Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Happy Birthday, George


Today is the anniversary of the day George Washington was born, although we celebrated on Monday with sales at the mall, trying to find shoes like the ones he has on in this official photo. The following paraphrased exerts about President Washington is from the book, Hail to the Chiefs by Barbara Holland.

You'll want to know about his teeth.  Well, before fifty he'd lost most of them, though he did hang on to the lower left premolar until he was sixty-five, and his dentures had a hole punched out for it to stick through.  One set of his dentures had eight human teeth--I don't know whose-- screwed in with gold rivets.  One set was made with a pound of lead.  The set that is in the Gilbert Stuart portrait was carved out of hippopotamus ivory and was no good for chewing; it was purely cosmetic.  It was held in place by a kind of spring device wedged into his jaws, but it would have fallen out if he'd smiled.
Thank the Lord for modern medicine:

A couple of years after he left the presidency, George was riding around Mount Vernon and caught a chill.  By the next morning, he had a nasty strep throat.  Feeling it urgent to get bled as soon as possible, he sent for Mr. Rawlins, one of the overseers, to start the job while they waited for Dr. Craik.  Martha thought maybe Rawlins shouldn't take quite so much blood, but the situation called for strong measures.  Then the doctor arrived and took some more, and tried to make George gargle with vinegar.  By eleven he wasn't any better, so Craik bled him again, and at three Dr. Dick was called in and opened a vein the fourth time, in case there was any blood left.  That didn't seem to help and George was dead before midnight.
My fourth-grade elementary teacher pounded in the story of George cutting down the cherry tree and confessing to his father because he couldn't tell a lie.  At that tender age, I knew I had already blown it and would never be a good as George.  Turns out his father died when George was eleven, and the cherry tree parable was part of a collection of stories made up by Parson Weems to teach morality, long after George had been bled to death.

Still, he led troops against the British and served as our first President, having to leave his beloved Mt. Vernon, so we should probably overlook his inperfections.  Nobody is perfect, no matter how hard your fourth-grade teacher tries.