Thursday, January 25, 2007

Jefferson in a bottle

When Minnie and her family lived in Charlottesville, Virginia, they were ten minutes from Monticello (little mountain), the home of Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States of America. We visited it in the summer and at Christmas.

Born April 13, 1743 Jefferson died July 4, 1826. A remarkable man, at 33 he drafted the Declaration of Independence. I can hear his quill pen scratch the parchment, and see his brow furrowed choosing the right words to declare freedom for the colonies. My Virginia quill pen sits in buckshot in a sterling silver container. We speak of Jefferson every Christmas season when we drink eggnog from our sterling silver Jefferson cups (no handles).

If I could talk to him, I'd thank him for the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 - Nebraska was carved from it. A man of vision, he encouraged Lewis and Clark's expedition. Go for it, he'd say. I'd thank him for recycling. He created the Great Clock by his front door: a seven-day mechanism of leftover Revolutionary Cannonballs and a ladder to reset it once a week. Passionate about education he established the University of Virginia. Wherever he saw a need he saw a solution.

Jefferson was a gracious host. Whoever stopped by was invited to dine with him. From Marie Kimball's editing of his recipes menu options included pigeon soup, stewed rabbit, fish cooked with potatoes, imported squash and broccoli from Italy, varieties of homegrown beans, or his favorite, English peas accompanied by wine from the grapes in his vineyard. He imported Italian oils and French mustard, used vanilla and macaroni, and had the first ice cream freezer. Vegetables were his preference, meat an accompaniment. With such variety, how many meals were shorted by servants transporting food from the kitchen to the mechanical dumbwaiter before a bell was attached to each transporter? Tinkling meant no sampling. I would have loved to partake and oh, the conversation.

He had a sense of humor. James Monroe decided to build his home on another mountain top. They would communicate with lanterns; no frustration with, "Can you hear me now?" Jefferson designed Ash Lawn for Monroe and had it built while he was away. The design included an optical illusion. Imagine Monroe's surprise when he had to duck leaving his new home. Jefferson said that was so he had to bow to Monticello.

A "can do" man, Jefferson built his bed between two walls, and had it made up with a pole. Depending on his mood he could get out of bed in his library, or in his bedroom. Clever. He is credited with a long list of inventions: a portable copying press, automated double doors, book stand, lap desk, coffee urn, and wooden plow board to name a few. I'd ask him to invent a "silent", light-weight vacuum that sucks.

It would depend which side of the bed he got out on whether he'd talk about his differences with Alexander Hamilton. I'd tread lightly. If he screwed up his face, I'd change the subject. How are your cherry trees doing?

In the heat of summer, amidst hundreds of tourists, we toured the grounds and lost our daughters. Parent panic! Thirty minutes later we found them studying the cemetery. They weren't lost, they said, we were too slow.

Boredom doesn't exist for me. There is so much to learn and do. When I leave this world, I'm going to sit on a cloud, eat seedless grapes, and study the man I'd like to call friend, Thomas Jefferson.

copyright 2007 Red Convertible Travel Series

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