Notes from a quiet street

(The second  of 2016’s random observations far from the front lines of our past, and not worthy of full bloghood).

He was talking about the special interests that influence government, including banks and protected industries.

We want prosperity, but not at the expense of liberty.

Poverty is not as great a danger to liberty as wealth, with its corrupting, demoralizing influences.  Suppose all the influences I have just reviewed were to take their hands off instead of supporting the Republican Party, would it have a ghost of a chance of success?

Let us have prosperity, but never at the expense of liberty, never at the expense of self-government, and let us never have a government…owing its retention to the power of the millionaires rather than the will of the millions.” 

That’s not Democratic Party rhetoric this year.  It’s from a speech given by Joseph Pulitzer in Indianapolis in 1880.

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We got a press release from the St. Louis Archdiocese a few days ago announcing churches throughout the Archdiocese would be taking part in a “Reconciliation Initiative” March 4-5.  The press release arrived about a week after the Bishop said churches should consider dropping sponsorship of the Girl Scouts because the Scouts might lead girls to think of things beyond what the church thinks they should think.

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Nancy’s downstairs listening to the John Denver Channel on Pandora. It’s an internet site that plays whatever music you want to hear.  John Denver would be 72 years old now.  He died more than eighteen years ago.  72.  Kind of hard to envision.  But then James Taylor turned 68 a few days ago and still sounds like James Taylor is supposed to sound.  But still, John Denver would be 72—-

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A sample of legislative efficiency:  The state senate has restored the chamber’s mezzanine beautifully.  But to do it, it had to destroy the offices of its senate information staff.  It moved them into a first-floor hearing room for a while, then into some vacant space in the capitol basement.  Then it moved the capitol press corps out of its spaces on the first floor across the hall from the hearing room up to some offices on the fifth floor that are not handicapped accessible. Then it moved its information staff from the basement into the spaces on the first floor that the press had occupied.  Wonder if it ever occurred to the senate to just move its information people into the fifth floor offices to begin with and save a bunch of effort and hassle.

And now it’s spending more money on another move—getting rid of those pesky reporters at the press table on the senate floor because one of them reportedly (an appropriate word in this instance) did his job by tweeting that the senate leader had told a senator who had been presiding that he should have brought Senator Brian Nieves under control when Nieves went off on one of his embarrassing tirades.  The senate is spending still more moving money to turn an area that has been for public visitors for the last 96 years into a place for people who apparently have been illegal aliens on the senate floor in this capitol—as well as the one built in the 19th century.

We are sure the Senate will give the taxpayers it so aggressively wants to protect a complete final report to the public about how much it has spent, total, to move all these people from top to bottom to top in the Capitol.

——-

Another example of efficient thinking: Had to get a new computer monitor the other day.  Got one of those 23-inchers (so maybe there will be fewer typos in these entries since the letters are bigger).  Once again, a piece of equipment treated the purchaser like an idiot.  Remember owner’s manuals?  Remember you used to be have directions to things that you could READ?  The box lid for this thing had some drawings that were useful only because this user had hooked up a monitor before.  One drawing appeared to show an “on” switch, which was fine except the screen was still black when a little blue light came on on the front panel.  Inside a plastic bag were some booklets.  Directions?  Oh, no.  Warranties written in most of the world’s known languages.  The user’s manual was on an enclosed disc.   Great.  Except if the monitor is only a black screen, what in Heaven’s name is the user supposed to use to read the directions that tell him how to make the monitor not black?

This user thinks he has been insulted. A person smart enough to have a computer apparently is not smart enough to read an instruction manual on  hooking up the monitor unless he is smart enough to hook up the monitor  so he can see images of the manual. Obviously because you are reading this, the problem got solved, no thanks to the drawings, so the disc with the users’ manual on it is not needed.

