Saturday, February 28, 2009


The last time I was checked into a hospital and under the influence of any sort of surgical anesthesia (diethyl ether, in those years) Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower were celebrating their second inauguration at the White House.

I always liked Mamie Eisenhower, though she appeared uncomfortable in social settings and was rumored to have had a drinking problem. In reality she suffered from Ménière’s disease, an inner ear disorder that affects equilibrium. Maybe it’s what I found appealing – Mamie possessing a certain vulnerability that seemed to make it okay if the rest of us weren’t perfect.

Criticized by some historians for his lack of leadership on racial issues, it was with Mamie Eisenhower’s encouragement that her husband ordered federal troops into Little Rock, Arkansas to enforce the desegregation of Central High School. He also worked behind the scenes in an effort to defeat Joseph McCarthy. He’d said to have done so directly would have lowered himself to the same level as McCarthy, confounding Congress by bestowing an unintended credibility.

I find it ironic that Dwight Eisenhower supported and signed the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 & 1960, and that under his presidency Barrack Obama’s birthplace became the 50th state to join the Union. I was excited by the flag with fifty stars, we all were, invigorated by the prospects of a new decade. Our thinking in those years, was the slate could be wiped clean and we’d be dispatched to begin again.

I still remember such a time in my life, the ether’s aromatic odor, its sweet, burning taste shading the dreams I had. My hospital room was airy and light, with a window that rose floor to ceiling and looked out at my house. I remember waking up in my mother’s arms, her hair all flyaway. Her glasses sitting slightly askew.

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