Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address

As many of you may have seen, today was the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. It's an amazing piece of oratory, well worth reading, and reading about, in the links above.  But we thought we'd honor that by re-posting a blog we did on Lincoln's birthday last year.  Enjoy. 


*This essay was submitted in 1959 as an entry to a national contest on the theme, “Reflections While Standing Before the Lincoln Memorial” sponsored by the American Association for State and Local History, in conjunction with Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI), as part of a celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s 150th birthday.  The grand prize was $500 and publication in This Week magazine. Catherine LeDuke’s essay won 1st prize for the state of Tennessee and second overall.  We submit it to you today, on Lincoln's 204th birthday. 

Reflections While Standing Before the Lincoln Memorial

Dear Rufus,

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Getting Back on the Horse

Sometimes it's awfully hard to get back in the groove when you've been playing hooky for over a month but our readers are out there clambering for more news about Catherine LeDuke, and stories about James Neville, so I better saddle up and climb back on this literary horse before everyone abandons us.

Our excuse for being absent for a while can be partially explained by taking a second look at the previous blog posting "There's been a death in the Family" posted back in August when Amanda said her goodbye's to her faithful furry friend Frodo.  I encourage all you lovers of four-legged friends to seek out Amanda's tributes to Frodo written over the past eight weeks at a blog, Remembering Frodo.  You can read stories of a possum encounter, see a Frodo Foto Fest, hear a musical playlist of dog songs, and read a great story about Louisville, KY's September calendar pin-up play boy.


As for me, I have just returned from a trip to Tiptonville this past week.  Sue and Virginia Hayes make twice-a-year sojourns to connect with Barbara Markham who now lives in North Carolina, so I often get the honor to come stay with Catherine and play mother to my mother.  Mostly I just play chauffeur for our daily trips to the DQ for ice cream cones.  It's a tough job but I can handle it; "One large and one small, please."

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

"My God, What Have We Done?"

*Look for a new posting most Tuesdays and Fridays*

Sixty-eight years ago this past Tuesday, the crew of the Enola Gay watched in awe as their payload detonated over the city of Hiroshima. "As the bomb exploded, we saw the entire city disappear," said Commander Robert Lewis. "I wrote in my log, 'My God, what have we done?'"

While I believe James Neville LeDuke felt similar angst about his small role as a Tech 4 Sargent stationed in Los Alomas, New Mexico in 1945, I never really engaged him in any discussions about that period of his life.  The end product of the Manhattan Project was generally looked at by most people as a necessary means to the end of WWII.  While I would not hesitate to take part in a friendly debate with any of my peers, I am not going to use this posting today to express my views, pro or con, on the subject of the Atomic Bomb.

Rather, I will continue to ramble on in my usual light-hearted manner to tell a little about what I have learned while sneaking around in Catherine LeDuke's house and confiscating her books, papers, and personal writings.  

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Hiroshima -- The Connection

*Look for a new Posting most Tuesdays and Fridays*

 [This is a companion post to one from earlier today. Some of you have been waiting all day to learn the mystery of how Emily Dickinson is related to the bombing of Hiroshima.  If you're just joining us, check out Part I here.]

One of the greatest disappointments in my life is knowing how little I got to really know my father, James Neville LeDuke.  I have no one to blame but myself and perhaps a careless surgeon who misjudged how long to keep a  62-year-old man in the OR.  I sometimes find it hard to realize that I was only 34 when Daddy left us in August of 1977.

I graduated from High School in 1961, spent the next 5 years struggling to earn a college degree at Knoxville, and then accepted an invitation by my draft board to spend the next two years saving our country from the hands of Communism.  Thank you, thank you, we have all been spared the perils of Socialism today due to my assistance.  (...Or have we?? Nevermind...)

Upon returning to the "land of the free," I dove head-first into the task that all of us of our generation were encouraged to do; leave home, start a family, begin a career, and amass great wealth.  My only success would be that I did at least help get two beautiful daughters launched into the world.  

My biggest failure, I now realize, was how poorly I kept in touch with my parents.  Had I not had a wife during this period who was as good a letter writer as James Neville was, I would know even less about my father.