Now that the monitor is working, it’s time to plan to do some other things that make about as much sense: check the stock market, make some airline reservations, buy a tankful of gas for the car, wait for the House to rationalize passage of the Wesboro Amendment……

 

Correction

Your correspondent was awakened far too early this morning with the thought that he had made a grievous error in criticizing the leader of the Missouri Senate in yesterday’s entry for his effort to kick former colleagues in the press corps out of the historic press table on the Senate floor.  

We regret that error.

In these pre-dawn hours, as we type this, we realize there are TEN chairs at the press table, not eight as we said.  That lowers the cost of the move from the $16,000 per chair that we mentioned yesterday to only $12,700 per chair.  

And it follows that we would commend the Senate leaders for delaying the move to avoid overtime costs that would have made the price for each chair $17,100 instead of the $20,000 that we mentioned. 

And in all honesty, our mention of the Pentagon’s $700 toilet seat in the 1980s also was an unfair comparison.  We checked with the Federal Reserve System and the Fed calculates $700 in 1980 is equivalent to $2010.44 today, so the toilet seat-to-press corps chair cost is not as excessive as we portrayed yesterday. 

But our early-morning conscience, which forced the publication of this correction, wonders what kind of new chairs our former colleagues will get for $12,700.  For that price, one might expect a leather upholstered recliner with cupholders, a warming system, and maybe a therapeutic massage feature.   

We apologize to the Senate leadership for our miscalculation

  

 

Notes from a quiet street

(formerly known in our working days as “Notes from the front lines,” compilations of observations that do not merit full bloggitry)

The chairman of the Special Senate Committee to Generate Headlines for a Senator Running for Attorney General, wants the committee to subpoena patient records from Planned Parenthood, a private organization, and to hold some people in contempt for refusing to submit themselves to grilling by the committee.  Planned Parenthood says it will resist any subpoena from the committee as improper meddling in a private business’s affairs and because the records are protected by the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which protects the privacy of personal health information. 

“Phhhhtttttt!” says the leader of the entire senate. He’ll support the SSCGHSRAG’s subpoena, federal law notwithstanding.  

Some folks with whom we have discussed this situation suggest the position of the SSCGHSRAG might be more consistent, although probably still questionable, if the legislature would let the state auditor subpoena records from political campaign committees, including the independent committees that hide contributors from public knowledge, and the activities of legislative staff members who work for political campaigns “in their spare time,” and find those who don’t cooperate in contempt. Some would consider such a step as (pardon the cliché) leveling the playing field.

State law says those who are held in contempt of a legislative committee that they consider taking a contemptible position can be fined and jailed. 

The auditor has no such power and the consensus is that the legislature’s response to the idea that the auditor should have it also would be “Phhhhttttt!”  

                                                            —

One of our neighbors is a fellow we’ll call Felix, one of those folks who drives around with a school alumni license plate, a school decal in the back window, and little school flags sticking out of the windows on football or basketball game days. He’s 67, about five-foot-eight, and will weigh, probably, 143 pounds after watching an entire football game in a rain storm.  He was concerned for a few days not long ago when he read about two bills filed for the 2016 legislative session. 

One would take away scholarships for football players who refuse to play a game to show their support for fellow students protesting a perceived injustice.  The other would make it legal to carry guns on campus.  

Felix worries about what would happen if he got into an argument with a six-foot-seven, 350 pound offensive lineman who had just lost his scholarship but had a gun.  He was relieved when the scholarship bill was withdrawn by the sponsor because that took away one of the issues to argue about.  Now all he worries about is whether the six-foot-seven, 350-pound lineman with a scholarship would beat the tar out of him or just save his energy and shoot him.  

                                                            —–

A divorced couple in St. Louis County is in court to decide who gets custody of two frozen embryos they enjoyed creating in happier times.  

Someone asked us the other day, “Since the state says life begins at conception, shouldn’t there be another law for frozen embryos to be considered wards of the state, making the state responsible for their maintenance and any support payments in case they do lead to babies without the sperm donor’s consent? “ She continued, “The state is avoiding responsibility for the situation it has caused.” 

