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About the Author
Helen Thomas is a former White House correspondent.
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A Congressman's Lifelong Fight Against Bigotry, Famine, and War
By Paul Findley
Chicago Review Press IncorporatedCopyright © 2011 Paul Findley
All rights reserved.
Fun on Edgehill Road
On good authority — my mother — I arrived into the world uneventfully on June 23, 1921, and caused her little discomfort despite weighing nine and one-half pounds. The cottage where I was born still stands at 927 Edgehill Road, Jacksonville, Illinois, just two blocks from where Lucille and I now reside.
My eldest sister Miriam was distressed that my legs were bowed badly at birth. She and Mom tried unsuccessfully to straighten them by wrapping them in wooden splints. They remained bowed until I reached the age of eighty, when the left one became straight thanks to the skill of the surgeon who was installing a replacement knee. Now I am half-straight — in my legs, that is.
My birth occurred soon after my father's career with the YMCA came to an end. He worked for the organization in Logansport, Indiana, when he and Mom were married June 8, 1911. He had attended nearby Purdue University for one year. In my curio cabinet is an exquisitely turned wood goblet, a souvenir of his skill at the lathe during that student year. Leaving Logansport, he managed the Y in Mankato, Minnesota, where my parents' first two children, William and Miriam, were born. Shortly after World War I, they all moved to Jacksonville, where management of the local YMCA beckoned Pop as a step up the career ladder. My sister Ruth was born on Edgehill Road just two years before my arrival. Of five children, only the youngest, Barbara, made a grand entry on a hospital bed.
The first four Findleys arrived in Jacksonville as Methodists but soon became Presbyterians. A committee from State Street Presbyterian Church persuaded my father to serve as interim minister. When a permanent pastor was hired months later, the Findleys were so accustomed to the State Street Church community they stayed on as Presbyterians.
By the time of my birth in 1921, Pop's YMCA career was over. The local board of directors had sold its aging property to the Elks Club, intending to use proceeds to finance a new building. The board was suddenly confronted with hard times in the depression that followed World War I. Acting against my father's recommendation, the board began spending the building fund on current expenses. This troubled my father so greatly he ended his YMCA career by resigning.
Another career setback followed immediately. He had a short, bad experience operating a farm owned by my mother's parents, Augustus and Elsie Nichols, near Princeton, Illinois. The move to farming was big step for our family. At the age of two, my world was limited by an unpaved road that divided the farm and became impassable after rains. I have few memories of farm life, but one is vivid. I was riding with my father in a car with no side windows or curtains. It was a gloomy, rainy night appropriate to his mission. His two-year experiment in farming was a financial failure that caused intrafamily strains. In the end, he quit and had to sell his farm equipment and animals. That night he was nailing up notices inviting passersby to a public auction.
Pop brought his family back to Jacksonville, where he became a salesman for Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Six days a week and most evenings he made house-to-house rounds, carrying a large bound volume known as a debit book. He never bought a new car. His used ones were frequently in a garage for repair. When we made the annual eighty-mile trip to visit Mom's parents and other relatives in Princeton, we could be certain the journey would include at least one stop to fix a flat tire or correct a mechanical problem.
At home, we saw little of my father until late evenings and Sundays. A large oak rocker with upholstered seat, now in my office, was reserved as Pop's chair. Each Saturday evening he and Mom were engrossed at a roll-top desk in the hall, where they counted and recorded the week's money collections. Family income was hard earned.
Our family lived at financial margins, but we did not consider ourselves poor. We viewed tramps that occasionally begged for food at the back door — and always received at least a sandwich — as the truly poor. The Great Depression was underway, and most people in our little city lived on tight budgets. Despite the shortage of cash, the Findley kids had a sense of vibrant community and wonderful childhood. For several years, the 900 block of Edgehill Road bounded most of my world.
