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EP283: What's It Like to Have Possum for Supper?, A Eulogy for Richard Houston and Ulysses S. Grant's Greatest Battle

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
April 28, 2022 3:05 am

EP283: What's It Like to Have Possum for Supper?, A Eulogy for Richard Houston and Ulysses S. Grant's Greatest Battle

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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April 28, 2022 3:05 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, Joy Neal Kidney, our regular contributor and recipient of our 'Great American Storyteller Award' tells the story of what her family ate during the Great Depression years. Mesquite Police Officer Richard Houston is eulogized by Police Chief David Gill and his daughter, Shelby. Christopher Klein tells the story of the former president and Civil War hero, Ulysses S. Grant, and how he raced to complete a literary masterpiece that saved his wife from destitution with the aid of Mark Twain.

Support the show (https://www.ouramericanstories.com/donate)

 

Time Codes: 

00:00 - What's It Like to Have Possum for Supper?

10:00 - A Eulogy for Richard Houston

33:00 - Ulysses S. Grant's Greatest Battle

See omnystudio.com/listener for privacy information.

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Toes, you've hit the jackpot of comfy. Hey Dude, good to go to. This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories, the show where America is the star and the American people. Up next, a story from our regular contributor out of Iowa, a listener, Joy Neal Kidney, and she listens on WHO in Des Moines, a great I heart station. Joy is the author of Leora's Dexter letters, the scarcity years of the Great Depression. And today she shares the story of a unique meal her family ate during those tough financial times.

Take it away, Joy. When I heard about someone having to eat raccoon or possum, I thought of poor folks in the deep south. Dad wasn't a hunter. And having grown up on an Iowa hog and cattle farm, I couldn't imagine having any kind of wild meat instead of good old pork and beef. But from old family letters, I learned that both raccoon and possum showed up on the table of my mother's family during the Great Depression.

Some family members reported enjoying them. Claib and Leora Wilson had seven children, five sons and two daughters. Claib taught his sons to trap and hunt. Pelts could be sent to Sears Roebuck and Company in exchange for food and clothing.

Claib insisted that his boys wait until they were 12 and could demonstrate safe handling of a gun before he was allowed to carry one to go hunting and no animal was to be killed just for sport. Squirrel and rabbit were their main sources of protein during those days. The saying was that Leora would cook anything the hunters brought her as long as they were already skinned, cleaned and ready for the skillet or the roasting pan. Claib taught the boys how to do that and to stretch pelts to cure. During the hard weeks of winter, Claib hung carcasses on the porch where they'd freeze until they were needed. Dinner and supper also included fruits and vegetables from their big garden, fresh during growing season.

Leora canned hundreds of glass mason jars filled with produce, anything she could put up for winter. Because of the Depression, Claib had no steady job. The two oldest Wilson brothers, Delbert and Donald, graduated from Dexter High School in 1933. No jobs for them either. The roommate had joined the Navy and was happy having a full belly, days filled with activities and an income.

Leora said that the boys, with not enough to do, would probably get into trouble. So she and Claib okayed the plan, only asking them not to get tattoos. The boys in the Navy were so good to write home. Young siblings followed their world travels on a map. Their mother saved all those family letters. What a joy for me to read through and transcribe them decades later. One was from Leora on her 45th birthday, dated December 4, 1935. My, what a wonderful present from my Navy boys.

Thanks a lot, boys. They had sent a card and some candy. We had roast coon two years ago today, remember?

Leora went on. That would have been just before Delbert and Donald enlisted in the Navy. You caught the last one on December 3rd and the folks, that would be her mother and brothers from Omaha, came and surprised me. But the next day was the fourth and we had that nice fat coon. Their next brother, Dale, age 14, wrote about a football banquet and added, today we had possum and sweet taters. Boy, it was sure good.

Dale's twin Darlene enclosed her letter in the same envelope. The sun is shining beautifully this morning, she wrote. Dad and the boys are out trapping this morning, so mom and us girls clean house and get dinner ready for the hungry hunters when they come. They come in with two possum yesterday. And today we're going to have a possum and sweet taters. Yum, yum. She chatted about her twin playing football, older sister Doris playing basketball, younger brother Danny being old enough to hunt with their dad. Well, I'll write more after having a piece of good old opossum with the fumes just oozing out and some gravy and some sweet potatoes. Opossum were good for something else than food. Clay wrote just before Christmas that he'd shipped eight skunks and five opossum to Sears in trade for goods from the mail order catalog.