Another person at the table opined, “Well, you can’t get an answer if you only write half of the equation.”  

                                                00000

And a personal note:  We have found in our first year of retirement that our detachment from the intense climate of the capitol during legislative sessions has helped us understand why folks like our neighbors hold those we elect to represent us in lowered esteem.  Perhaps it is because those who serve lose the perspective they had while they lived on quiet streets like this one, before they started hearing all of the capitol voices telling them how important they are. 

We remain convinced, however, that most of those who are beginning their work at the capitol now are good people. Unfortunately they are operating within a badly-flawed system that only they can fix.  And the temptation to leave a system that favors their presence as-is has been too difficult to overcome.  

We have known these people for a long time, them and their predecessors.  And we can tell you that away from the capitol, perhaps around a barbecue pit or sharing a table at a coffee shop, they’re okay.  But the environment in which they will be operating for the next four months is not necessarily he climate that is best for the neighbors they leave at home Monday through Thursday. 

This scribe is no longer the business associate (never a partner) that he once was.  Now he’s the neighbor left behind.  It’s been interesting to feel perspective change.

Perspective

The Capitol time capsule thing this year has led to a lot of thinking about time and reflections on those who discover messages from the past.   Perhaps historians are more conscious of things like that than other people—I don’t really know.  But this one, who has spent more than forty years writing the first draft of history, as the role of journalists has sometimes been described, has been intrigued by the whole thing.

One of the things in the new time capsule being put in the Capitol cornerstone is the book co-authored with Jeff Ball about the art of the capitol.  Tucked into the back cover is a letter from us to those who we hope will open the capsule in 2115.  Part of the letter is an excerpt from President Kennedy’s speech at Amherst, Massachusetts less than a month before his death in which he expressed a dream for America.

The nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of Robert Frost’s hired man, the fate of having “nothing to look backward to with pride, and nothing to look forward to with hope.” I look forward to a great future for America, a future in which our country will match its military strength with our moral restraint, its wealth with our wisdom, its power with our purpose. I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty, which will protect the beauty of our natural environment, which will preserve the great old American houses and squares and parks of our national past, and which will build handsome and balanced cities for our future. I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well. And I look forward to a world which will be safe not only for democracy and diversity but also for personal distinction.

A few days later, as I was discussing the time capsule with a friend, it occurred to me that many of us remember John Kennedy, who died 52 years ago this month.  If that message is discovered in 2115, those who read that quote will be reading it from the perspective of people who are 152 years removed from the time when Kennedy gave that speech.

And I wonder if they will see those words with the same kind of perspective that we see some cherished words that were spoken by another president 152 years in our past, this month, about his dream of a nation “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

One-hundred-fifty-two years ago, Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address on November 19, 1863.  One-hundred-fifty-two years after John Kennedy’s Amherst Address on October 26, 1963, Americans we cannot imagine will read his of his dream for his country.

Abraham Lincoln was still vivid as a living person in the memories of many who were alive when the original capitol cornerstone was sealed in 1915 just as John F. Kennedy is still vivid as a living person in the memories of many in 2015.

Time.  It plays with your mind.

One of the most intriguing pieces your correspondent ever read about the encapsulation of time was written by Herbert Winlock, the director of the New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in the 1930s.  He wrote in a museum publication about the model boats, statuettes and other things depicting life in his time found in the Egyptian tomb of a man named Meketra who died about 1950 BCE.

The beam of light shot in to a little world of four thousand years ago, and I was gazing down into the midst of brightly painted little men going this way and that.  A tall, slender girl gazed across at me perfectly composed; a gang of little men with sticks in their upraised hands drove spotted oxen; rowers tugged at their oars on a fleet of boats, while one ship seemed floundering right in front of me with its bow balanced precariously in the air. And all of this busy going and coming was in uncanny silence, as though the distance back over forty centuries I looked across was too great for even an echo to reach my ears.