Sunday school and worship services were major family events. The Findleys were at State Street Presbyterian Church every Sunday morning from nine to noon. Opening exercises in Sunday school often included recitations. Children were expected to memorize the Apostles' Creed and the names of the books of the Bible. At any moment, one might be called upon for recitation. Sunday school ended just a few minutes before the beginning of worship services in the sanctuary, a large, beautiful auditorium that had entered the threadbare era years earlier. Presbyterian membership was routine, like starting to shave or graduating from junior high school. There was no discussion of other denominations and faiths. My parents were Presbyterians, so I became one. I later learned that adopting the faith of one's parents is a deep-seated custom worldwide, a fact that should disincline everyone from self-righteous posturing.
After the Sunday noon meal, sometimes with close friends, our family piled into the family car. The ride — always a happy time — included a stop at Merrigan's, a local candy store, where we waited in the car while Pop bought an ice cream cone for each of us.
The large screened back porch served as sleeping quarters for my sisters and me. William occupied one of the residence's two bedrooms, our parents the other. When Barbara arrived in 1927, she joined us on the porch, where roll-down canvas curtains provided privacy and some relief from bad weather. On cold nights, Mom eased the shock of climbing into frigid beds by placing between the sheets stones she had warmed in the kitchen oven.
The backyard included fruit trees and a shed for chickens that later became the main course for many dinners. One day I had the chore of using a hatchet and tree stump to decapitate a chicken. I skipped eating the fried chicken served at the next meal. My aversion to capital punishment began when my hatchet severed the chicken's head.
The highlight of one summer was the Edgehill Circus, organized and directed by my sister Ruth, a natural leader. Children of the neighborhood joined in a fun afternoon featuring homemade costumes — mainly pirates and Indians. I was attired as a clown, my sister Miriam an Indian. The future dean of Jacksonville lawyers, three-year-old Bob Bradney, was a spectator. My mother remembered him wearing, in summer, only a diaper that "tended to drop south."
One evening, I visited the Lipsmeier family across the street where I had the thrill of listening to a crystal set, the primitive forerunner of the radio. A cooking bowl served as amplifier. Amid constant static I heard a few words from a faraway Chicago station, clearer ones from one in St. Louis. To me, the set was a marvel of scientific advance.
The greatest evening fun came when our mother read aloud with her children gathered at her feet. Any novel would do. When she fell asleep while reading, as she often did, she was quickly aroused with the chorus, "Read, Mom, read." One of my favorites was a small volume titled Log Cabin to White House, about the life of Abraham Lincoln.
Just west of our house was a large vacant lot that my mother rented and transformed into an immense vegetable garden. It yielded large supplies of potatoes, sweet corn, peas, green beans, and lettuce. Some of it was sold door-to-door by Miriam and Ruth, some consumed fresh by our family, and the rest canned for winter months. I liked to eat raw peas out of the pod but found no joy in digging potatoes or picking vegetables. Garden duties were apportioned each spring. I vowed that when I left home I would never again work in a garden.
A thrill even exceeding the crystal set experience came when Charles A. Lindbergh made his solo flight from New York to Paris. I was in first grade at the time. Our class celebrated joyously. He was the preeminent hero of my youth. The license number displayed on the wing of his plane, the Spirit of St. Louis, remains fixed in my mind. It was N-X-211. In a homemade scrapbook I placed keepsakes, among them sticker souvenirs of the flight. I relished every word of We, his account of his flight.
When I was nine, we moved to 236 Park Street, where I acquired my first trombone, a dented used one. It was borrowed, but I considered it mine. The first night, I took it to bed with me. After school I often played unsupervised football — tackle, not touch. One evening a game brought something rare — a stern scolding. My mother had told me to come straight home from school that day to prepare for playing the trombone in a school band concert that evening. After school I forgot her instruction and enjoyed a football game. When I arrived home she said, "I should keep you home from the concert as punishment, but I know this would disappoint Mr. Von Bodegraven [the band director]. In the future pay careful attention to what I say." It was the only time I recall receiving a scolding from her. Usually, she didn't have to state a word of direction to any of us. She led by example. We all knew how we were expected to behave.
