Column: Remember the good times


One of the things we hope for this time of year is adding a little wisdom – getting a broader view of how the world should be.

You can go the old New Year’s resolution way, if you wish.

I’ve never much cared for those. They, after all, get broken.

I was proud of myself a bit this year, getting away from my usual humbug mindset during the holidays.

I tell everyone I became not fond of the holidays because of my travails owning Takoma Kitchens. This was the big, important, gargantuan business where I did nothing but cater to big, important people in Washington, D.C.

(If you’re good at reading between the lines, you’ll get my drift).

Yes, it was swell being around a lot of big deal people. And, of course, getting paid to do it was another plus.

But it does become so old.

Over the last several years, I have lost many old friends, people who probably decided life on earth was getting a little too rough.

That, I understand.

You want life to be kind to you. Generally, it is.

Then come the awakenings.

This week another friend, a person who was something of an icon, passed away.

I grew to know John Culver, formerly a U.S. Senator from Iowa, because he worked with spouse John Hyde on the biography of Henry Wallace, vice president under Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Culver had been known for several things — his intellect was one. Plus he had a powerful way of letting people know his opinions.

Staffers who had worked for him would remark on how he would make a point by picking up a typewriter (old-time office equipment) and throwing it.

Ah, yes.

But, Culver was known for casting a number of difficult votes in Congress. There was a debate about passing a bill outlawing flag burning. Culver voted against it.

He said he found flag burning distasteful, but it was protected under the U.S. Constitution.

Culver, you see, was a lawyer. He went to Harvard, where he played football. And he was roommate to Teddy Kennedy.

He started his Congressional career by working on Kennedy’s staff. From then on, upward.

Kennedy hosted a book party after my John and John Culver completed work on their book.

This was “American Dreamer,” a biography that has gotten much play and respect. The book was about Henry Wallace, an Iowan and from the family that published Wallace’s Farmer. He was said to be responsible for the “Green Revolution.”

It was a thrill, to be sure, to be at the Kennedy house. Because we were with Kennedy and Culver, we found ourselves in the company of people like Andrea Mitchell and her spouse, Alan Greenspan.

My John and I had countered by inviting all of our friends from farmers’ markets, where we had sold for years.

There we were with friends Chip and Susan Planck, when Andrea Mitchell walked up and said hello.

This, to Susan. She said it was so good to see her.

Susan looked a little non-plussed, and said she thought maybe Andrea had the wrong person. Ms. Mitchell blew that one off.

So Susan gave up.

Our other friends, major fruit growers from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania also attended. Boy, were they eager to show up.

The book party was the usual — authors talking about the importance of their efforts. Good food and wine.

Recently, I had known John Culver was not well.

In one of my other lives, I am doing interviews for a project. I had contacted Culver’s wife, Mary Jane Checchi, about talking to John Culver.

She said he was not doing that well. He had developed vision problems a while ago, a fact I observed when he spoke at my John’s memorial service.

I honored her wishes to not make him part of my interviewing agenda.

Still, to find out, via the wonderful, monstrous Internet that he was now gone, was a little tough to take.

Culver will be buried back in Iowa, in McGregor.

I know how I felt when I lost my father, an incredible man, who had liver cancer.

The family took care of him at home and we had help from Hospice. It was a long, difficult time.

I was still living in Washington then, and would travel back to Ohio frequently. I stayed at the farm, when I knew the time was near. My sisters and my mom and I monitored everything. I was given the task of going to the drug store to get morphine, when we all knew that was necessary.

To clear my head, I would walk outside, composing what I thought would be a fitting tribute to a great man.

I said we should celebrate his life.

That we did.

I still celebrate his presence, every day.

Husband John flew in to Ohio to be with us all. John, ever the inventive one, had purchased a bottle of bourbon to help us along.

After dad’s funeral, we recovered at home.

And there was mom, deciding having a nip of that bourbon would be a good thing.

The lesson: Remember the good times.

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