Four thousand years is an eternity.  Just saying it over and over again gives no conception of the ages that have gone by since this funeral.  Stop and think of how far off William the Conqueror seems. That takes you only a quarter of the way back.  Julius Caesar takes you halfway back.  With Saul and David you are three-fourths of the way.  But there remains yet another thousand years to bridge with your imagination.  Yet in that dry, still, dark little chamber those boats and statues had stood indifferent to all that went on in the outer world, as ancient in the days of Caesar as Caesar is to us, but so little changed that even the fingerprints of the men who put them there were still fresh upon them.  Not only fingerprints, but even flyspecks, cobwebs, and dead spiders remained from the time when those models were stored in some empty room in the noble’s house waiting for his day of death and burial.  I even suspect that some of his grandchildren had sneaked in and played with them while they were at that house in ancient Thebes. 

One century.  Forty centuries.  The past often waits quietly to speak in the future and then touches those who find it and gives them a personal perspective on what was.  And is.

(Winlock’s story of Meketra’s tomb was related by Thomas Hoving, then the head of the MMA, in his book Tutankhamun: The untold Story, New York, Simon and Schuster, 1978.)

The day the blind senator cried

The word that former Senator Harold Caskey, who sat  less than fifteen feet away from my chair at the Senate press table for many years, had died didn’t reach this scribe until a couple of days later.  I think I was on the Inca Trail above Machu Picchu that day and in a situation where checking e-mail was not a daily thing.

Those of us who covered much of his 28-year career in the Senate have been left with memories of a unique character in Missouri politics.  Hard as nails sometimes—there were some lawmakers who had reason to consider him “mean” sometimes—bitingly funny at times (he once said the most dangerous place to be in the world was between a school superintendent and a dollar bill), and passionate about his bills and about being a Senator.

One night, during debate on the bill lowering the drunk driving blood-alcohol content threshold to .08, he claimed that he was the only member of the Senate with a perfect driving record, a claim that brought laughter to the chamber in a time when some of his colleagues were arguing that Missouri government should not join the national movement to reduce the BAC for drunk driving–because Caskey was legally blind and didn’t drive at all.

There are many memories of Caskey and we’ll recall some of them in what might be a long entry.  But for some reason, the first memory that came to me when I got the news he had died was the day he was reduced to tears.

Because Caskey was legally blind, he always had an aide in the Senate with him who would read him the amendments offered during debate on the bills.  For his last several years, he had permission to have a chair beside his desk for aide Kim Green.   Kim, and Marie Gladbach before him, had filled an important role in Caskey’s work away from the floor as well.  Caskey was one of those few lawmakers who actually knew what was in each bill.  Staff members such as Kim and Marie would read the bills to him in his office and his incredible recall capabilities made him more ready to discuss the issues on the floor than many of the sponsors of legislation.  Caskey could be an intimidating figure because he knew the rules and he knew the legislation so well.

When Peter Kinder became the President pro Tem of the Senate, he dramatically announced that he was going to slash the chamber’s operating expenses.  That meant getting rid of several staff members.  One of those he planned to axe was Kim, Caskey’s aide.  I think my story about that event referred to “taking away a blind senator’s eyes.”

The perceived callousness of that announcement by Democrats (and some of Kinder’s fellow Republicans) provoked instant reactions. Nobody, of course, felt the pain more than Caskey.  His anger, his hurt, his surprise that such a thing would be proposed left him in tears as I interviewed him.  It was a short interview that is still somewhere in the Missourinet archives because Caskey struggled through his emotions to find a few words to respond to Kinder’s plan.

The reaction within the membership of the Senate was so strong that Kinder backtracked on his proposal to let Kim go.

There are other memories that are more pleasant.   One year, a proposal was introduced the let the pizza chain Chuck E. Cheese let children playing the games that were (maybe still are) part of the chain’s attractions for customers win tokens that could be traded for prizes.  Caskey immediately branded the chain “Chuck E. Sleaze,” and accused supporters of the bill of trying to create a “kiddie casino.”

