By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

  Alexander Hamilton

As my brother so sadly attested last week, smoke seems to be everywhere in the West this summer.  We have cut one vacation short and cancelled another altogether due to smoke.  It is a tragedy all around, not only from an environmental perspective but the impact it has on people who lose all of their belongings and the small businesses who count on tourism to subsist.  With that in mind, we have just been grateful to have a roof over our heads and Dash the Wonder Dog to keep us entertained.  The extra time at home has also aided my mission of slogging my way through Ron Chernow’s tome, Alexander Hamilton, the book that inspired the hit Broadway musical.  Weighing in at 832 pages, it has been a daunting task because most of my reading is done in bed at night.  Sometimes I’ll read for an hour or so but many nights I find that after three pages I’m slumped over and snoring.  That said, I’ve finally completed it and in an odd way, have found some solace in its pages during this politically turbulent time.  The following are some highlights from the post-Revolutionary period that seem strikingly familiar:


  • During the 1790’s the Federalists and Republicans came to view each other as serious threats to the country’s future, resulting in partisan animosity that was at fever-pitch for much of the decade.
  • Partisan warfare divided families in every state. It also broke up friendships, perhaps most notably and poignantly the friendship between the revolutionary collaborators Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.
  • Both parties exhibited hostility against recent immigrants who were believed to be supporting the rival party.
  • The partisan conflict of the 1790s brought sex scandals to widespread public attention. (Both Hamilton and Jefferson were touched by the latter.)
  • Newspapers were established by both parties in order to slant the news to reflect their positions.  Ironically, Hamilton, the premier Federalist, founded the New York Daily Post which is now the longest continuously published newspaper in America and is decidedly conservative.
  • Large and unruly anti-government crowds gathered in the capital city, and in 1793 “threatened to drag President Washington out of his House, and effect a revolution in the government.
  • The election of  Thomas Jefferson in 1800 was remarkable for several reasons but most notably that it ushered in the first peaceful transition of power after one of the most acrimonious decades of political backstabbing and infighting.
  • In 1813, Jefferson, in retirement, looking back on the 1790s, recalled that the “public discussions” in this decade, “whether relating to men, measures, or opinions, were conducted by the parties with animosity, a bitterness, and an indecency, which had never been exceeded. All the resources of reason, and of wrath, were exhausted by each party in support of its own, and to prostrate the adversary opinions.”  Imagine if they had social media back then.  Who knows where our country may have drifted?

          Thomas Jefferson

I avoid most news accounts these days because I find it too stressful.  I’ve gone from being a news junkie to eating junk food instead.  But reading Hamilton has made me less anxious about today’s conflicts.  I realize that as bad as things are right now, we have gone through worse and come out the better for it.  Somewhere out there is our Thomas Jefferson.  Despite his personal shortcomings, he managed to bring the country together, soothing both parties and accomplishing a sound economic and social foothold for our new country.

All we have to do until “our Jefferson” arrives, is not let the smoke get in our eyes…or blown up our keisters.




By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

Eleanor Roosevelt in 1933

Eleanor Roosevelt in 1933

When last I left you I was in Washington DC,  exhausted, achy and feeling every day of my age.  But sleep is a magical antidote and sure enough, the next morning I was raring to go.   After another trip on the Metro (we had already learned how to shove ourselves into a crowded train car), we began our day at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.  If left to my own devices, I would still be wandering around there. If you love history, The Smithsonian is nirvana.  We toured it twice and STILL didn’t visit every exhibit.  We loved the wing that displays various artifacts from the Presidents’ administrations but were particularly enthralled with the Inaugural Ball gowns of the First Ladies.  Not only were they beautiful examples of couture fashion, but the exhibit gives you a different perspective on the size of the women who wore them.  For example, I always thought of Eleanor Roosevelt as a rather large woman but her dress would indicate the opposite.  So maybe it was just her height that made her seem big.  Or it could be that since this was her first of FOUR Inaugural gowns, the talent of the White House pastry chef took its toll.  I saw a picture of her 1945 gown and let’s just say that by then even a good pair of Spanx would not have helped her into the gown from 1933.  And who among us can’t relate to that?

Holocaust Shoes

A fraction of the shoes in the display

Next we went to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.  I have always had a special interest in WWII so I was anxious to see it.  I was particularly heartened to see that Katie and Abby were very interested in learning more about it and absorbing all that they could.  The building itself is a marvelous structure, four stories high, light in the center atrium but dark and somber on the perimeters.  As you begin the journey through the museum with movies, pictures and artifacts from the early years of the war, the hallways are quite narrow and gives one a slight sensation of what it must have been like to be hoarded like cattle to an unknown destination – everyone pushing and jockeying for position.  To compare one section or display of the museum as being the “most” anything – frightening, scary, sad, depressing – is futile.   Each person needs to judge for him/herself what is the most meaningful.  Personally, I found the exhibit of over 4,000 shoes on loan from the Auschwitz museum the most unforgettable.  Shoes and other personal items  were taken from the prisoners upon entry to Auschwitz and sorted for distribution to local citizens or shipment back to Germany.  At the end of the war when the camp was liberated there were hundreds of thousands of shoes piled up.  In 1945 when the great journalist Edward R. Murrow visited Auschwitz he saw the shoes and wrote the following:  “One shoe, two shoes, a dozen shoes, yes.  But how can you describe several thousand shoes?”  The fact is, you can’t.

After the emotional experience of visiting the Holocaust Museum we were in need of fresh air and food.  We found our way to the Shake Shack – one of the more delightful eating establishments I’ve frequented.  As the name implies, there is ice cream involved here.  LOTS of ice cream.  We each had burgers and possibly the best french fries I’ve ever tasted and then moved in for the real deal…ice cream.  How good was it?  I could have taken a bath in it.  I’m glad I don’t live in D.C. – I’d be a Shake Shack junkie.  As it was, I needed to get on with the business of why I really came to Washington.

This is as close as they let me get

This is as close as they let me get

The fact is, I have had my medical insurance cancelled due to the ACA.  All I did was raise my deductible way back in 2010 and – whammo! – they cancelled me this year.  Lots of people In Washington had assured me that if I like my policy I could keep it, so I decided I’d go right to the horse’s …. mouth to get some answers.  I started with the White House.  We had requested a tour and I thought perhaps I could just ever so briefly pop into the Oval Office to see if the President would hear me out.  Unfortunately, they told us that they weren’t giving tours that day.  The picture (left) is as close as I got to the Oval Office.  I was going to shout my questions across the lawn but there were some men on the business end of a some weaponry patrolling the perimeter.    They looked like they had had a lot of experience with “kooks”.  I decided to look elsewhere for answers, which brought us to the National Archives.  Nothing like a little bolstering from the Founding Fathers.  I’m not sure they ever had to deal with Blue Cross Blue Shield, but they seemed to be pretty far-sighted on a number of issues so I thought they might also have some insight on deductibles.  Turns out, the line to see the Declaration of Independence, The Bill of Rights and the Constitution was the longest we waited in all week.   After 45 minutes we finally were let into the rotunda where the three documents are displayed.  It is somewhat surreal to see them in person, although “see” might be stretching it a bit  For example, the Declaration of Independence was kept in a west-facing window for over 40 years and was thereafter subjected to flash photography until 2012.  So unfortunately it is so faded that unless someone told you you were looking at the Declaration of Independence, you might think you’re looking at an estimate for getting your car repaired.  Still, to see the founding documents is a real thrill and inspired me to continue on my quest.

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