely did homework or read novels. Instead, I gravitated to the Carl Sandburg collection - 6 volumes of Lincoln's biography, and devoured every word. (One day, thanks to some generous friends, I finally owned the hardback collection myself.) I had a greater-than-lifesize poster of Abe on my wall at home, complementing my sister's pictures of Davy Jones and Bobby Sherman. I read every book about Lincoln I could find, and would occasionally even write the authors (and a few times received replies). When we had to memorize a poem in English class, I picked Lincoln's favorite ("Oh, why should the spirit of mortal be proud?"). When I worked at a hospital in Memphis, my sister baked a stovepipe-hat shaped cake for me and my coworkers on February 12 one year. Basically, everyone knew I was addicted and seemed happy to be enablers.
Every once in a while I tried to pull the kids into my world of Lincoln, but it was rarely successful. For instance, when Matt was about 7, he was in a historical costume contest at school. Of course, I wanted him to be Lincoln, and I bought an Abe Lincoln costume pattern, cardboard stovepipe hat included, and sewed it up. We had no extra money for a fake beard, so I painted one on him with a marker. He was so cute. Unfortunately, Lincoln was a famous, popular figure, and Matt was just one of many Lincolns that day. Another boy Abe won the contest. He had bought the fake beard, darn it. I then knew what to do if that situation happened again. I would make the same suit, ditch the hat, ditch the beard, add a mustache and pistol and he'd go as John Wilkes Booth. I bet he'd be the only JWB. (This was before school security when one could take a toy pistol to school.) This incident just illuminated the frustration of having a popular hero. He's everybody's hero. Sigh. Why couldn't I have been more like my Dad, who formed a club in honor of a more obscure president, Chester A. Arthur?
Back to my past. As years went by, my fascination with all things Lincoln just increased. When we bought a house in Maine, we landed on Lincoln Street. (Coincidence, I promise!) My sister gave me a baby oak tree descended from the big oak at Lincoln's birthplace. It had a plaque and everything. Unfortunately, we had to leave it in the yard at the old Victorian house when we moved out.
I also had a cardboard standup of Lincoln that I enjoyed displaying at Halloween. And a fantastic rubber Abe mask. I think my family might have reached the limits of tolerance, though, with the salt and pepper shakers that were miniature replicas of Lincoln's tombstone. What's not to like about that?
There are many other stories about my love of Lincoln, but there's not enough time or space to write about them. Through the years, friends and family have made special efforts to present me with Lincoln-related gifts, and I have appreciated every one. Abraham Lincoln now is a part of me and I guess always will be.
I leave you with a Valentine card that I have on my desk. I have no idea where I bought it, but I loved it so much I couldn't bear to use it, so here it sits. It comes with a red envelope, and has a cartoon picture of a woman holding a white envelope, a smile on her face, hearts hovering around her head, and says, "I cannot let this season pass by without expressing my love and admiration for a wonderful, wonderful man." On the inside, it says, "HAPPY LINCOLN'S BIRTHDAY!"