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 20, 2013

There's Been a Death in the Family.

*Look for a new posting most Tuesdays and Fridays*

Some of you have already heard that my daughter and occasional co-author of this blog, Amanda, lost one of her best friends Saturday morning.  That's what Frodo was to her; a good friend, a companion, a trusted confidant, her very own personal "shrink."  Frodo's place in Amanda's life had long ago risen above "pet" status.

When a "furry" friend acquires that status in one's life it becomes hard to tell who is really taking care of whom.  Does the act of purchasing and opening a can of Ken-L-Ration outweigh making your floppy ears available for scratching?  Is one's seemingly annoying bark not understood as a method for encouraging the other to go out and get some fresh air?  Is attentive listening less valuable than providing a fresh flea collar?

And what about the role our short-legged friends play in home security.  There's something to be said about exchanging a bag or two of milkbones for the peace of mind knowing that there is someone at home protecting all the "stuff."  Okay, so maybe a couple of times burglars snuck in during nap time and got a bit of loot, but we wouldn't really want someone to bleed to death for a five year old TV set, would we?

In times of sickness who really provided more care: Amanda with a trip to Barkstown Road for some special food, or Frodo making a pillow of himself and risking being squished to comfort someone who was sick in bed all day with a cold?

And what about entertainment?  Just think of the times Frodo has had to chase around after balls and sticks just to provide Amanda some physical exercise.  Without him a person could easily lose their throwing arm.  And without a warm tummy and floppy ears, a person's scratching fingers could atrophy and become useless for boring tasks, like typing and blog-writing.

Frodo will be greatly missed even when he was just resting from all his care-giving chores at the end of the sofa.  His very presence was a comfort.  His greatest concern now, and mine always, will be for Amanda and her grief as she adjusts to life without her companion.  

Frodo was lucky to have been a part of Amanda's life.  And Amanda was lucky to have been a part of his.  He will always exist in her heart.


The following sonnet is the second stanza of a poem by George Santayana, a tribute to his good friend WP.  Marty got this poem from Catherine LeDuke and in so doing started the poetry activity we carry on with Mother today.  Marty said she intends to include it as a part of the eulogy at my funeral.

It seems to me that the friendship between WP and George could not have been any stronger than the one shared by Amanda and Frodo and if it is deemed good enough for my eulogy then I'll share the honor with Frodo.

So with it I'll say "Good Bye, Frodo."

With you a part of me hath passed away;
For in the peopled forest of my mind
A tree made leafless by this wintry wind
Shall never don again its green array.
Chapel and fireside, country road and bay,
Have something of their friendliness resigned;
Another, if I would, I could not find,
And I am grown much older in a day.
But yet I treasure in my memory
Your gift of charity, and young hearts ease,
And the dear honour of your amity;
For these once mine, my life is rich with these.
And I scarce know which part may greater be,
What I keep of you, or you rob from me.


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


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 23, 2013

My love affair with The Price Is Right

*Look for a new posting most Tuesdays and Fridays*

Amanda here.  Dad's turning over the blog to me to post another essay I wrote a few years ago in a creative writing class.  Our assignment was to write about an obsession we have, and I immediately knew my essay had to be about The Price Is Right.  This essay has nothing whatsoever to do with Catherine, or James Neville, except that I'm sure they, too, must have loved The Price is Right, because who DOESN'T love The Price Is Right???  Also, while I couldn't find a way to work this into the essay, you can go here for a complete listing of all the pricing games ever played on TPIR.  Ever.  Complete with history and pictures and trivia about each game. You're welcome.

I am a lifelong fan of The Price Is Right.  It’s true I’ve never been on the show, but don’t think I don’t fantasize about it.  Often.   I think it may be the only good reason to go to Los Angeles.  I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t aware of the TPIR.  Every holiday and sick day was spent in front of the television, taking guesses at the current cost of a Buick Skylark, or baking soda. When I asked my mother why this was, she responded that her mom watched TPIR with her when she was a child, a sort of non-response that made it sound as if she believed the act of passing on an appreciation for The Price Is Right was a key part of motherhood.

The Golf Game was usually my favorite; I’ve always been a big putt-putt fan, plus I liked the way Bob Barker always took a shot first.  Something about that made him more human; clearly skilled but also fallible, since he seemed to only make the shot about half the time.  Occasionally my favorite was the Dice Game, I liked the intertwining of luck and strategy.  Obviously anytime there was a car at stake, you could count on a good time; Lucky 7’s and Any Number were two of the best.  And who doesn’t love Plinko!  It’s really just slot-machine randomness, but the way we all leaned left or right on our couches, nudging our heads, trying to steer the big, round disc into the $10,000 slot created suspense and tension of the variety not usually found on TV game shows.  And oh, the disappointment when Barker’s Beauties brought out the “Guess-which-one-is-cheaper” Game (though I always knew my disappointment was secondary to that of the contestant who drew that short straw).

When Drew Carey took over, I was worried. But they did a masterful job of weaving the old in with the new, keeping just enough of the 1970s colors and kitschy props and replacing just enough tired ideas and technology.  I still watch at every opportunity, and in fact once spent a full year of unemployment watching every day, reminding myself of the lessons TPIR taught me long ago: pay attention to the costs of everyday life; when given the opportunity, run down the aisle with exuberance; and if you lose, at least you got to play.

 -- Amanda


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 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.)