Two years later, in November 1937, Delbert wrote home from the USS Chicago. You boys coming home with all that game makes me sort of homesick. I thought for a while you boys weren't going to take to hunting and trapping so well. But it looks as if you boys will break Don's and my records. Go tour, boys.

It's good outdoor exercise and a lot of fun. Sure like to sink my fangs into some coon meat for a change. In spite of Dale's and Darlene's comments about how good opossum and sweet taters were and even Delbert's memories of coon meat, I'd have to be desperate as they were during the Depression to try any. Just in case you want to try roast coon or opossum with the fumes oozing out, you can find recipes for both of these these days on the Internet.

And great job as always by Monty Montgomery on the production and a special thanks to Joy Neal Kidney, a fan of the show and also one of our best contributors. Possum, raccoon and rabbit all showed up at the family dinner table during the Great Depression years. The kids, they all knew how to trap and hunt and mom, well, she'd cook anything that was shaved and clean. Dinner and supper included food from the garden.

They canned any and everything. The story of Joy Neal Kidney and her family during the Great Depression, their food regimen here on Our American Stories. Lee Habib here, the host of Our American Stories. Every day on this show, we're bringing inspiring stories from across this great country. Stories from our big cities and small towns.

But we truly can't do the show without you. Our stories are free to listen to, but they're not free to make. If you love what you hear, go to our American stories dot com and click the donate button. Give a little, give a lot.

Go to our American stories dot com and give. Soon millions will make Medicare coverage decisions for next year. And UnitedHealthcare can help you feel confident about your choices. For those eligible, Medicare annual enrollment runs from October 15th through December 7th. If you're working past age 65, you might be able to delay Medicare enrollment depending on your employer coverage.

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And I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

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Purchase All-Free Clear Mega Packs today and conquer any laundry load for all fabric types. And we continue with our American stories and up next, a final thought segment. And that's where we share eulogies of the famous and not so famous. And today we share the eulogies of Officer Richard Houston, a 21-year veteran of the Mesquite Police Department.

And Mesquite is a suburb just outside of Dallas, Texas. Officer Houston responded recently to a domestic disturbance call in a parking lot outside of an Albertsons grocery store. When he arrived, a married couple was fighting over an alleged affair. When Officer Houston tried to calm the situation, as he'd done many times before, the married man shot Houston in the chest and then shot himself in the head. Officer Houston died. His assailant survived. The first eulogy we'll share is from Mesquite Chief of Police David Gill, a colleague and a friend. One thing that always struck me about Richard was he was an all-in kind of person. He didn't do anything halfway.

He was always all the way in. And so we'll see that as we go further into talking about Richard. Richard always wanted to be a police officer, but most Richard always wanted to be a Mesquite police officer. His father was a Mesquite police officer, and his drive, he told me he never wanted to be a police officer anywhere else. I kind of went down like a rabbit trail at one point looking through his personnel file.

And one of the things that struck me, when you get to that page in the deal, it says, where else have you applied? And Richard wrote none. There was no other place.

There was no backup plan. It was Mesquite. That is what I wanted.

I also found this quote from Richard in the paper. It said, my dad was a Mesquite police officer. Where other kids idolized Batman and Superman, my dad was always my hero. I wanted to be just like him. I didn't want to be just a police officer.

I wanted to work in Mesquite. And being the all-in guy that he was, he went to BCAPS 157 and was named valedictorian because he had to do the best. He had to put his all into being a police officer.

I just want to take a moment to read a couple of the things that I got out of his personnel file. On January 31, 2017, at 2345, Officer Houston responded to a person with a gun. He observed the suspect vehicle leaving the scene and initiated a traffic stop.

The vehicle came to a stop and the suspect immediately exited his vehicle. Officer Houston observed a pistol in the suspect's waistband. The male refused verbal commands and reached for the pistol and told Officer Houston to kill him multiple times. Officer Houston was able to convince the suspect to surrender.