Many of his colleagues recall that Caskey was critical of bureaucrats who sought more state funding, sometimes likening them to the large dinosaurs that were so large they had two brains, a small one in the head and a second one near the tail.  Caskey would note that the tail brain was so far from the dinosaur’s mouth that it would demand more food, and the little brain in the head would respond by eating more.  “The tail would demand more green,” he would say, so the head brain would respond by going “chomp, chomp, chomp” and consuming more green.  Caskey would make hand gestures to dramatize the dinosaur eating, the dinosaur symbolizing a state agency that wanted bigger bites of the state budget.

Caskey did not hesitate to use his position as a committee chairman or his position as a hard-nosed Senator to kill legislation.  It would be a mistake to say he was universally popular, it being more likely to say he was widely respected during his seven terms in the Senate—an indication of the hypocrisy of term limits that forced him out.  Although voters had approved limiting senators to two terms, the voters in his district sent Caskey back to Jefferson City twice after term limits went into effect.

The State  Historical Society has had an oral history project for several years.  Several of those interviews include memories of Caskey’s legislative contemporaries.  Kaye Steinmetz, who served in the House from 1977-1995 said that a lot of people were surprised at how well she and Senator Caskey worked together.  Governor Bond once referred to them as the “dynamic duo” after signing six bills in one day that Steinmetz and Caskey had handled in their respective chambers.  “I guess Harold was Batman and I was Robin,” Steinmetz said.

“He goes about the law making process as if it’s a game,” she told the society interviewer. “He likes the challenge of a fight. He likes to hold a bill up in committee until he gets one out of the committee in the House, just for the sake of fighting. His approach is just different. Lots of times folks would say to me; other legislators would say to me, ‘Why are you having Caskey handle your bill?’ Or, ‘Why are you doing Caskey’s bill?’ But we got along great. Harold and I got along great. Sometimes we’d work together late in his office at night…He was the most amazing man. He‟d take a legal pad in, and I’d go to the Senate when he was debating my bills and watch him. And he’d have in great big letters the bill number. That’s all he’d have. Now he had to have staff people read him the bill. And of course he picked my brain about the legislation, but he did a great job of knowing what that legislation was all about and defeating back the bad amendments. We’d get into it once in a while and go into conference committee and have to have a knock-down, drag-out to get it ironed out the right way. I’d give a little and he’d give a little. But I enjoyed working with Harold Caskey. I have great respect for him.”

Representative Annette Morgan, who served 1981-1997, recalled that she and Caskey started out “like oil and water.”  She said, “It just took us forever to learn to get along with each other. But we did, and became really good friends now, and it was over the (school) finance formula. We sat down and we pretty much talked through our differences, or somehow at least got to know each other well enough to quit fighting, or quit reacting to the other person. Then the battle became so tough to get that through even with Mel Carnahan and a great Speaker, Bob Griffin and his experience, and Jim Mathewson — I mean, we had the cumulative experience of probably over a hundred years of legislative power right there, and couldn’t have done it without that. But we were so embattled getting it through, by the time it was finished that all of us who were on the same side felt a real close bond to each other.”  She was referring to the bill changing the way state money was distributed to public schools, a major proposal in Governor Carnahan’s first year.

Senator Frank Bild, a Republican who was in the House and Senate 1973-1991, called Caskey a “phenomenon.”  He told the society interviewer Caskey had “a brilliant mind, but you got to watch him” because Casekey would begin “consolidating various bills, so that before you know it, you’d have a bill a hundred pages long” that sometimes had extraneous matter included.  Bild recalled, “He had one bill there, and I had an amendment to delete a section of his bill, and he thought that I was taking advantage of him, so I told him, I said, ‘Fine, you go ahead and pass the bill with that particular provision in it, and I think you’ve got two subject matters, and I thought I was doing you a favor. If you don’t want the favor, forget about it.’ So I withdrew my objection. So after consulting — he always had somebody on the side to keep him abreast of what’s going on — came over finally, ‘Frank, I think you’re right. Why don’t you introduce your amendment again?’ And I said, ‘No, I think you ought to introduce it and take it out yourself.’ Which he did do. He’s a very brilliant person.”

