The tooth is in the telling

“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For in Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”  Benjamin Franklin, January 1784
Wild Turkey on Thanksgiving

A preening turkey is an excellent symbol of this country's devotion to celebration of Thanksgiving.

Ben despised the selection of the bald eagle as the symbol of our new United Colonies.  He would be entirely in favor of any holiday that takes as its symbol this preening native of our woodland habitats.  It is Thanksgiving and this posting is delivered with all good wishes of the season.  May the day be filled with joyous reunion of family and hearty repast of the seasonal bounty. 
It makes me think of many dinners past that were neither hearty or healthy.  I love the opportunity that we have today to enjoy the safety and security of home with such a lofty standard of healthy environment.
Dentistry and pain go together in 18th century society.

I have never understood why the Olde Days are thought of as goode or romantic or quiete or simple or especially happy.  I do not pine for the lack of internal domestic plumbing or external personal sanitation. 

Give me a warm bath, flush toilet, Franklin’s electricity, and most importantly:  a mechanical toothbrush with dental floss.  These modern conveniences are the most welcome addition to my Thanksgiving dinner!

Dental hygiene is the single greatest addition to quality of life that I have lived to appreciate.  In any crowd of people during the bloom of my youth, 80% would have had impaired and imperfect teeth.  You have to have lived it to appreciate the appalling visual presentation of gap-smiled, puffed-cheeked, red-gummed, and pusty-sored orifices that would have greeted you.

Many of you probably have heard the stories related to George Washington’s teeth.  They are all mostly rumor and innuendo.  They are tall tales manufactured of threads and half-truths.  He had several sets of dentures.  None of them were made of wood.  One of them was even sculpted of Hippopotamus ivory carved to fit the curve of his gums.  That set was manufactured by Dr. John Greenwood.

Dr. John was an artist and proud of his scientific craft.  He practiced in the nascent industry of orthodonture.  His teeth were mouths full of animal ivory, human teeth, springs, rivets, gold,  and metal rods.  Is it any wonder that none of Washington’s portraits show him smiling?  Whether he was in pain, padded with cotton wadding, upset over the mounting dental bills, or simply embarrassed, Washington never willingly showed his teeth or lack thereof.  He had only one original tooth in his entire head. 

Gilbert Stuart Portrait

George Washington is always viewed very close-mouthed. Many supposed that was because he was boring, or secretive, or prudent.

We are spoiled in this country.  I now have a personal dental hygienist.  Her name is Jenna McKenna.  She is a bonnie lass who has difficulty understanding the man she attends in the chair.  I am especially hard to hear with my mouth full of all the tools and torture devices of her trade.  She laughs to humor me when I ask questions about my confusion over subjects that would be common place for a man of this day and time.  I believe she thinks that I am funny when in point of fact I am an aberration, an eccentricity, a folly. 
Maintaining 300 year old teeth has become one of my prime directives.  I must care for them or risk loosing them!  Flossing has always been an issue.  We used to use dried reeds.  And toothpicks were an ever-present part of a traveling cosmetic set.  Today I struggle mightily with the additional technology of vibrating toothbrushes, fluoride additives, aisles-ful of oral washes, powders, pastes and irradiation from x-rays.    It is all very twenty-first century.
So when I sit down to this year’s Thanksgiving dinner, I will take it in full measure of health and well-being.  I will chew strongly and without pain.  It is a pleasure to wish that you all experience the same.
Happy Thanksgiving!

The line forms at the left

Even still today, people are forced to wait in anticipation of visiting the dentist in his lair. Although pain is not at the forefront of one's mind, a person would do well to care for his teeth rather than deal with the alternative.

How very far we’ve come.

Observing the political process

“When I speak of a knowing farmer, I mean one who understands the best course of crops; how to plough, to sow, to mow, to hedge, to Ditch and above all, Midas like, one who can convert everything he touches into manure, as the first transmutation towards Gold; in a word one who can bring worn out and gullied lands into good tilth in the shortest time.”     George Washington (Letter to George William Fairfax, June 30, 1785)

Washington at Mt Vernon

First and foremost, George Washington thought of himself as a farmer. He was a man after my own calling. He was a man of the earth.

