For those of you who are faithful to this column, you will, no doubt, recall that last year I made brand-new resolutions. I tossed out the old ones that I had failed at repeatedly and trudged ahead to new ones, optimistically believing that success was mine for the taking.
Let me just update you on a couple of those.
You remember, I’m sure, that in our home, the Civil War still looms large since our people were on opposing sides. Tink’s great-great grandfather, Charlie Tinker, served in the auspices of the White House telegraph office while my ancestors packed up their tattered, threadbare jackets, grabbed their hunting rifles and headed out to the battlefields to starve and nearly freeze to death.
Audaciously, I declared that in 2013 there would be a new day of reckoning and that there would be more respect paid in our home for that great and mighty warrior Robert E. Lee. It was my intent to raise General Lee to the lofty wartime status of Charlie Tinker. At least, in our home.
Here’s how that worked:
I don’t recall that General Lee was mentioned any more than just in passing and when his birthday of Jan. 19 rolled around, Tink expressed no reverence whatsoever. Charlie Tinker, on the other hand, became a bigger hero, made so inadvertently by my own efforts.
A series of articles I wrote, taking excerpts from Charlie’s hand-written diaries that we possess, made him something of a modern day rock star. Due to Charlie’s friendship with President Lincoln and the views of that friendship he expressed in his diaries, one Lincoln historian wrote to say that Charlie Tinker’s diaries marked the first time in more than 100 years that we had heard from anyone who personally knew the 16th president.
Then, historians of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood cemetery, where Charlie and his family are interred, ran across the articles so they plunged into further revealing research, telling us that Charlie had testified at the impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson, a Southerner. Don’t get me started on that.
Three other things happened when Green-Wood discovered Charlie Tinker through my stories:
1) When a volunteer group was looking for a historic gravesite to restore, Charlie’s family site was chosen
2) The New York Times discovered Charlie and wrote an article on “Lincoln’s favorite telegrapher”
3) Green-Wood’s Jeff Richman invited me to New York to speak on Charlie Tinker.
Are you getting a good sense of how my New Year’s resolution went?
Tink, of course, was excited. “Baby,” he exclaimed happily, “you made Charlie famous.”
By that time, the sound of General Lee’s name was a rapidly diminishing whisper. I shook my head and rolled my eyes comically.
“Imagine that. It took this Confederate to make a hero out of that Yankee.”
“Remarkable,” said my father-in-law when we told him of Charlie’s growing legacy. Then, we three launched into a discussion of what possibly could have happened to the $2 million that Charlie claimed in his diaries to have profited through an investment with famed financier Jay Gould in a company called American Telephone and Telegraph. We don’t know the answer to that one yet, but since Charlie continues to speak from beyond his grave, I think we’ll probably know one day.
Like General Lee’s Southern armies, I have been beaten back but I have not retreated nor surrendered. I still believe I can rise from the ashes to taste victory in that resolution.
My audacity also led me to proclaim that my adorable husband would learn how to use a check register in 2013 and become responsible for his own record keeping. That resolution, too, flashed and burned when I picked up his checkbook and discovered that debits, deposits and balances were all in the same column.
“You told me to write everything down and I did,” he explained.
Obviously, Tink inherited Charlie’s money-recording skills. Or lack of.