This is comments by a sergeant. After watching Officer Houston's body camera video, I feel that many officers in the same set of circumstances would have fired their pistols at the male as he reached towards the pistol's waistband. The veteran instincts and decisive actions of Officer Houston during this incident prevented the loss of the suspect's life.

Officer Houston deserves recognition for his heroic response. The next one is a chase. In Houston, Richard wasn't really that involved in the first part of the chase, but basically we get in chase with a stolen vehicle and it drives the wrong way on the highway, and so we have to drop off.

In DPS 101, the helicopter is flying over, so they kind of keep it in sight and keep watch on it. And then we pick it up again, and then it drives the wrong way on the highway, and we lose it again. And then he drives to his house, and the helicopter just watches him go into the house. I don't know what his plan was at that point, but that's when Richard got there. And then, you know, we're going to go in and we're going to get this guy. And they search the house, and then they find him.

He has locked himself in the bedroom. And this is the narrative from that point. It says, for 45 minutes, Officer Houston conversed with the suspect through the locked door. Other occupants advised the suspect was armed and would not surrender to police.

Officer Houston was able to gain the suspect's trust enough to exit the room and be taken into custody without incident. And the final one I want to talk about is the incident he received the certificate of merit for. He actually also received a certificate of excellence from the Garland Police Department.

The event happened on October 14, 2020. I was actually on scene when this happened. I had been in a meeting, and Garland had gotten in chase with a stolen vehicle again. I was taken into robbery, and the vehicle went the wrong way on 635. And so officers had to drop off of it, but the helicopter was overhead and kept watch on it. And when they got into Mesquite, they bailed out of their vehicle, and they ran into an apartment complex.

One suspect was taken into custody immediately. Another attempted to carjack a vehicle, but couldn't figure out the push-button start to get the vehicle going. And so he ended up abandoning the vehicle and running across the field.

And going into a drainage ditch, like a storm drain, a pretty tall one, big enough to stand in. He runs into it, and so we're kind of flooding that neighborhood, trying to make sure he doesn't come out, trying to see. And he stayed right there by the entrance, and that's where Richard found him. And Richard began communicating with him, called for a shield so that he could move into a position where he didn't have to yell to him. And Richard began talking to him, and told him what his name was, you know, said, I'm Richard, what's your name? Got his name, started talking to him, started talking to him about the suspect's family, then started talking about his family. He ended up getting the guy to start talking, and ultimately told him, you know, we just want to resolve this peacefully.

We want you to come out. During the foot chase, when the guy was running away, he had fired rounds at the helicopter. And the guy told Richard, like, I know you're going to shoot me when I come out, because I shot at the helicopter.

Richard assured him that nobody wanted to hurt him, that everybody was committed to a peaceful resolution. Ultimately, the guy put down his gun and came out. And for that, he was commended by both Mesquite and Garland. He did a fantastic job that day. The other part of his work that I want to talk about is SWAT. And SWAT is really where I got to know Richard. We worked together a little bit in patrol, but SWAT is really where I got to know him. And I think SWAT was just a natural thing for Richard to do.

Again, it's his all-in attitude. It's, you know, being a police officer is good, then I want to take it to the next level. And I want to be on the SWAT team. And then once he joined the SWAT team, he joined the sniper unit. And I was over the sniper unit, so I got to work with him directly and supervise him. And he was a pain to supervise, I'm not going to lie to you. Not because he was headstrong. I mean, he was headstrong, like, we all know that. And not because he was opinionated, but he certainly was.

And not because he was incredibly sarcastic. But he was that, too. Now, what made it hard to supervise him on the sniper unit was his capabilities. I had James Ferguson and Richard Houston, and they were phenomenal.

So trying to come up with a training program that would challenge two guys that were better than me was nearly impossible. He loved guns, he loved camping, and camping was kind of a, like, I don't consider camping in an RV to be camping. Like, Richard doesn't consider camping an attempt to be camping. Like, he's, like, I have a tarp and a blanket, and, like, I'm not going to start fire with a match.

