General: July 2003 Archives

Ellen Hemings Roberts, granddaughter of Thomas Jefferson.

Sally Hemings still has to stay out of the drawing rooms - at least while the "white" folks are around.

Incredible as it may seem, even today, after all the fuss endured in ending slavery and after the happy surprises of DNA, the descendents of the union between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings are neither permitted to be part of the Monticello Association nor allowed to join in its annual reunions.

During a regular meeting of the Association, when the presiding officer was challenged by a cousin to explain a broadening of the ban, one of the other descendents

grabbed the microphone. What he said, according to [the challenger] and three other people who were in the room, was that he had no interest in associating with the Hemings descendants in this life — or in death. (The phrase "their kind" was used.) Judging by the amount of applause he is reported to have received, he blurted out what must have been on nearly everyone else's minds.
For the complete story, see the more delightful parts of the rebelliously-inclusive Jefferson cousin Lucian K. Truscott IV's account of the family feud in today's NYTimes Op-Ed piece linked at the top. You'll find Walker, the groundskeeper at Monticello, his cousins (the elderly Randolph ladies, Truscott's great-grandmother, Mary Walker Randolph, and great aunts Aggie and Miss Moo), the neat little round windows above the house roof, and the Buick parked on the lawn on a hot July day in 1951.

Germans get 8 weeks of vacation each year, including single-day holidays. Although the figure is not much different for the rest of Europe, Germans, being Germans, are asking themselves whether lots of a good thing is not really such a good thing. The NYTimes tell us that some Germans are even asking: are the Germans lazy?

The lively discussion which follows includes a history and a lesson in comparative leisure cultures.

Here, perhaps, is the difference with Americans, who also like their vacations. Many Americans, who have no recent history of labor struggles or national traumas, simply see work as a good in itself; they don't believe deep inside that they have an inalienable right to an idle August and take pride in postponing retirement, or taking on a second career. But for many Europeans, leisure time is not just a break from work; it is the goal of it.

or maybe just looking to have a good day?

If most Americans never learn why they are working, and end up botching the limited vacation opportunities available to them, a very few decide that work itself will be rewarding when the reward is generously shared. Leisure needn't be sacrificed, nor worshipped.

Gene Estess was a New York stockbroker for 20 years. Today he runs a program that helps adults with housing, employment and drug dependence difficulties. He operates at a fraction of the cost per person required for shelters and with something like a 95% success rate in keeping clients from returning to homelessness.

But the best part of this article describing a man who admits that his Wall Street colleagues thought he was nuts when he quit, is how he made the decision.

"Please understand," he said. "It was nothing religious. It wasn't godlike."

"For 20-some-odd years I really didn't have a good day," he continued. "I didn't come home with any stories to tell or satisfaction or a feeling I'd done anything to help anybody except myself and my family."

Not lazy, surely, and it doesn't sound like leisure, but it's definitely smart.

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