“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”  ~ Henry David Thoreau

“Cousin, we should earnestly, nobly meet the highest expectations of our illegitimate great great great great grandfather President George Washington as we navigate through our lives,” Ida May chuckled, during one of our countless landline phone conversations over a period of several years in the 90s.  I had unearthed her telephone number as I sorted through my mother Edna’s mounds of paperwork.  I shared the sad news of my mom’s death with her beloved first cousin who blissfully inhabited a Brown’s Summit, North Carolina cottage alongside her pet goose Ichabod and her black Labradors and registered Collies, and from that moment the two of us became inseparable via the U.S. postal service and late night calls.  (Ichabod classily and heroically emerged as the photographic mascot for our successful local Squawk Back movement to save Tri-Lakes geese from mass slaughter five years ago.  Our Facebook site boasts over 3,000 members.)

Ted Koppel, our mutual newscasting-heartthrob, consistently found his path into each chat that we exchanged…both night owls, Ida and I engaged in rambling commentary reviews of his masterful 11:30 p.m. synopses of the day’s current events encapsulated into his signature artful half-hour thumbnail twists and spins on the state of our world.  “Nightline” got relived, revived, appreciated, and analyzed!  Ted even gained inclusion into our weekly communiques…several of which octogenarian Ida mailed to the incorrect addresses on my street, catapulting various neighbors to bustle up my front walk-way to assure that my envelopes, postmarked from NC, landed where they actually belonged!  Koppel-Quotes appear on holiday Hallmark cards and birthday greetings…these notes now reside in a special “Ida May” hatbox brimming with newspaper articles chronicling her colorful life story of globe-trotting, working as a translator, serving in the State Department in Washington, D.C. during the Truman presidency, and her eventual employment as a researcher with the “Christian Science Monitor” in Boston.  That news organization was founded in 1908 by Mary Baker Eddy  who indicated that the Monitor’s positive purpose would be “to injure no man, but to bless all mankind.”

Though we never met, we giggled like twelve year old children (however, this 50ish Hoosier and the 80ish Southerner were divided by decades) during our long-distance, midnight dialogues and vowed that one day we would meet each other half-way…maybe in Tennessee.  Alas, no such luck…but recently my first cousin Krisan requested family tree information which is of so little interest to me (I AM JUST NOT THAT DISCIPLINED !)…nevertheless, I dusted off the ragged family Bible and scanned and sent  “who begat whom and when”, which I discovered scribbled on the register of births, marriages and deaths pages near the frontispiece of “Mama Molly’s” requisite leather-bound ancient good book.  I can barely handle the present, so delving into the past eludes me these days.  My newest tee-shirt reads: “Past, Present, Future…I AM SO Tense“!  And of course, should I perform an archae-ILLOGICAL dig, I fear that I might confirm that Ida May may have been correct that I am indeed the bastard progeny of an unhitched General Washington.  Miss May once specialized in organizing summertime family reunions of all manner of kin — joyously convened inside a variety of gazebos dotting an endless series of pastoral grassy lawns all about North Carolina– for the express purpose of seeking “buried roots”–I forgot to ever inquire exactly HOW she happened upon our aforementioned relationship to the father of our country.  I’d often researched that George fired…blanks?  What a thrill to converse with free-thinker Ida who seemed to me a kind of template for the type of human being whom we should elect as president one day…someone like Hillary, come to think of it!  Very much her own person….

Never one to drop names, still I often asked second cousin Ida (or cousin once removed or shirttail relative or whatever correct lineage-term defined us) about my mother’s famous, esteemed, illustrious, deceased cousin Capus Waynick…newspaperman, politician, diplomat, chairman of the North Carolina Democratic Party, State Representative and Senator, writer (NORTH CAROLINA  AND THE NEGRO in 1964 –“Capus Waynick acted as a ‘troubleshooter’ for Gov. Terry Sanford in 1963-64, working to defuse racial tensions” –a headline appearing via WIKIPEDIA), who was appointed by President Harry Truman to serve as Ambassador to Nicaragua and Colombia, and who BTW deservedly earns a WIKIPEDIA entry!  WOW!  Another flowered hatbox brims with notes to our family from Capus who served as Adjutant General of the North Carolina National Guard for Governor Luther Hodges (Secretary of Commerce during the Kennedy administration)…and who compiled a HUGE coffee table book detailing the highway system of the state, a copy of which he sent to me when I was a little kid in knee pants!   Quite certain that Ida and Capus would have delighted in the two terms of Barack Obama and the hopefully forthcoming inauguration of Hillary Clinton…and just might have extended a congratulatory pat on the back for my advocacy for each of those persons during the campaigning of 2008, 2012, and 2016 courtesy of letters to the editors, RIGHT AND LEFT!  (Even though our local small-town rust-belt conservative newspaper dubbed me a “radical nut” and “space cadet” in print…and persists in running grotesque editorial cartoons mercilessly lampooning both Obama and his former secretary of state  — probably frightening small children who innocently browse through the day’s news-stories searching for harmless comic strips instead?)  Standing about a foot away from Bill Clinton when he visited our high school gymnasium in 2008, shyness overcame me, and I neglected to hand him a packet of said published letters…fearing the secret service posse would think I was brandishing a weapon. 

So, before I myself am relegated to a hatbox…like my long-ago cousins Capus and Ida  May, I recall this advice from special person Audrey Hepburn whom I admire for being a unique individual:  “People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone.”  I certainly won’t–I never have!  I am a pack rat, having spent a lifetime collecting a parade of souls and precious, inspirational memories which fascinating people (as well as pets) generate.

Postscript:  So saddened to learn of the very recent passing of magnificent Southern novelist Pat Conroy, my contemporary as well as a kindred soul.  Son Roy forwarded a news story to me by Oliver Gettell who wrote:  “Conroy often credited his Southern belle of a mother…for his love of language, and he was known for his lyrical — some would say florid — prose.   He made no apologies for his writing style.”  Conroy characterized himself in “Death of Santini“, his 2O13 memoir:  “There are other writers who try for subtle and minimalist effects, but I don’t travel in that tribe.  I like to make people look up and see me walking the high wire without a net.”  Oh, my…I wholeheartedly concur with that philosophy!

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