The point of this bit of auto-biographic rambling is to express how much I regret not having had meaningful conversations with by Dad about a wide variety of topics.  Granted, the list of subjects I would discuss with him has grown by leaps and bounds as a result of my snooping into his private files and letters.  But my imagination runs wild with the possibility that I could somehow spend all day tomorrow with him just talking, drinking coffee, and even offering him a cigarette or two.

Emily Dickinson and Hiroshima: What could they possibly have in common???

*Look for a new posting most Tuesdays and Fridays*

A good part of the fun that I have in rummaging through Catherine LeDuke's stuff is getting to share with family and friends some of the treasure hunting stories related to the more "interesting" discoveries I make.

Two facts are important to keep in mind as you read on to discover the meaning of the title of this posting: Emily Dickinson was one of mother's favorite poets and James Neville personally built the A-bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima.  Only the first is actual fact; the latter is just LeDuke family lore.

Catherine LeDuke and James Neville had a great love for English Literature; especially poets and essayists of the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  The book shelves at 114 LeDuke Street are filled with classics; Emerson, Hawthorne, Irving, Hemingway, Whitman, Thoreau, and Catherine's ever-favorite Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Emily Dickinson.  None of the books in our possession are "First Editions" unfortunately, and all are so well-read that they are falling apart.

In the past several years while Amanda and I have been reading the daily letters written between James Neville and Catherine both before their 1936 marriage and during their WWII experience, we have come to appreciate even more how much these two fine teachers had in common.  Rarely a whole week ever went by without one of them mentioning a list of books being read.  And we came to look forward to mother's regular inclusions of a few lines of poetry and often whole sonnets as the mood often struck her.

In November of 1945 James Neville purchased a book of poetry by Emily Dickinson which was intended to be an anniversary present for Catherine.  James Neville had requested a two-week furlough for the middle of December and he would present this gift in person on December 23rd.  The book was entitled Bolts of Melody: previously unpublished poems by Emily Dickinson.  

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Ooops! The wrong valedictorian got the credit!

*Look for a new posting every Tuesday and Friday*

One of the problems I occasionally face as I rummage through the many batches of papers I have stolen from my parents home in Tiptonville has to do with identifying who's "stuff" belongs to whom.  For the most part this is an easy task.  Anything that can be dated after August of 1977 can only be attributed to mother.  And anything written in long hand is pretty easy for me since I have read so many of the letters written by James Neville and Catherine in 1936 and again in 1944 through 1946.

But every now and then I come across a type-written item that is mixed in with stuff that clearly belongs to both of them.  With a little detective work and a bit of common sense I manage to figure out who should get the credit for each piece of writing.

But about two weeks ago I found a valedictory speech that was completely type written.  I studied the document thoroughly and found no references to the name of a school, the name of any individual, nor any geographical clues.  The entire speech was scanned and included in the posting on June 25th and as you can see there are no meaningful hand written margin notes. 

Since I could only go by the content of the speech itself, I decided that Mother was the author.  I really don't recall how I arrived at that conclusion but I have decided that James Neville was looking down from his lofty perch frowning at being slighted by my mistake.

Ben Neville LeDuke and family
To correct my error he "pushed" a new box under my nose that contained an old cigar box stuffed with report cards from several elementary grades including Grade 8; all bearing the name of James Neville LeDuke.  All cards were signed by Ben Neville LeDuke and only a few "B's" were found mixed in with only "A's."  The B's were pre-7th grade and were for "deportment."  I had to look that word up to see what it meant; "The manner in which one conducts oneself."  Apparently, pitching an occasional "LeDuke fit" will not get you an A.

I knew that Daddy was valedictorian of his high school class.  His four high school report cards are also in this box and mixed in with only A's and A+'s are just a few A-'s.  It would seem that James Neville "conducted" himself better during his high school years.

Well, back to the apology I am offering to my father.  In this same cigar box is the following draft of what I now know to be "his" valedictory speech which he would have written in 1929 at the age of 14.  I'm not exactly sure if this new find, two page instead of three, is the first draft of the speech or the final draft.  Nor am I sure which one is the version that he would have given from the stage at the actual graduation event.

