Jul. 6, 2010

Letter to My Mother

by Robert Phillips

You helped me pack for that milestone
event, first time away from home alone.
It didn't matter the summer camp was poor—
long on Jesus, short on funds—bordering

a tea-colored lake. No matter we could afford
only two weeks. To help get there I hoarded
months of allowances. I was ten, felt grown,
I finally was going somewhere on my own.

You folded the ironed tee-shirts and skivvies
—you even ironed and creased my dungarees.
In Southern drawl: "And of course you'll dress
for dinner!" you said, packing with the rest

my one blazer, dress shirts, and rep tie.
I didn't protest, I was an innocent stander-by.
(The suitcase was a new brown Samsonite.
Even empty that thing never was light.)

First exhilarating day—after softball, archery,
diving instruction (which I took to swimmingly)—
came rest hour. While others took a shower
or wrote postcards home, I dressed for dinner:

the white shirt, the pre-tied striped tie,
the navy jacket. In process I received a wry
glance from my counselor. The dinner bell tolled,
I felt every bit the gentleman as I strolled

toward the rustic dining room. I entered,
the room exploded with boyish hoots and laughter,
pointing at me, the funniest thing they'd seen.
They still had on their shorts or jeans.
The rest of the two weeks were impossible.
Not chosen for any teams, called a fool,
Mother, I was miserable through and through.
But when I came home I never told you.

"Letter to My Mother" by Robert Phillips, from Spinach Days. © JHU Press, 2000. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day in 1535, Sir Thomas More was executed for treason, as a result of his refusal to recognize King Henry VIII as the head of the Church. He was convicted of high treason on July 1, 1535. Five days later, on this day in 1535, he was led to the scaffold on Tower Hill. His executioners asked him if he had any final words, and he took the time to say that he did not blame them for their actions and he looked forward to the day when they could all meet in heaven. With that, he was beheaded. His head was later displayed on the London Bridge, but his daughter retrieved it and it was buried with her.

More was named a saint by the Catholic Church in 1935, and in the year 2000, he was declared the patron saint of politicians.

It's the birthday of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo, born just outside of Mexico City (1907).

It's the birthday of Nancy Reagan, (books by this author) born Anne Frances Robbins in New York City (1921). She majored in English and drama at Smith College, became a Hollywood actress, and dated Clark Gable. She starred in a number of films under her screen name, Nancy Davis, playing a child psychiatrist in Shadow on the Wall (1950) and a nurse lieutenant in Hellcats of the Navy (1957).

She found out that her name had been blacklisted by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. She went to get help from the Screen Actors Guild, whose president was a popular actor named Ronald Reagan. He helped her clear up the blacklisting issue — it turns out it was a different Nancy Davis who was in trouble — and the two began a courtship. They gained a reputation for being wholesome and well-behaved.

They married in 1952. She became first lady of California in 1967 and first lady of the United States 1981, and she wrote a book about it: My Turn: The Memoirs of Nancy Reagan (1989).

It's the birthday of George W. Bush, born in New Haven, Connecticut (1946). He lives in suburban Dallas, where he is working on a book about his presidency. It's called Decision Points, and it's due out sometime later this year. The memoir of his wife, Laura Bush, (books by this author) Spoken from the Heart (2010), debuted on the New York Times best-seller list at the No. 1 spot when it was published this past May.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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