Hammer gives history lesson
Monday, March 10, 2014 10:00 PM
Somewhere around '71 or so Grand Funk released an album that has always been one of my favorites. So forgive me that on a deserted Saturday morning I was sitting in my office with the volume maybe a bit louder than should have been. Hey, when you've got pretty much the whole third floor of the world-wide headquarters to yourself it's OK to let your hair down a little - at least what little hair I have left.
"Timmons, what do you know about William Howard Taft?"
Jumpin' Jiminy Cricket! John Hammer must live to give me a heart attack. I'm not sure if I was singing along when he suddenly appeared at my door. Then again, I wasn't sure if I should go change my underwear or not.
"John, how in the world do you get up here when everything's locked up, and how do you do it so quietly?"
Hammer just looked at me. The man is the size of Bigfoot . . . or maybe Bigfoot's older brother. He has a wisdom that only comes with age and life. Short on patience, long on common sense.
"Taft," he repeated. It wasn't so much a question as a suggestion that I focus. A strong suggestion.
"Uh, OK, Taft was a big man, if I remember right," I started. It's tough to think back to U.S. History class when you're heart is still going for the pole at the Indy 500. "He was, what, the 20th, 25th, U.S. president? Something like that?"
"Twenty-seventh," Hammer corrected in a tone that had about as much patience as a bear at feeding time.
"OK," I said, certainly not wanting to argue the point. "Didn't he end up sitting on the Supreme Court, too?"
Well, that meant he was on it, right? I thought. Didn't say it. Just thought it.
"OK John, what about Taft?"
"It's his dad, Alphonso," Hammer growled.
I was getting more confused by the second.
"This is around 1830 and Alphonso Taft, who would father Will about three decades later, wanted to go to college. His family didn't have much money, but they sacrificed and worked hard and gave their son the gift of education. Thing is, Timmons, he was going to go to Yale, which was about 140 miles away from where they lived. Know how he got there?"
I may not be the brightest bulb in the box, but I figured mid 1800s . . . "A horse?"
"He walked, Timmons. Did I stutter?"
Do you know how far 140 miles is, Timmons? From here, it's about Chicago. Can you imagine walking to Chicago, Timmons?
To tell the truth I can't really imagine walking to Linden.
"Gee John, that's a long way."
He looked at me like he was trying to figure out if he should waste any more breath or not.
"Timmons, you really are dense sometimes. Think about how modes of travel have changed."
I thought about it. Still didn't get the point.
He sighed. "If you want to go to Chicago you jump in your car and you go to Chicago. Less than three hours, there you are. Today. When I was a kid, there was no interstate. That trip took a lot more than three hours. When my grandfather was a kid, there weren't cars. The trip didn't get measured in hours but days."
"John, I hate to sound stupid but where are you going with this? How do you even know about Alphonso Taft?"
"I'm reading a book by Doris Kearns Goodwin on Teddy Roosevelt and it was in there," Hammer explained. "It got me to thinking about how transportation has changed everything. Today, that trip to Chicago costs you a little time and some money in gas. No major inconvenience in your life. But back then, to get to college William Howard Taft's father had to walk. He didn't stay at hotels along the way. He probably camped. He didn't have room service. He probably took along some food and maybe hunted or fished for more. He didn't listen to the radio on the trip. He fell asleep looking at the stars. He had time to think, to reflect on the sacrifice his parents made, on the hard work he was going to do. You know it had to make him appreciate it even more. Tell me this, Timmons, who appreciates things like that today?"
Before I could answer, Hammer was walking away. He didn't know it, but I appreciated the visit . . . and the lesson.
Two cents, which is about how much Timmons said his columns are worth, appears periodically on Tuesdays in The Paper. Timmons is the publisher of The Paper and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org