When legislation was introduced in 1995 to change the name of Northeast Missouri State University to Truman State University, Caskey opposed it, saying that he felt the name change would hurt a few of his constituents who were proud to have diplomas from Northeast Missouri State University. “To change the name makes them lose their university,” he argued.  He didn’t mention, although most us knew, that one of those constituents was his wife, Kay, an NMSU graduate.  Plus, he and other critics pointed out, the school is in Adair County, a place Truman had visited only once and a county he never carried in any election.  When the name change was approved, Caskey supported a bill letting graduates trade their NMSU diplomas for new ones reading Truman State university.

When Caskey was a new Senator and was renovating his office, workers found a picket door that separated the two rooms.  The door had been opened and then sealed within its pocket at some distant time.  So Caskey had the office remodeled to make that door operable again.  Abut that same time, the W. F. Norman Company of Nevada, which had been a national leader in the manufacture of tin ceilings until the 1930s when they went out of style, gained new owners who discovered the original stamping dies still in the building and decided to start making tin ceiling panels again.  One of the first places they installed their new tin ceiling was in Caskey’s office.

When the Senate considered replacing the historic 1917 desks, it had a couple of samples made of new style desks.  Thankfully, the Senate decided not to make a change.  One of those proposed new desks was in Caskey’s office throughout his career.  The desks now are in Senate staff offices.

Another lasting legacy of Harold and Kay Caskey is “pie day.”  For several years, the Caskeys would bring dozens of pies to the Capitol a few days before legislative adjournment and during one of the lunch breaks, long lines would snake through the Senate hallways of people waiting to get a piece of pie.  Other Senators have continued the tradition.

This has been a long entry because Harold Caskey was such a memorable figure in the Senate and because, to be brutal, there are no Senators in this generation of lawmakers who come close to matching him.  And when we left the Senate press table for the last time, we had the impression that few of today’s lawmakers had aspirations to do so.  But we also understand that nostalgia sometimes clouds contemporary assessments.   It does seem, however, to be a rather widely-held feeling among the diminishing number of people at the capitol who recall him and his generation.

Two of Caskey’s Senate colleagues jointly issued a remembrance a few days after his death.  Roger Wilson was a Senator from Columbia before he became Lieutenant Governor (the President of the Senate) and then Governor on Mel Carnahan’s death.  Jim Mathewson was a Senator from Sedalia and served 28 years in the House and Senate, eight of those years as President pro Tem.  We’ll close with their thoughts:

