Monday, July 25, 2005

A Woman Who Found a Way to Write

This is an interesting read. It's from the NY Times.

Published: July 24, 2005

MY mom always wanted to be a writer. In 1926, when she was
18, she applied for a job at The Washington Post. An editor
there told her that the characters she'd meet as a reporter
were far too shady for a nice young lady.

But someone who wants to write will find a way to write.
And someone who wants to change the world can do it without
a big platform or high-profile byline.

Besides raising five kids in high heels, my mom wrote with
a prolific verve that would have impressed one of her idols,
Abigail Adams.

In her distinct looping penmanship, learned from the nuns at
Holy Cross Academy in Washington, she regularly dashed off
missives to politicians. I'd often see form-letter responses
on her table from the White House or Congress.

She loved Ronald Reagan and when he landed in a firestorm,
she'd write to tell him to buck up. She also appreciated
Bill Clinton - his sunny style, his self-wounding insecurity
and his work on the Ireland peace process - and would write
to compliment him as well. (Literally catholic, she liked
both Monica and Hillary.)

She wrote to any member of Congress who made what she
considered the cardinal sin of referring to Edmund Burke
as a British, rather than Irish, statesman.

In 1995, after reading a newspaper analysis suggesting that
Al Gore was not sexy enough to run for president, Mom
swiftly dashed off a note reassuring the vice president that
he was sexy and that he'd done a great job as host of Pope
John Paul I's visit to Baltimore.

She carefully addressed it, "The Honorable Albert Gore Jr.,
Home of the Vice President, Observatory Circle; 37th Street
and Massachusetts Avenue, Northwest, Washington, D.C." The
letter was returned a few days later, stamped "Addressee

It was an omen.

She wrote her last name in black marker on the bottom of the
Tupperware she used to bring food to anyone in her building
or sodality or family who was under the weather or having a
party. On holidays, plates of food were always handed out to
those in the building who had to work or might be lonely
before she served her family.

When her dinner rolls stuffed with turkey and ham were snapped
up at my first cocktail party, as the expensive catered cheese
wheel and goose pâtés went untouched, she told me with a smug
smile: "Simplicity pays."

Mom - a woman who always carried a small bottle of Tabasco in
her purse - wrote out hundreds of recipes, adding notations of
her own, including Mamie Eisenhower's Million Dollar Fudge
(1955), which she deemed "Rich as Croesus, but oh so good,"
Mrs. Nixon's Hot Chicken Salad and Barbara Bush's High Fiber
Bran Muffins.

In the middle of her recipe cards, she wrote down a quote
that appealed to her: "The Talmud says, If I am not for myself,
who will be? If I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?"

When my mom still hoped I would transcend takeout, she'd write
away for booklets for me: "150 Favorite Pickle Recipes From Iowa,"
"Confessions of a Kraut Lover" from Empire State Pickling and
"How to Cook With Budweiser," including a chocolate beer cake.

Without ever mentioning it to anyone, she constantly wrote out
a stream of very small checks from her police widow's pension
for children who were sick and poor.

She didn't limit her charity to poor kids. When 6-year-old
Al Gore III was struck by a car in 1989, she sent him a get-well
card and a crisp dollar bill. "Children like getting a little
treat when they're not feeling well," she explained.

She had a column, "Under the Capitol Dome," in the National
Hibernian Digest. In 1972, she chronicled her debut, at 63,
as a protester.

After Bloody Sunday, when British soldiers fired on a Catholic
demonstration in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, killing 13
people, Mom went to the Kennedy Center in Washington to picket
the British ambassador, who was going to a performance of the
Royal Scots Guards. She proudly wore her green Irish tweed cape
and waved a placard reading, "Stop killing innocent civilians."

"The triumph of the evening," she wrote in her column, "was when
the British ambassador had to be taken in through a basement door."

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