Either way, I am impressed that this 14 year-young man could write such a fine piece, receive an "A" for it as you will see on the actual copy enclosed below, and still be active enough after 36 years floating around heaven with a harp to nudge his son into giving him proper credit for his efforts.

Sorry Dad.


Jimmy LeDuke (I'd love to hear from you...feel free to comment below, or click HERE to send me an e-mail.)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Burritt College's Loss Became THS's gain

*Look for a new posting every Tuesday and Friday*

Since the posting last Tuesday was about the wedding of our two main characters, James Neville and Catherine, I thought I would just continue with a bit more of the story of those next few months of their lives; at least as much as we have put together considering that they are no longer writing letters and leaving them laying around for snooping children to find years later.

James Neville and Catherine LeDuke returned by Greyhound Bus following their Christmas Holiday Wedding in Memphis, Tennessee and their short visit to Tiptonville where James Neville presented his new bride to his family.  When they arrived back at Burritt College in Spencer, Tennessee they took up their first residence in the two room, dormitory apartment which James Neville had lived in during the first four months of the school year.  They lived there until the last week of May of 1937.

As James Neville had arranged they took their meals at Mrs. Worthington’s Boarding House, trudging through the snow for most of the winter months.  Catherine wore her new galoshes and heavy winter coat she brought with her from Memphis.  She got very cold at least three times a day.

While James Neville was not particularly happy with his first teaching experience at Burritt College he felt he was basically doing a good job and had assumed that if no other job surfaced for the 1937-38 school year, he could always continue on at Burritt.  When he completed his obligation to Burritt College in May of 1937 he did not re-apply to teach the next year believing that he and Catherine could both find teaching jobs elsewhere.  He received the following letter of recommendation from the Head Master, Mr. H. E. Scott.

James Neville and Catherine spent the next several months bouncing back and forth between Catherine's family home in Memphis and James Neville's in Tiptonville.  When it became obvious that no teaching jobs were on the immediate horizon, James Neville recontacted Mr. Scott.  Unfortunately there was no position available for him at Burritt for reasons that were unrelated to his teaching abilities.

He learned that most of the inadequacies, inefficiencies, and seemingly poor management at the school were not the fault of Mr. Scott.  During the previous school year none of the faculty members at Burritt were aware that the school was in such serious financial circumstances.  Much of the time Mr. Scott was off the campus that year was spent pleading for assistance from state, county, and even federal governments for financial aid. 

It would not be found mainly because Van Buren County had actually begun construction on a large consolidated High School in the summer of 1936, James Neville's first teaching year.  The new school was completed and opened in 1938. 

 It's opening forced Burritt College to close its doors forever.  The lack of school books, the condition of the physical plant, and even the low salaries at Burritt were not imagined problems frustrating James Neville that entire first school year.

Despite the conditions surrounding his first teaching experience, James Neville gained much that fall, winter, and spring of 1936-1937.  Not the least of which was a new bride. 

Van Buren County's loss ultimately became Lake County's gain.


Jimmy LeDuke (I'd love to hear from you...feel free to comment below, or click HERE to send me an e-mail.)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A honeymoon cost $3.50 per night

*Look for a new posting every Tuesday and Friday*

Sometimes as the self-imposed Tuesday and Friday deadline approaches for this blogging adventure, I find myself completely at a loss for words.  I know, I know.  Some of you are thinking: "At last! The well has run dry."  But, fear not, I just have to dig a little deeper into the several boxes labeled: "All things Catherine" and viola!, magic happens.

Like this fat little envelope that I found buried in Mother's cedar chest.  You know, the cedar chest that I found her home-made wedding dress in a few months ago.  (I know Amanda will put one of those "linky things" in this paragraph so you can go back and see those recent pictures of Catherine holding that dress.)

