Over Easy: Summer solace

For the Valley News
Published: 9/30/2022 8:26:18 PM
Modified: 9/30/2022 8:22:05 PM

Summer is over, fall is here and winter has already sent the oil bill. Yikes! Inflation aside, I’m not bothered by the changing of the seasons. I could sum up our recent summer in just two words: too hot. When the temperature passes 85 I start wilting, and my brain seizes up like a motor in an ‘85 Yugo (remember those?).

Car and Driver calls it “the worst car in history.” I believe I owned one of the runners-up, a little Chevy Cavalier wagon with an engine block made from recycled tuna cans. It and I could only dream of it making it to 100,000 miles, unless towed a significant amount of the way.

But back to summer: I’d rather shiver than sweat. Give me 50 degrees and low humidity and I’ll forswear hazy, hot and humid forever. Fall makes me covet apples, apple pies and apple cobbler. Some say there was an apple tree in the Garden of Eden. Hop in your car right now and head to an Upper Valley apple orchard and take in its charms. You might become a believer.

We tried to do interesting things over the summer, like visiting the John Hay estate (The Fells) in Newbury, N.H., and Hildene in Manchester, Vt. Both are fine examples of what my betters can do with reasonable taste and considerable wealth.

Hildene, the summer place of Robert Todd Lincoln, the only child of Abe and Mary to survive into adulthood, is quite something. I was mostly taken with the pipe organ built into the home. Say what you want about big speakers on the lawn of a frat house in Hanover, the Lincoln pipe organ really makes a statement. It can blast like a storm.

John Hay was also linked to President Lincoln, for whom he was a private secretary, and later served as ambassador to Great Britain and secretary of state under two presidents. He had considerable achievements, including having a brand of cigars named after him that are still being produced — and sold in Intercourse, Pennsylvania. I will abstain from additional comment.

But his august history was overshadowed when I read in a side room that one of his daughters, Alice Hay Wadsworth, was an anti-feminist. She was for a time president of the National Association Opposed to Women’s Suffrage, which put out a pamphlet in 1910 urging women to reject the vote. It said some states might find themselves under, ahem, “petticoat rule.” It added, “Votes of women can accomplish no more than votes of men. Why waste time, energy and money, without result?”

With the midterms coming I will let that speak for itself.

We also stopped one afternoon at the Calvin Coolidge Birthplace in Plymouth Notch, Vt., which is so pretty and peaceful that I can see why he missed it. The village is understated, like Silent Cal himself, a cozy-as-a-quilt landscape of green hills and white buildings. But what really caught my eye was a photo there of his wife, first lady Grace Coolidge, clutching a raccoon.

I didn’t know the story of how a raccoon was sent to the White House to be part of the Thanksgiving meal one year but became a pet instead. According to the Presidential Pet Museum (yes, there is one, at least online), “President Coolidge was known to walk around with Rebecca (the raccoon) draped around his neck.” The raccoon was allowed free reign inside the White House, where perhaps its favorite hours were spent playing with a bar of soap in the presidential bathtub. Calvin Coolidge only rose higher in my estimation when I read about this. Quirky Cal?

But that was nothing compared with today. We have been living through a profound era of political quirkiness: odd characters, odd ideas, odd leadership. It has become alarming, since the stakes have grown and the national mood has gotten darker since Mr. Coolidge roamed the White House grounds with Rebecca.

I don’t know what lessons we can draw from his life and leadership, which was from another time when tycoons ruled the Earth. But I like to think that a man who could be kind to animals and bemused by raccoons couldn’t be all bad.

Like Rebecca, he would have little or nothing to say on social media. We would love them all the more for it.

Dan Mackie lives in West Lebanon. He can be reached at dan.mackie@yahoo.com.

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