Our parents seemed busy each waking hour, but both had calm personalities, no matter what happened. Pop's strongest expletive, at least the strongest I heard, was "oh, shaw." I heard Mom say "damn" just once. Profanity was considered in poor taste, evidence of an inadequate vocabulary. Grammatical errors were quickly corrected. My father surprised me one day when he brought home a two-piece suit that fit perfectly and made me feel grand.
Another day he took me to Myers Brothers department store where he bought me something new in my life — an athletic supporter. The move to Park Street had opened the world of tennis. Beyond bushes across the street, I discovered a clay court that required periodic doses of lime to keep the lines visible. My pals and I didn't let a little rain or slick clay interrupt a game. We wore tennis balls down to the core and bought inexpensive rackets with steel strings. We called them rainy day rackets. The sport became a passion. I dreamed of having a tennis court in my own backyard. At the age of sixty-seven I achieved the dream, and tennis became nearly a daily routine that lasted until my eightieth birthday. That day, my left knee gave way during a game with physician friend Dr. Chandupatla Prabhakar. I have often wondered if my knee would have remained sound if I had somehow been able to skip my eightieth birthday.
Life on Park Street was enlivened one day when Washington School, where I was attending fourth grade, burned to the ground. For me, it was a thrilling adventure. The alarm sounded during afternoon classes when a blaze was discovered in the attic. Our class calmly left the building by walking down two flights of stairs to ground level. I watched from a safe distance until my dad arrived a few minutes later. To my surprise, he took my hand and, in a clear violation of common sense, escorted me back into the burning building. As we entered, I asked, "Pop, are you sure we should go in?" He smiled, patted me on the shoulder, and said, "We will be all right." We walked upstairs to my classroom, where he helped me gather books and other supplies from my desk before rejoining the crowd outside. We stood together on the lawn and watched from a distance as flames licked at the lower floors. It was a rare moment with my father that I cherished greatly, especially the excitement of entering the burning building.
Barbara Hart taught both fifth and sixth grades at Lafayette School, where many students were transferred after Washington School burned. Miss Hart won student affection by starting each afternoon session by reading aloud a chapter from the book series in which Tarzan, adopted by apes, had many thrilling jungle adventures.
One evening, my father thrilled the family by bringing home a table model Emerson radio. It provided exciting entertainment for all of us. We became acquainted with fascinating characters through weekly radio dramas. Most popular ones for me were the Lone Ranger and his horse Silver, the comedy couple Fibber McGee and Molly, and a hilarious African American pair named Amos and Andy. In just seven years, scientific advance made a giant step from the primitive crystal set that stirred excitement on Edgehill Road.
Gloom descended one afternoon in the spring of 1934 when Pop showed symptoms of Parkinson's disease. After driving around town all day with his debit book, he showed me his fingers. They were stiffly curled to conform to the rim of the car's steering wheel. He was forty-eight and became severely handicapped before the year was out. Walking became difficult. He needed help getting dressed. Unable to manage foot pedals, he had to sell the family car and quit work. Sometimes his hands shook uncontrollably. I occasionally heard bits of quiet conversation between him and Mom on what lay ahead for the family.CHAPTER 2
Leaving Hard Times
No medications were available that could control or even slow the progress of Parkinson's disease. My father's disability qualified the family for an insurance pension of fifty dollars a month, a major help, but rigorous challenges lay ahead, especially for my mother. For a short time, he could wash dishes and take short walks on his own. Soon he could do nothing for himself or by himself. Each word came with difficulty. His emotions were always close to the surface.
I rarely stopped to converse with him. I don't recall ever having a long, satisfying chat with him. I was always busy, but I could have made time to be with him even if just to tell him my experiences of the previous day. I did not. The memory of that neglect is still painful.