This envelope holds several little "snippets" that I think some of you will find interesting; most all are related to the Patty-LeDuke wedding held on December 23, 1936.  The first is a sealed envelope containing rice.  I'm going to guess that this is the rice that I remember mother telling me about in 2007.  At that time her mind was still in pretty good working order and Amanda and I were working on our first book about James Neville and Catherine.  I asked her to tell me all she could about about her wedding and she mentioned that she and daddy were finding rice in their clothes well into January of '37.  I just bet she saved some of it and tucked it away with her dress.  I left the envelope sealed.

Then there is a short newspaper announcement of the wedding neatly cut out of a Memphis paper.

Also in this envelope are two bus tickets; one from Memphis to Dyersburg that has stamped on the back of it "December 26".  The other is a ticket from Union City to Sparta, Tennessee stamped on the back "December 27, 1936."

Tying these travel records together is a postcard addressed to Catherine's parents in Memphis.  As you can see written on the card they were stuck in the Nashville bus station for a while, but my guess is that even James Neville did not have any trouble controlling his frustration since he was with his new bride.

Oh, Yeah.  This picture of Mother was in the envelope.  One that I have not seen before.  She's not in a wedding dress, but I am guessing it's a 20 year old Catherine.

Then there are a couple of notes that James Neville must have included with boxes of candy or flowers.  Sounds like he had gotten in trouble and was trying to get out.

For Catherine's January 14, 1937 birthday James Neville mailed her a card with a box of candy from the Norris Exquisite Candy Company of Atlanta, Georgia.  I'll have to look them up and see if they are still in business around here.  James Neville had trouble finding an appropriate card so he scratched out the wording and changed it to his own liking.

And then he put this note in the envelope with the card.

He must have gotten in trouble a lot 'cause he sure is awfully "sappy" with his note writing.

The most interesting find of all in this cedar chest envelope is the 1936 hotel bill from the Hotel William Len at 110 Monroe in Memphis, Tennessee.  It is made out to "LeDuke, James Melville and Wife."  The bill covers two nights; December 23rd and 24th at $3.50 per night; a whopping $7.00.  There is also a charge for 0.50 bringing the total to $7.50.  Maybe it was for a bottle of Dom Perignon.

When I talked to Mother in 2007 she could not remember the name of the hotel they had stayed at; she only remembered it was a fancy, Downtown Hotel.  I have previously reported that they were at the Peabody, but now I know for sure that it was the William Len.

When Mother gave me the rundown on her memories concerning her wedding she ended our conversation by saying: "I remember when 'Duke and I came out of the church that night we had our first "real" kiss.  Martha and Shelton picked us up then and drove us downtown to a fancy hotel.  They let us out at the front door, drove off, then we went inside......and that's all I'm going to say about that."

Like I really wanted any more details anyway.


Jimmy LeDuke (I'd love to hear from you...feel free to comment below, or click HERE to send me an e-mail.)

Friday, June 28, 2013

Catherine believed strongly in the "Secret Ballot"

*Look for a new posting every Tuesday and Friday*

Only occasionally did I challenge my mother's viewpoint on important matters, but I well remember that one of those opportunities came around at least every four years.  After every major election I would hound Catherine LeDuke in an attempt to get her to tell me who she had just voted for.  And always she would insist that it was none of my business.

"That's why the voting booth has a curtain around it," she would say.  "To keep nosy people like you in the dark."  I got to hear on a regular basis about the importance of the secret ballot; a "more-than-I-really-wanted" history lesson about the need for people to feel secure and confident that when they pulled the election lever their vote was known only to them.

Now I never really fought against the concept of the secret ballot. But what I tried to explain to her was that in my opinion her one vote, known only to her, was not as meaningful to the election as that vote cast by someone else who made his choice known to all around him; mainly, of course, before he entered the voting booth.

When I asked mother who she was going to vote for, and then got the usual lecture, I would start my spiel.  If you really care about that candidate (whomever it "secretly" is), you should let everyone know that he is going to get your vote.  If you can influence just 5 people, and get them to agree with your choice, then you have just made your vote 5 times greater.

