“GUARD AGAINST the impostures of pretended patriotism,” said George Washington.
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I HOPE I’ll be forgiven for leading today with what seems like a braggadocio look back that will establish my bona fides as an all-American.
Don’t laugh but this refers to being connected to that all-American first president of the United States, George Washington. My maternal grandma, Sally Ball McCall of Mississippi, always used to natter on to us children about how she’d been born a Ball. “We were descended from George Washington’s first wife!” she’d say, with conviction.
Even as a dumb kid, I thought this was a pretty tenuous connection. And then, my feisty Irish father with his “suspicious” last name of Smith, always made fun of anyone who claimed kinship with someone better known. He wisely looked down on the Daughters of the Confederacy in Texas and others of this ilk; like, for instance, people whose ancestors had “arrived on the Mayflower.” “Usta wuz!” he’d snort. They ‘usta wuz,’ used to be somebody!”
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SO, taking a cue from dear old dad, I never bothered to look into my grandmother’s mistaken assertion. It was of little interest. But then I happened to pick up a historical novel titled “Washington.” It told me what I’d never bothered to seek in the history books — that George’s mother was named Mary Ball. Somehow, everybody in my family had missed making this exact connection.
The father of our country never had a “first” wife. He only had one Mrs. — Martha. So there I was — in a direct line from George’s real mother, the somewhat hateful Mary Ball. She has, it seems, driven all of George’s biographers crazy, being, as Douglas Southall Freeman wrote, “a strange mystery.”
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THIS old lady, born in the winter of 1708, married Augustine Washington in 1731. Her physical plumpness and domineering personality were drawbacks. George was their first child, but he and Mary Ball, his mother, never got along. He didn’t like her much and spent his life avoiding her. She took little interest in him as well.
Now I have developed a new interest in my kinsman, George Washington. If his mother didn’t take pride in him and expressed little interest, well — I am making up for that.
Imagine — being connected by blood to this stubborn and forthright man who floated his starving troops across the icy Delaware one Christmas and marched on Trenton to seize the Hessian mercenaries’ rations and cannons, thereby winning the first battle of the faltering Revolution. It would be a bloody trail on through Valley Forge until the end of it — but this man is the one who caused America to come alive and succeed after the nation was born in 1776. He is hugely responsible for whatever blessings are on our little American heads now.
His mother — my errant kinswoman — may not be inspiring as mothers are supposed to be. But perhaps her strange unaffectionate nature produced the stalwart son who refused to give up. Growing up wanting to one day become a British naval officer, he turned out instead to be the courageous father of a brand new country. I wish I had some of his courage, conviction and character.
He was born partly a Ball and I am fractionally something from that bloodline as well. I can just hear my father’s irate ridicule now. But I will just pay his shade no never mind, the same way George Washington did his own parent.
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I DON’T want to be one of those old fogeies who is always dissing the adventure of the Internet, but the other day I tried to make a hotel or bed & breakfast reservation in ten overnight places listed as being near or in Burlington, Vermont.
Our friends at Google listed ten hotels, two of them with Sheraton and Hilton in the title, where I spent over an hour trying to make a reservation. I was continuously disconnected, or put on hold and then disconnected, or sometimes, as in the case of the Mid Town Motel, there was a non-working phone number. The Hilton Burlington on Battery Street had “nobody available to take your call” though I called throughout the day.
Sometimes when they said they would call back; they then disconnected without leaving any way for me to record how they could call me back.
Burlington is a big town on Lake Champlain, boasting an international airport and the highly thought of University of Vermont, as well as a great medical center.
I finally had to contact Hotels.com which listed a much lower rate than Google listed for the same Sheraton Burlington Hotel & Conference Center. Before I resorted to Hotels.com, I had to listen to a lot of irritating pre-recorded blather from the Sheraton before I could even begin talking to make a reservation.
I say, bring back people who are out of work and let them give information and take reservations on phone numbers that work.
I am very disillusioned with Google and overnights and hotels in general.