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As former elected officials now long retired from politics and policymaking, we have no delusions of being remembered forever. The Capitol corridors are full of portraits of men and women who served their terms, made marks of varying distinctions, and departed the building and ultimately, this Earth.   But Missouri State Senator Harold Caskey, who died October 1, deserves more recognition than most because he did more to impact laws and the lives of the people of Missouri. Harold did more by confronting and conquering the major life challenge of being legally blind since childhood due to a genetic condition.   Although he lacked sight, Harold never lacked a personal vision for the potential of Missouri. Blindness instilled in Harold a tenacity which could at times be called stubbornness. This was especially true when it came to educating our children. No legislator better understood the mechanics and complexities of school finance. No legislator was a stronger advocate for rural schools since Harold recognized they are the lifeblood of rural communities.   Harold was a lead sponsor of the Excellence In Education Act, which led to smaller class sizes and set minimum pay for teachers to keep smaller schools competitive in hiring and retaining great educators. He also was a strong backer of Senate Bill 380, which provided the largest infusion of funding for public schools in generations while setting high standards.   Harold’s mind and its workings could be a beautiful process or a fearsome experience. That is because Harold never stood up on the Senate floor with less than total preparedness. He accomplished this with loyal and dedicated staff members who read the text of bills into tape recorders, texts which Harold then memorized late into the night. Senators lived in apprehension of being publicly corrected by Harold, sometimes in regard to their own bills.   Harold was what we call an old-school Missouri Democrat – pro-life, pro-gun, pro-public education and especially pro-people when it came to taking care of constituents. We may not have agreed on all issues, but we would rather have Harold for us than against us. Many times Harold was preceded into the president pro tem’s office by the sound of his heavy cowboy boots stomping on the marble. He would arrive lecturing in the most colorful terms, to which the president pro tem would repeatedly reply, “Harold, I love you!” Eventually Harold would turn back to his office, still lecturing.   He wasn’t all hard-charging negotiator. For example, Harold would ply senators with a vast array of homemade pies from bakeries in his district. He had a quiet personal manner, and as U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill eulogized, he was “secretly a sweet softie.” Nowhere was this quality proven as much as when Harold welcomed to his office and advocated for the blind and people with disabilities.   As Harold would tell you, his secret to success was his adored wife Kay, who gave the taxpayers free service by tirelessly taking care of constituents back home. She was Harold’s eyes and his ears in the district. Our prayers for comfort go out to Kay, Kyle and the family.   Term limits took Harold out of the Senate after 28 years. But the proportional loss of wisdom with his Jefferson City exit was far greater than can be measured by a calendar.   This is our personal remembrance of a colleague from our shared Missouri Senate service, which, for the three of us, totaled some 65 years in the chamber. We mourn the passing of a great man, and a great friend. But Harold Caskey’s life will be remembered as one of service and positive inspiration that will stand for years to come.

 

 

 

It’s in the mail

Suppose you sat down, say fifteen years ago, to write a letter and you didn’t mail it because stuff kept happening that you wanted to tell your friend about.   Suppose the letter got so big that you decided only half of it would fit in an envelope. So you sent that half but you kept getting the second half to the point where you could finally say, “Well, that’s enough for now” and you finally stuffed it into an envelope and dripped it in a street-side box late at night so it wouldn’t stick around and invite you to write more.

Except you will write some more because you know you left out some stuff that you want to put in and eventually you’ll mail the new version of the second half of this long letter.

A friend told me many years ago, “The trouble with historians is they never want to write. They just want to research.”   He had it right. But sooner or later historians have to put all of that research into some kind of narrative so it is meaningful to others. A historian who doesn’t share his story is not a storian. He or she is just a hiss.

Last Thursday night I emailed 703 pages of mostly accurate typing to the University of Missouri Press. It’s called (for now) Statehouse; the Biography of Missouri’s Capitol. It will be a while before anybody but the editors and I see it. It won’t be filled with a lot of color photographs as the Capitol Art book is. Some, but compared to the Capitol Art book, not many. Lots of black and white archival stuff, though.

One of the problems of writing history is that the story changes as you go along.   This book was supposed to be done well before now. But this summer I got to digging around and came up with about three bunches of stuff that completely changed the orientation of the first 175-or so pages.

Remember groaning in high school when we learned that our themes were increased from 100 words to 250?   The new stuff added about fifty pages to the manuscript. And it changed the beginning of the story from starting with the Capitol fire in 1911 to starting with the story of an Illiterate Frenchman living in Spanish southeast Missouri who got a land grant in 1802.

We won’t tell you more. Just start saving your money to buy the story of the capital and the capitol in a couple of years.

Is it a relief to finally send off a manuscript? No. It’s kind of like letting your kid cross the street for the first time. You’ve told the child to look both ways but you know as you watch your loin-fruit step off the curb that there are other things you want to say.

Well, isn’t it exciting when you have the final product in your hands? Yeah, kinda. But gestation periods are also likely to produce feelings of relief as much as anything.

So the offspring has left the nest. But not forever. For a while. And this loft/office won’t become an empty nest when the book is in the stores. There are a couple of other eggs already incubating.