I never really understood why she wouldn't accept my argument.  I do know that my daddy never had any hesitation about expressing his opinion, but I must admit that he had figured out early on in their relationship that when it came to politics Catherine LeDuke would make up her own mind; and keep it secret from everyone.
The following is a short letter written on October 26, 1944 by James Neville to Catherine while he was in X-Ray Tech training in Springfield, Mo.  It is not a particularly important letter; but a typical one of several hundred written by him during this WWII time period.  

                                                             September 26th
Dearest One,  I love you.
     As some of the old folks on the mail route used to sing as I brought the mail "The mail man comes, but he don't bring me no mail!"  That's my story.  No letters today.  Your letters (for no fault of yours) arrive none one day, two the next, none the next, etc.
     I mailed a pkge to Miss Cathie LeDuke and Master James Neville LeDuke Jr (together) today.  Some chocolate bars and couple of pkges of gum.  I was tempted last nite to eat a piece (PX was closed yesterday for inventory) but I managed to put down the temptation.
     I am at the Service Club now starting to study for tomorrow's exam, but I had to write you a note first.
This letter was written just days after
 FDR's famous "Fala Speech"

 I voted Tuesday.  It was with a great deal of hesitancy and doubt that I voted for Roosevelt and Truman.  Had I remained at home I would not have, but this campaign on Deweys part (somehow, I don't know why) made up my mind for me to vote for R & T.  Truman I can hardly stomach, but I don't like Dewey that much.  I hope I have decided rightly.
      I love you, sweetheart, with all my heart.  Wish we could be together.
     You can send me the $20.00 sometime.  I can make no comment - I'm too surprised and pleased.  But don't send it if you need it on the note or something.  If you do need it, use it.  If you don't I'll buy a cap with 2.00 of it.  I'm surprised that you collected so soon.  It's a nice surprise.
                                            I love you, sweetheart.

I doubt that 'Duke influenced Catherine as she entered the voting booth on the following Tuesday; but we'll never know.  It's a secret.


Jimmy LeDuke (I'd love to hear from you...feel free to comment below, or click HERE to send me an e-mail.)


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Valedictorian speech from a 13-year-old Catherine

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Catherine Frazier Patty
The following is a speech given by Catherine Patty at her 8th grade graduation.  It is hard to imagine that this is written by a 13-year-old unless you were lucky enough to have been a student of Catherine LeDuke at some time in your life.  

Her speech needs no commentary from me.  I encouraged you to read it through to the end and visualize her being on a stage enunciating each word and phrase.


This posting still needs no additional words from me except to say once again what an amazing woman Catherine was even at 13.


Jimmy LeDuke (I'd love to hear from you...feel free to comment below, or click HERE to send me an e-mail.)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Every garden needs a truck load of chicken...

*Look for a new posting every Tuesday and Friday*

By now everyone's vegetable garden should be in full swing; tomato plants are all staked up, carrot tops are sprouting, rows of beans are ready to be thinned, and cucumbers are already beginning to bloom.  And of course all of this is taking place in ground that you thoroughly fertilized with lots of chicken s*#%.

Gardening buddies in the 1950's
What!!!  You don't know about working chicken s%*# into your soil?  You obviously didn't have the Gardening Training that my wife Marty received from her father, Harvey Ball.  According to her she had vivid memories of her daddy adding lots of chicken manure to the family garden plot each year before April first.

You can blame today's "lesson plan" and "photo tour" on that stupid basement cleaning project I am in the middle of.  I keep coming across pictures of past events that seem to compel me to share some of the "more colorful" memories of my past.  Pinch your nose closed and join me as I recount our first gardening adventure almost 20 years ago.

James Neville and Jimmy as backyard farmers
Not long after we moved into our first home in Ellenwood,  Marty decided she wanted to relive a bit of her past and plant a garden just like her daddy used to do every year.  I was a willing participate because my daddy also had several vegetable gardens when we were growing up in Tiptonville, Tennessee.

Ruth Ball - A can-can mother in her day
Marty's mother, Ruth, used to do a lot of canning every year once the harvest came in.  Marty was anxious to get our garden off to a good start so she could fill our root cellar with quarts and quarts of all kinds of vegetables.  I tried to explain to Marty that we did not have a root cellar but she was not listening.

