Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Simple Act

It was a cold, rainy, winter day in 1891, and the weather in New York was quite appropriate for the occasion. The occasion was a funeral. The occasion was also the culmination of two great lives intricately intertwined into one great story.

As he stood in the frigid rain, waiting for the funeral procession of his old friend to pass, Joe, now 84 years old, could not help but think back through the years, remembering other funerals and other friends who had already passed ahead; too many, really, to keep track of. He recalled names and tried to put them together with faces that were, for the most part, clouded over by time.

But Bill - the friend who Joe now came to pay his last respects to - was different. Joe would never forget Bill. He could not forget Bill. There was too much respect between the two friends. They had been through so much together.

Joe was in the railroad business. As a matter of fact, the last six years of his life were spent as the federal railroad commissioner. Prior to that, he was an insurance man. But before any of that, Joe was in the army. This is where Joe and Bill met and started their friendship of fifty-plus years. Both had been graduates of West Point. Both men had fought against Santa Anna in the war with Mexico.

Joe continued in the military after the war and eventually became quartermaster general of the U.S. army. Bill resigned from the army in 1853 and worked as a banker and as a lawyer. In 1859, he became superintendent of a military academy in Louisiana. Then came the Civil War. From the first battle of Bull Run to the very end of the war, both Bill and Joe were there. They were there at Bentonville and Vicksburg, New Hope Church, Kennesaw Mountain and Resaca. Even though both men had been wounded during the war, they both believed that it had been the hand of providence that had seen them to the end of the bloodiest war our nation had ever seen. It was a war that had set brother against brother, father against son, and friend against friend.

Oh yes. Did I mention that Joe and Bill were on opposite sides of that war? And not just two soldiers with opposing loyalties and ideologies, but two generals - two commanders of two different armies! You may or may not remember Joe – Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston, Commander of the Army of the Tennessee. But you will most certainly remember Bill. Even today, if you are from the deep south, the mere mention of his name – William Tecumseh Sherman - can get you tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail.

But that was some twenty five years ago, thought Joe, as he watched the procession wind its way down the rainy New York thoroughfare. That's when it happened. For you see, the story is not quite over with yet. That's when it happened. That's when Joe did a simple, but a remarkable thing.

As the carriage baring Sherman's casket approached the spot where Joe stood, Joe removed his hat. It was a simple act of respect and honor for a departed friend and a fallen comrade. A friend, who had accompanied Joe to Sherman's funeral, asked whether it was a wise thing to do considering the rain and the cold. "He would do the same thing for me," was all that Joe replied.

Joe was a survivor. He survived a long and distinguished military career. He survived two wars, including the Civil war – the bloodiest war our country had ever seen with over 620,000 battlefield casualties. He survived most of his old friends and battlefield companions.

But not even Joe was invincible. And it was that simple act of respect and honor that proved more fatal than any bullet or bayonet charge; more lethal than any mortar round or cannon ball. You see, in removing his hat to honor his friend Sherman, Joe caught pneumonia and died ten days later.


Monday, October 26, 2015

The Saddle

The author circa 1965

I always wax poetic this time of year. There is something about the crisp air and the explosion of color from the changing leaves that make me want to pull out my worn copy of Robert Frost. I seem to be more introspective, and that always drives me to poetry. So, you will probably be seeing more of my poems on this blog in the coming weeks. In the next few days, there will also be an essay on why I write poetry. In the mean time, here is another one of my earlier poems. And yes, the picture above is really of me at about age five on Goldie.

The Saddle
By Michael R. Ritt

There is just nothing like a saddle.
Ever notice how every man looks taller when he is sitting in a saddle?
He doesn’t just “look” taller, he “acts” taller.
He acts more like a man.
Put a saddle under a boy and he will grow up right before your eyes.
Sitting in a saddle you can see a lot further than you could otherwise.
You get a clearer vision of where your life is going
And of what really matters.
You also can get a good look into the past.
You can see clearly the purpose of everything
That brought you to that point in your life,
And you know that you are right where you were meant to be,
Doing the thing that you were meant to do.
And you see everything as it is.
And you wish everyone had a saddle of their own.
A saddle is a place of reflection.
It is a place to find out what you are made of.
A place to decide to go forward, to do your best…to be a man.
Some folks go through life without ever sitting in a saddle.
I reckon it is just because they don’t know any better.
As for me…
I have a few more things to ponder.
And for that there is just nothing quite like a saddle. 


Friday, October 23, 2015

The Ballad of Rosie O'Grady

The Ballad of Rosie O'Grady is one of my earlier poems, and was actually inspired by a coworker (no I do not work in an old west style saloon, but that would be pretty cool). The coworker story is one for another day, but it did motivate me to write Rosie O'Grady in about forty minutes. I hope you like it. - MRR

Rosie O'Grady
Was a dance hall lady.
She worked down at the Longbranch Saloon.
And every night
She would make quite a sight,
As she danced and she sang out a tune.

