Monday, May 30, 2016
When I was a boy, a BBC–produced series called "The Six Wives of Henry VIII" was a big hit on public broadcasting. In six installments, it told the stories of the six wives of Henry VIII of England, whose theory of the divine right of kings was applied in almost every way imaginable during his reign — but perhaps most flagrantly in his treatment of marriage.
Henry's infamous clashes with the pope led to the separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church, permitting the king to annul two of his marriages and execute two of his wives.
His sixth wife survived him, and the wife he married 480 years ago today, Jane Seymour, died less than 18 months later after giving birth to Edward VI, Henry's only male heir to survive infancy. Henry's marriage to Seymour, a former lady–in–waiting, came 11 days after the execution of Henry's second wife, Anne Boleyn. Boleyn was beheaded for treason, incest and adultery; after nearly 500 years, the case against her remains suspect.
Henry's marriages typically ended for one of two reasons (sometimes both) — the perceived failure of the wife to produce a male heir or the allegation of infidelity. That would be infidelity on the part of the wife, of course. Henry carried on many extramarital affairs in his life, but none of his marriages ended because of his infidelity, which would have been far easier to prove.
I can't claim to have read much about Henry VIII and his six wives. I watched most of the PBS series with my parents, but that was many years ago. Nevertheless, my impression at the time was that Henry was a narcissist, even though I had no idea what that was, and Jane Seymour was probably the only one of his six wives he truly loved.
Thursday, May 5, 2016
Today is an important anniversary for me.
Yes, I know it is Cinco de Mayo, the commemoration of Mexico's victory over French forces in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. It is also the anniversary of the flash flood here in Dallas that took my mother's life — an event that has had infinitely more significance in mine than the battle that was fought more than 150 years ago.
Now, I always think of Mom at this time of year — actually, she crosses my mind at least once every day — but, for some reason, memories of Mom have been especially plentiful for me this year. There is no particular reason for that, I suppose. This isn't what might be called a milestone anniversary. Last year was, but this year is not.
It took me a long time to come to terms with what happened — and, in some ways, I guess I still have work to do, but I have largely come to terms with it.
The time around my mother's death and funeral has been a blur for me for many years. The strongest memory I have of that time is how unusually green everything was. That was an indicator of the conditions that led to Mom's death. There had been so much rain that spring that the ground was saturated. When the rain began to fall on the night my mother died, there was no place for the water to go. Thus, the flooding. Nearly two dozen people died that night.
Now, it always gets green here in the spring as it does just about everywhere else. It is the intensity level that changes, depending upon how much rain we get. If we don't get much rain, the green can be kind of dull, bordering on brown — an almost sure sign of a scorched–earth summer to come.
But the green of the grass and the trees that spring was deep, rich, vibrant. I have lived here more than 20 years — and visited here frequently as a child — and I have only seen green like that around here one other time — last year, which, as I say, was a milestone anniversary. We had a lot of rain — and some flooding, too. Talk about deja vu.
The green this spring seems to be more ordinary, kind of an average green. There is nothing about it, really, that should make me think of Mom or the time when she died.
And it doesn't. In fact, it isn't a visual thing at all. It's the sounds.
We lived in the country when I was growing up, and the sounds of wildlife were all around us. Birds, mostly, I suppose, but there were also crickets — and sounds that I still can't identify. Those sounds were the sounds of home — like the sounds of my parents' voices coming from downstairs or the wind rustling the leaves in the trees outside my bedroom window.
When I was growing up, I guess I was what was called a morning person. I got that from Dad, I guess. He's always been a morning person.
Anyway, I remember many mornings when I awoke before the sun came up, and I sat next to my window and listened to the sounds around me. I remember hearing the birds. I never saw them, and I have never been very good at identifying birds by the sounds they made so I don't know what kind of birds they were. But the same kind of bird must have taken up residence near my apartment because the song I have heard in recent days is one I have heard before, and it brings back strong memories of being a teenager.
That brings me to another point. As I say, I was a morning person when I was a boy, and I guess I remained one through my college years, but I got a newspaper job when I was 24 that required me to work nights. It wasn't easy, but I finally made the transition that had to be made if a morning person by nature was going to work a job that kept him at the office until after midnight.