The South Forty at Ellenwood
We were fortunate to have a sizable "homestead" and quickly selected the area to be tilled.  Tilling implies the ownership of a tiller.  Not a problem.  We will be saving a fortune by growing our own vegetables so off to the "tiller-store" I went and soon was hard at work with my brand new, rear tine Rototiller.
Now I have to confess that I got a little carried away.  Marty had staked off two medium sized plots each about 12' X 18'.  But I figured I could pay for the Rototiller faster if I dug up four larger plots 15' by 25' each.  The more vegetables I ate, the more money I would save.....  It made sense at the time. 

About the time I finished with the "plowing" Marty remember about Harvey's special ingredient for a truly successful garden: chicken s#%*.  This was the first I had heard about this requirement but I was determined to make my bride happy so I found in the "farming" section of the classified newspapers a chicken farm only 45 minutes away.  And believe it or not, they were willing to sell me a truck load of the stuff for only $75!

That next Saturday Marty and I got in my truck and started out for chicken-country in Fayette County, Georgia.  We followed Farmer Little's directions to the letter, paid him the agreed cash, and were led to a spot near the first 50-yard long chicken house.  

A curious smile was noticed on the farmer's face as he watched us spread a large sheet of plastic over my entire truck.  Marty and I slipped under the plastic and back into the cab just about the time the sky started falling.  Only it was not sky that was falling.

We were parked under a large auger.  You know, like you have seen next to a corn harvester shooting corn into a waiting truck.  But this was not dry corn being "shot" into my truck.  It was not "dry" anything.  WET chicken s&#* was raining down, NO, splatting down into the bed of my truck and splashing all over the plastic covering the cab part of my truck.  

Since Marty and I could not see clearly through the plastic we could not tell if we had a full load or not so we waited patiently.  Farmer Little finally took mercy on us and came over to tell us we had gotten our $75 dollars worth and with a still smiling face wished us a good day. 

I drove forward enough to get out and tuck all the plastic over the bed.  Marty did not assist me with this task.  Neither of us spoke much during the unpleasant trip back to our "vegetable-to-be-farm," although I'm sure Marty was muttering something about her childhood gardening memories.

One can't be too careful when unloading "Stuff"
When we finally got home and unfolded the plastic to inspect our load one of us "chickened" out and told me to call her once I had unloaded and distributed the "nutrient"-rich goods.  I didn't protest, but I really had envisioned when this whole subject came up a few days ago that I would be dealing with something more akin to sand or sawdust as opposed to wet concrete.

I changed into my manure-removal clothing, constructed a homemade manure-removal tool, pulled out all the available garden hoses, donned my methane prevention face mask, and stepped in it.

This job requires special skills and equipment

About two hours later my four garden plots were sufficiently covered in piles of Harvey's magic elixir; another hour and a half to mix the dirt and "stuff" thoroughly (all done by hand and rake since I was not about to use my brand new tiller), one more hour to scrub my truck, and "voila!" we were ready for seeds.  But wait...

Does anyone out there know what happens when "raw", wet, undiluted manure is worked into the soil?  Within about three days enough heat was being generated by our garden area to be felt from 20 feet away.  I'm surprised the neighbors didn't call the fire department after seeing all the smoke rising from our plots.  It was three weeks before we were able to plant even one of the four patches.  And to my best recollection no canning took place that first gardening year.  Thank goodness I had not dug out a "root cellar".

Joe Ashley wanted some fresh beans
My friends wondered where the 
garden was.  All they could see
that first years was very healthy
Bill Jenkins admired our bumper crop

But the NEXT YEAR we could have used a "root basement."
The second year's Garden got the full effect of the Chicken-additive

Garden elves Bethany and Emily

Even the Peach Tree looked better after the "Chicken-Treatment"

The moral to this story is: "If you want to put chicken s*#! on your garden, get your plastic manure suit ready, hold your nose, and make sure you give it at least a year to "cure."


Jimmy LeDuke (I'd love to hear from you...feel free to comment below, or click HERE to send me an e-mail.)