Monday, February 21, 2011

George from a Pew

To celebrate our first President's birthday, St. John's Church was having a Washington re-enactor give a talk today.

Of course, tomorrow is actually his birthday, right? Well, actually no. One of the first things Mr. Washington cleared up was that he was born on February 11, but back when we were on the Julian calendar.

When England joined the rest of the world in switching to the Gregorian calendar, it added eleven days to the year and his birthday moved to the 22. Two minutes into the talk and I've already learned something I didn't know.

From the front pew, I had a prime viewing spot of the general's Fairfax militia uniform as he shared bits and pieces of his life. He told of learning surveying by reading books and using his deceased father's tools, a show of initiative that's hard to conceive of now.

He spoke about being sent to the northwest territory ostensibly to negotiate with the French, but really to spy on them. No one talks about Washington the spy.

I did find it fascinating that when he was assigned to lead troops during the Revolution, he had no experience commanding a navy or men with artillery or even soldiers on horseback and felt completely under-qualified for the job (sounds like he was). This was Washington, the inexperienced.

Describing himself as the least intelligent and least educated of all the participants at the Constitutional Convention, he said he just stood back and let wiser minds do the heavy lifting.

Of course, he also noted that the "suit" they were crafting for the chief executive of the new country seemed to be exactly his size, not a typical one for the time.

And all he wanted to do was go home to Mount Vernon and be a gentleman farmer. Add in Washington as unambitious, but with a duty to do what his countrymen expected of him.

As a performance, the Washington re-enactor's vocabulary and clipped speech seemed accurate to the period, with no concessions in terms of word choices for the younger members of the audience, something I really appreciated.

And even though it's the 21st and not the 22nd or even the 11th, there was birthday cake and lemonade afterwards.

Just the kind of easy-to-eat thing that a man with bad dentures could have gummed. Now I would be referring to Washington, the one-toothed President.

No one tells you this stuff in fourth grade Social Studies.

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