Like, that would be crazy. I'm going to start a fire with my knife and this rock. I saw him start a fire one time in just seconds in the watch commander's office with just his knife and a rock. Like, Richard did a lot of neat things, and he was a man who was just filled with passions, and he was always all in. But the last two things I want to talk about, I want to start with family. He loved y'all. Shelly, I know he loved you.

I know he loved you because he told me, but it wasn't what he said, it was how he said it. It was the gleam that he got in his eye every time he talked about you. He absolutely adored you. He loved everything about being married to you. He had that spark in his eye even when he was telling me about how he wanted to buy a $2800 gun, and he knew you would say no. He still loved you during those times. And then to his kids, he spoke about you all the time. Every time I ever talked to him, y'all came up.

He always, he loved and cherished every moment that he spent with you. I got the opportunity to teach a Bible study with Richard at the police department, and so we've had a lot of conversations about God and about faith. We've talked about this event right here at times. You know, as a police officer, you can't get away from the dangers that are here, and Richard was courageous because of his faith. I know one day my eyes will close on this world, and they will open in glory, and I know I will see Richard again. And he will be, I'm sure, easy to pick out because he will have crafted his white robe into a tactical kilt.

Just Google it later. I would not know what that is except for Richard Houston. And he will have that spark in his eye as he sees it coming. Richard was a great friend. He was a great man. He was a great officer. I cherish the 20 years that I got to know Richard. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to speak. You've just been listening to Mesquite Chief of Police David Gill.

When we come back, Houston's daughter, Shelby, with her eulogy, here on Our American Stories. Soon millions will make Medicare coverage decisions for next year, and UnitedHealthcare can help you feel confident about your choices. For those eligible, Medicare annual enrollment runs from October 15th through December 7th. If you're working past age 65, you might be able to delay Medicare enrollment depending on your employer coverage.

It can seem confusing, but it doesn't have to be. Visit UHCmedicarehealthplans.com to learn more. UnitedHealthcare, helping people live healthier lives. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop, but for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot, and I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

Call your local State Farm agent for a quote today. Doing household chores can already be time consuming and tedious, and there's nothing more daunting than facing piles and piles of laundry that need to be done. I mean, that can be overwhelming for anyone. So, if you want to get those larger laundry loads done right and get back to your life, try All-Free Clear Mega Packs. All-Free Clear Mega Packs are bigger packs with two times the cleaning ingredients compared to a regular pack so that you can tackle any laundry load without the worry. All-Free Clear Mega Packs are also 100% free of perfumes and dyes and they're gentle on skin, which is great for any family's sensitive skin needs. Which my family, we definitely have sensitive skin. So, the next time the whole family gets home from long vacation or you get the kids back from summer camp or whatever the situation is that's caused this big pile of dirty clothes, just know that All-Free Clear Mega Packs, they have your back.

Purchase All-Free Clear Mega Packs today and conquer any laundry load for all fabric types. And we continue with our American stories and our final thoughts segment today honoring and celebrating a fallen officer, Officer Richard Houston, a 21-year veteran of the Mesquite Police Department. Up next, here is his 18-year-old daughter, his oldest child, Shelby. And I knew this day would come at some point in my life. However, I didn't think it would come so soon. And there's so much I want to say about my dad, but I would have to stand up here forever to do that. I've tried to find all the perfect words and to formulate all the right thoughts for this. But as I got up to preach last Wednesday for the first time ever, my dad sent me this text.

He said, sometimes it feels overwhelming, but I'm here to tell you everything will be okay. You got this. Remember that no matter what, me and your mom got your back. Always and forever. Have fun tonight. Speak from your heart and don't look back. You will do great. I know you will, no doubt.

I love you. I don't think he knew that this text would actually mean more than just another Wednesday night for me. It would actually be the text that would send me into speaking at his funeral a few days later. I know many of you knew my father as an officer. You may have seen him in his uniform with a badge and a squad car. But I saw my dad in a different fashion. Always in his plaid pajama pants, book in hand, in his silver Ford F-150. Home has felt lonely without him here. I keep waiting for him to pull up in the driveway to come inside and tell us about some crazy car chase he got into.