Then I made the decision to go back to graduate school, and I worked at the local paper, which was an afternoon paper. That meant I had to be at work at 5 a.m. I would put in eight hours in the newsroom, then I would work for three hours in the afternoon as a teaching assistant in the editing lab. Graduate classes always met at night so if I had a class on a particular night, that would take about three more hours.
I kind of lost track of whether I was a morning person or a night person under those 20–hour–a–day conditions.
I've been working jobs that had more standard daytime hours for quite awhile now so I kind of drift from morning person to night person back to morning person. Lately I've been more of a morning person — at least as far as when I wake up is concerned. As it was when I was in my teens, I am often up before daybreak, and I listen to the sounds around me. I live in a city now so the sounds are the sounds one hears in a city — car engines running, buses stopping at the bus stop in front of my apartment building, the occasional wailing siren from a police car as it goes speeding by.
But even those sounds, mingled with the sounds of birds, remind me of Mom. She was a first–grade teacher, and there were times when I visited my parents and I would drive her to school in the mornings while I was visiting. The sounds of the city and the sounds of the birds remind me of mornings when I helped her carry her stuff to the car, then drove her to school and helped her unload.
I had kind of forgotten those mornings, but I'm glad to be reminded of them. I guess there wasn't anything remarkable about those times, just that I shared them with Mom.
And that was enough to make them special.
Monday, May 2, 2016
In a matter of hours, voters will be going to the polls in Indiana to vote in the Democratic and Republican presidential primaries.
Even for the state's old–timers, this is bound to be a first — primaries in either party that have real bearing on the outcomes of the nomination battles. Actually, in the annals of presidential politics (primary or general elections), this is indeed a rare occasion for the folks in Indiana. It has been an opportunity for them to see and hear four people who want to be the next president — and, in all likelihood, one will be. Ordinarily, nominations are all but wrapped up by the time Indiana's primaries are held so they attract little attention — from either the candidates or the media.
Indiana almost always votes Republican in the general election and usually by a wide margin so there is little reason for either nominee to campaign there this fall. Yes, I know Barack Obama carried the state by almost 30,000 votes (out of more than 2.7 million cast) in 2008, but the state reverted to form in 2012 and went for Mitt Romney by more than a quarter of a million votes.
That 2008 election was only the second time since the end of World War II that Indiana voted for a Democrat. The other time was in 1964, when Lyndon Johnson carried the state against Barry Goldwater. It didn't vote for any of the other Democrats who have been elected president since the end of the war — not Harry Truman or Jack Kennedy or Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton.
Clearly, the assumption has to be that the Republican nominee — whoever that turns out to be — will win Indiana. And the winner of the Democratic nomination, if he or she is smart, will not devote much in the way of time or resources to campaigning in Indiana this fall — unless polls consistently show that the state is up for grabs.
Which is always possible. This year has already been one unlike any other in American political history. And it would not shock me if there are many surprises in store for us on Election Night this November.
That is six months from now. Many things can happen in six months. It is truly an eternity in politics.
That is exactly why it is wise not to place too much faith in polls, either. I know I cite them in this blog, but that is as a general barometer, and I make no pretense that they are endowed with some strange, mystical power to see the future. They tend to be useful for showing how close or lopsided a race looks at a moment in time, but the numbers are imprecise. It is a cliche, but it is still true: The only poll that matters is the one on Election Day.
Decisions are made by those who show up. And who knows what will be on the minds of the voters when they go to the polls in November?
Will there be a terrorist attack somewhere in October — another Brussels or Paris, perhaps? Maybe there will be one at the Summer Olympics in South America. Or maybe somewhere that is not obvious today.
What will happen with the economy this summer? Will joblessness go up? Will GDP go down? What will the stock market do?
Will the FBI finally render its decision on Hillary Clinton's private email server?
Or will voters be thinking about public restrooms?
Whatever the answers are to those questions — and to those questions no one has thought to ask but almost certainly will between now and November — the one thing that seems certain, on the eve of what I honestly believe will be the turning point in both nomination battles, is that we are witnessing a turning point in American politics.
Because of what we are seeing in this election, in the years to come, nothing will be quite the same.