Sometimes it takes a gimmick to get across a simple message. My sideways slide into inviting more adults to create peacemaking postcards for Oprah's 1,000,000 project was particularly delightful fun on May 15.
For years I have studied the life of Eleanor Roosevelt, a relative of mine. Quite distant...but nevertheless, an inspiring woman to claim! Former students researched such heroes as the U.S. Peace Nobels in more recent years and other famous people ranging from Attila the Hun and Malcolm X to Marie Antoinette previously. Because they wanted me to suffer with them, I was long ago challenged(coerced) to join the kids by studying and "becoming" someone also. I agreed to give a first-person speech in costume just as they had been directed to do. It was a hit the first year; many kids didn't recognize me as I talked in an assembly.
From that first performance, I have collected scads of books written by Eleanor, her friends and family, scholars and even her official biographer, Joseph Lash. I keep adding more facts to my routine and deleting others. In April, I almost attacked a lovely older lady at the annual library book sale because I noticed at the check stand that she had bought a book of Eleanor's letters. On the way out of the Convention Center, I followed her mentioning casually that she had a book I wanted. She said I could have it if I really wanted it. I should have just paid her the $1.50 and smiled, but I was effusive in my thanks. I rattled on and on that I was thrilled because I became Eleanor.
I've enjoyed speaking at a couple of conventions...Delta Kappa Gamma and the State Garden Club as Mrs. Roosevelt, so taking the peace quilt to an A.A.U.W. Spring Luncheon seemed an appropriate venue. It was pure enjoyment to dust off Mrs. Roosevelt's clothes and reread portions about her life from my constantly growing library.
For example, I was reminded for this speaking occasion that although she was First Lady of the U.S. for 13 years, her work with peace after Franklin's death was more important than any other of her myriad of progressive causes or pleasurable activities in her lifetime. Her efforts brought yet another title: "First Lady of the World." 68-year-old Mrs. R. tirelessly led an 18-member committee of world delegates in the United Nations to draft the International Universal Humanitarian Bill of Rights in 1948. Truman had asked her to represent the U.S. at the very beginnings of this newly forming institution, and as an outcome, on December 10 at 3:00 A.M. the General Assembly voted for the adoption of the document that supports the basic rights of every single human being on earth. Basic freedoms of speech, health care, clean water, education, etc. were spelled out and supported by small and large nations together. All stood to salute the lady of peace who spent 14-16 hour days negotiating and wording "visions of peace" and who had urged others to work as hard also in expressing theirs. During that wee hour in the day, the nation's delegates stood in mass to honor her. Everyone. The only time any delegate before or since has received a standing ovation.
What a treat it was take the peace quilt to its 42nd stop in Lake Oswego, Oregon. I chuckled at being greeted by the chef of the Country Club in a golf cart as my friend Betty Barber and I trudged up the steep driveway. We had parked across the highway because the lot was full. We probably looked pathetic. I had already dropped most of Eleanor's "costume" in the middle of the road, and we had been laughing uproariously to see my feathered blue hat, rayon red dress, fur, navy long gloves and large black plastic glasses tumble to the ground out of a large hatbox. It seemed rather ironic for the cheerful man in the poofy chef's hat to suddenly appear. He offered to deliver my Eleanor in a large Nordstrom's hat box straight to the luncheon's dining room. Betty and I continued trudging behind on foot arriving later. But when we did find the room and walked down the staircase, the program chairman proclaimed, "Eleanor has arrived, everyone!"
The American Association of University Women welcomed Eleanor's message, a first person account of her life from beginning to end. It was gratifying to receive a standing ovation after Eleanor talked for an hour. She ended with her powerful support for the traveling peace quilt and the visions of peace that children had written. She read a few post card visions attached to the quilt and marveled how kids inspire adults to make a difference. Blank cards were passed out for the women to fill out also, of course.
At 126 years old(she really died at 78,) the imaginary Mrs. R.'s advice was timeless. "Get involved. Get busy. You must do the thing you think you cannot do...for it isn't enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn't enough to believe in it. One must work at it." You, go, Eleanor!
Postscript musings: Truthfully, if Eleanor had been alive when this project first began, she would have been a better choice than Oprah for the receiver of the 1,000,000 visions of peace. I believe that she would have noticed the cards and responded with action of some sort. She was somewhat of a media star herself--had a radio program and a television program for awhile where she interviewed Einstein and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor as a couple of her famous guests. She even made a commercial for Good Luck Margarine for the fun of it. Plus, some of her happiest moments were when she was teaching at Todhunter Private School in N.Y.C. and when she entertained children with hot dog picnics at Val-kill, her stone cottage on the Hyde Park Estate in New York. She would have listened to the children's visions.