Each passing year intensified his handicaps, but Mom kept him from being bedridden until a few months before his death years later. I remember her walking backward as she led him, shuffling, slowly from room to room. She was still getting him up and dressed each day. By then my parents had moved to the former home of Mom's parents in Princeton, Illinois. Before I began my job managing a weekly newspaper in Pittsfield, he managed to say, "You can be another William Allen White." He smiled, then became choked with emotion. White was one of my heroes, the editor of the Emporia (Kansas) Gazette and nationally popular as a writer and commentator. I should have stayed and told Pop the dreams I had for my own future.
After Lucille and I moved to Pittsfield, my parents visited us briefly but only part of one day. They had glimpses of the newspaper office and the house where we occupied an upstairs apartment.
During Pop's long illness, I recall only one occasion when he and I were together privately. By then he was hospitalized with pneumonia and unable to utter a word. I spent a long evening at his bedside, holding his right hand. I asked him occasionally if he wanted a sip of water. He usually managed a nod, and I provided it through a straw. We exchanged no words. He died an hour after I left for the night.
Mom was an angel for all of us, serving as homemaker for a family of seven, driving spirit and inspiration for five children, sole caretaker of a disabled husband, and chief breadwinner for the family. I did not hear her complain even once — never a discouraging word, always beaming a smile. She chuckled; for some reason, she had trouble laughing, but she had an abundance of smiles. For several years she managed the high school cafeteria, starting at fifteen dollars a week, later increased to twenty-five. While a student, I earned lunch by serving as cafeteria cashier. Ruth helped in the kitchen. By then, my sister Miriam was studying at a teacher university. Dozens of other students earned lunch by performing tasks under Mom's supervision. She took a personal interest in each and maintained lifelong correspondence with several former helpers. Although afflicted with sore feet, she walked ten blocks from home to school and back each school day.
My mother did housework and laundry for a physician living nearby. During summers she managed a Prairie Farms ice cream store located south of the public library. Two years before the move to her mother's former home, she purchased a house from the Jacksonville Savings and Loan Association. Real estate prices hit rock bottom. The Great Depression was in full force. I do not know how she managed the purchase.
To help ease the family budget, all Findley children found ways to earn money for their own personal expenses. Starting in the sixth grade, I mowed lawns and did odd jobs. Mowing a large lawn brought me seventy-five cents, smaller ones thirty-five to fifty cents. Power mowers were still in the future, and keeping the reel blades sharp on my push mower was a never-ending challenge. One summer I helped Glen Hickle, a high school teacher, dismantle a house. My pay was fifteen cents an hour. One morning, a single lady we knew as Miss Prince called me to her house on Grove Street. Considered an aristocrat by some, an eccentric by others, she did not trust the postal service. She asked me to deliver a letter across town. I made the delivery and received a dime for doing so.
Excerpted from Speaking Out by Paul Findley. Copyright © 2011 Paul Findley. Excerpted by permission of Chicago Review Press Incorporated.
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Table of Contents
Foreword Helen Thomas vii
Prologue: Excitement in the Village xi
Part I Growing Up 1
1 Fun on Edgehill Road 3
2 Leaving Hard Times 10
3 War and Romance 23
4 Country Editor 37
5 Pittsfield and Politics 41
Part II Riding Lincoln's Coattails 51
6 Abe Leads the Way 53
7 Preserving an Heirloom 64
8 Battling a Veteran 75
9 Ignoring the Speaker's Advice 86
Part III Vietnam Dissembling 103
10 The French Connection 105
11 Civil Rights and Lobbyists 119
12 Trading with the Enemy 130
13 Agony, No Ecstasy 144
Part IV Struggle Against Folly 163
14 Curbing Presidential Wars 165
15 Intruding at the Summit 174
16 Tugging at China's Door 193
17 Combating Scourges 209
Part V High Cost of Religious Bias 217
18 Middle East Thicket 219
19 Confronting AIPAC 233
20 A New Door Opens 245
21 Fateful Cover-Up 259
22 Seeds of Holy War 271
23 Banishing Jungle Law 289
Epilogue: Nation in Peril 303
Acknowledgments and Family Notes 315