With long hair flowing
(And some ankle showing),
The cowboys would all give a holler.
She'd peddle her wares,
Then she'd take them upstairs.
And it only cost them a dollar!

Late one November,
As best I remember,
The night of the local election,
A cowboy came in
And got loaded on gin
And demanded Rosie's affection.

This cowboy was tough
And got a little rough
And was slapping poor Rosie around.
She thought, "This ain't fun."
Then she grabbed for a gun,
And she fired and the cowboy went down.

The sheriff in town
Hadn't long been around.
They’d just put him in office that day.
He was far too new,
And didn't know what to do.
So he went and locked Rosie away.

Though things had got tense,
It was clear self defense.
No one thought she would stay long in jail.
The town saw its' chance
Now to end Rosie's dance,
So judge Parker refused to set bail.

The day of the trial
Rosie sat with a smile.
The courtroom was standing room only.
And most of the men
Had, a time and again,
Come to Rosie to feel less lonely.

The jury came in
And to Rosie's chagrin,
She saw - and it caused her to worry,
The town had conspired
To have Rosie retired.
There wasn't a man on the jury!

Now Rosie could see,
It was plain as could be,
That her fate had already been sealed.
Without any hope
She would hang from a rope,
And the verdict could not be appealed.

The following day
They took Rosie away
To the gallows the townsmen had built.
And none of the guys
Could look her in the eyes,
Because every man there felt his guilt.

The hypocrites all
Stood and watched Rosie fall,
As the trap door below her was sprung.
And each in his way
Will remember the day
That poor Rosie O'Grady was hung.

The Longbranch was closed
When her sins were exposed,
And her doors were all boarded down tight.
Some folks will confide
They hear singing inside,
When they listen intently at night.

No more do they roam.
The men all now stay home
With their wives, all happy and cozy.
They learned their lesson
And all stopped their messin',
Because of the death of poor Rosie.

It never does pay
If you wander away,
To be with a woman who's shady.
You'll live with regret
If you ever forget
The Ballad of Rosie O'Grady


Thursday, October 22, 2015

Howard's Dream

Thirteen year old Howard had a dream. He wanted to be a lawyer. But not just any lawyer. His father was a lawyer, and a very successful one at that. His grandfather was a lawyer as well. The law was in his blood. But Howard's dream was bigger than either his father or his grandfather had achieved. Howard wanted to be a Justice on the United States Supreme Court, maybe even Chief Justice.

So, in 1870, at the age of thirteen, Howard entered Woodward High School in Cincinnati, Ohio where he was born. The Unitarian faith of his parents and the strong work ethic of his grandfather helped him to apply himself to his studies.
Upon graduation from High School, Howard applied to, and was accepted into, Yale, where he graduated second in his class in 1878. After Yale, Howard studied law at Cincinnati Law School where he earned his degree in 1880 and was admitted to the Ohio bar.

Howard knew that greenhorn lawyers fresh out of law school don't usually get an appointment to the country's highest court. He had to begin somewhere. For Howard, the beginning was in Hamilton County, Ohio, where he served as assistant prosecuting attorney. Then, in 1885, He served as assistant county solicitor.

His next break came in 1887 when Ohio Governor J.B. Foraker appointed him to a vacancy on the Cincinnati Superior Court. The following year, the voters elected Howard to the court for a five year term. However, two years later, Howard resigned when President Benjamin Harrison appointed him Solicitor General of the United States.

As Solicitor General, Howard did an exemplary job, winning 15 out of 18 cases that he argued before the Supreme Court. His desire to be a Supreme Court Justice only intensified during this time, driving him even harder in the pursuit of his dream.

The years ahead brought further advances to his judicial career, in which he did indeed surpass the accomplishments of his father and his grandfather, as well as most of his peers and law school colleagues.

  • 1892 Appointed by President Harrison to the newly formed Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

  • 1896 Appointed Dean of the University of Cincinnati Law School.

  • 1913 Professor of constitutional law at Yale University.

  • 1913 President of the American Bar Association.

Finally, in 1921, his greatest ambition - his lifelong dream was realized. President Warren G. Harding appointed Howard to the Supreme Court of the United States. And not only a Justice, but the Chief Justice of the Court. As Chief Justice, Howard brought about reform in the Court, helping congress to pass the Judiciary Act of 1925 which brought about greater efficiency in the way the court functions. He is also largely responsible for getting congressional approval for a new court building (our present Supreme Court Building).

Bad health forced Howard to retire in February of 1930. Thirty three days later, Howard died.

Henry David Thoreau said that "most men lead lives of quiet desperation." This was not true of Howard. He lived his life doing what he loved best, and accomplished what a great many men never get to accomplish - a life long dream. He spoke of his appointment as Chief Justice as "the greatest honor of my life". Quite a note of praise considering all of his accomplishments.

If there was anything in his career that was less than fulfilling to him, it was only a momentary diversion - a short period between 1909 and 1913 that Howard described as the loneliest job he had ever had. A job he never really wanted and was glad to be rid of. The four years that he served his country - as it's 27th President. William Howard Taft.