Would you ever hear a politician in today’s political race actually praise the man who could turn everything he touches in a pile of dung?  Is there no humor left in the world?  Would today’s smooth and silky legal hack turn a phrase that revolved around crap that could improve the world?  Would anyone hear the difference?

It is at this time of year that everyone is focused on the news related to the changing fortunes of our nation’s politicians.  The founding fathers never realized what a shambles our now informed, egalitarian and enlightened electorate could make of the democratic selection process.

We are called upon to exercise our right and cast a ballot for the person we recognize as best qualified for the posting.  But with all of the noise and chatter about this candidate’s faults and that candidate’s peccadilloes it is impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff.

That is a farmer’s way to describe separating the good from the bad.  It occurs to me that a large percentage of the original Congress were farmers.  They would have understood such things as preservation of seed corn, rotation of crops, nourishment and replenishment of the soils.  They also would have understood that war was bad for stability in the marketplace and that it dramatically reduces the efficiency of the harvest.

“That government is best which governs least, because its people discipline themselves. If we are directed from Washington when to sow and when to reap, we will soon want for bread.”  

Thomas Jefferson:  Autobiography 1821

Thomas Jefferson, Gentleman Farmer

T. Jefferson made many connections between farming his land and running the American confederation of states. It was largely to him that we owe today's concept of political parties.

At this moment, in this country, there are many who want for bread.  They want for honest employment.  They want for security and a sense of place in the world.

I always hesitate to quote Thomas Jefferson because of my ambivalence to his style of living and mode of paying his life forward.  In life, he was a wastrel.  In his presidency he was profligate.  He purchased Louisiana–effectively doubling the size of these united states!  What an egoist!

He was, in short, the perfect politician.  

But he was also a farmer.  He trialed a vast selection of new plant materials.  He developed a model of kitchen gardening that is still the envy of designers and food producers yet today.  He knew the value of composting.  He understood that the planting of tobacco was a crime against nature.  He husbanded the earth in a most responsible and respectable way.

As far as a connection is to be made between governance and agriculture, Benjamin Franklin described it best.  His thoughts always strike me with their sense and practicality.  His is generally the shortest distance between the problem and profitability.

“Finally, there seem to be but three Ways for a Nation to acquire Wealth. The first is by War as the Romans did in plundering their conquered Neighbours.  This is Robbery.  The second by Commerce which is generally Cheating.  The third by Agriculture the only honest Way; wherein Man receives a real Increase of the Seed thrown into the Ground, in a kind of continual Miracle wrought by the Hand of God in his favour, as a Reward for his innocent Life, and virtuous Industry.”  

Benjamin Franklin:  Positions To Be Examined, April 4, 1769

Benjamin Franklin at thought

Benjamin Franklin imagines himself the most sagacious of the founding fathers.

With the election results hanging in the balance on this most electoral of nights, Franklin would be found sitting in a tavern welcoming the world with toasts and treatises.  He would pontificate about the state of the world.  He would argue and lecture and laugh.  We don’t laugh enough–at ourselves and at what we’ve made of our curses and causes.

Franklin wouldn’t shy from confronting the big issues that swirl around our notion of propriety.  He would comment on our lack of sobriety.  He would eschew our morality. But he would also confound us with the easy solution to our many perceived difficulties.  Get over and get on.  Move through and pass by.  Be aware and conscious of the threats but strive for improvement.

It was never easy to lead a profitable life.  It was never a foregone conclusion that we would be successful.  But we were and are.

 So it will continue.  If we work towards that commonality:  Agriculture.  Dirt under the fingernails.  Sweat on the brow.  Ownership and responsibility.  We tillers and toilers of the earth will one day be recognized for the strength that we possess.