Or maybe even how terrible the 7-Eleven taquitos were for lunch. You never knew it was always a surprise what he had gotten into that day. However, there was no heavier surprise than to receive a call that your dad had been shot and killed.

It will be a day I never forget. I remember having conversations with my dad about him losing friends and officers in the line of duty. I have heard all the stories you can think of, but I've always had such a hard time with how the suspect is dealt with. Not that I didn't think there should be justice served, but my heart always ached for those who don't know Jesus.

Their actions being a reflection of that. I was always told that I would feel differently if it happened to me, but as it's happened to my own father, I think I still feel the same. There has been anger, sadness, grief, and confusion, and part of me wishes I could despise the man who did this to my father.

But I can't get any part of my heart to hate him. All that I can find is myself hoping and praying for this man to truly know Jesus. I thought this might change if the man continued to live, but when I heard the news that he was in stable condition, part of me was relieved. My prayer is that someday down the road, I'd get to spend some time with the man who shot my father, not to scream at him, not to yell at him, not to scold him, simply to tell him about Jesus. I've spent the past few days thinking about what it was like for my daddy to lay lifeless in the flesh, but full of life with our father in heaven. I wonder what it was like to reunite with his father, to see his other officers who fell in the line of duty, but mostly to sit at the right hand of Jesus.

I can imagine it's a much better place than here. There are plenty of stories of his time spent as an officer, but there was another side of him that I had the privilege of knowing as my dad. He was goofy, incredibly too sarcastic.

There was always a joke up his sleeve. There was never a volleyball, baseball, or football game he was going to miss, never a band competition he'd miss either, not for me or my siblings. He was our biggest fan on and off the court and field. He encouraged me, pushed me, and supported every decision I made. There are many days whenever I was a baby, like Doug said, he'd take me to the shooting range to train with other officers, and a few of them, like Doug, would watch me while he went to qualify. I'll never forget when I was younger, he would drop anything for me. Quite literally, on one of those days, he'd physically drop me as he got me out of the car. I'll never let him move that down, and he sobbed like a baby when he did.

All jokes aside, he really has dropped anything and everything for us. If I wanted to dress up as Dorothy from Wizard of Oz for my fourth birthday, I wasn't doing it alone. He'd put all the face makeup on, make the costume, just to dress up as the scarecrow alongside me. That's always been his heart, and we would always be the highest priority. I'm resting in the obedience of my dad to the Lord. In Isaiah 6-8, it says, Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? And I said, Here I am.

Send me. And I don't ever think my father knew that his yes to the Lord would ever end up being like this. But as I look out to you all today, this is just a picture of the faithfulness of Jesus. I know my dad is looking down today with the biggest smile on his face in the arms of Jesus.

I know as he entered the gates of heaven, he was greeted with, Well done, good and faithful servant. What a moment that was. The days, weeks, months, and years ahead will surely be hard, but at the same time so sweet, knowing I'm one second, one minute, one hour closer to being with him again. There was still a lot of life I was looking forward to spending with him.

Eighteen years with you, Daddy, was just not enough time. You were faithful, steadfast, kind, loving, selfless, and hardworking. On December 3rd, you were silenced, but you will forever live on in my heart today and all the days to come. I'd do anything in the world to see you again, to laugh with you again, to watch your terrible dance moves, to listen to another joke, to practice volleyball with you, to watch birds with you again, to catch one more fish, to wrestle one more time, to hug you again, to hear your voice at last. In my deepest wound, I saw the glory of Jesus, and it has astounded me. You're my hero, Daddy, and I'm so proud to call you my father.

I love you most, and I'll see you someday soon. What beautiful words, what poise, and what a life lived. Houston received many commendations in his 21 years on the job serving and protecting his community.

Forty-eight, to be accurate. He also had two life-saving awards in his career. There were also multiple incidents where he was able to talk down suspects, including one man attempting suicide. But Houston's greatest work, his most important work, he saved for his family and his God. His daughter Shelby's eulogy was the proof of a life well lived, a life of faith, beautifully walked.

The story of Officer Richard Houston, a 21-year veteran of the Mesquite Police Department in Texas, here on Our American Stories. Soon millions will make Medicare coverage decisions for next year, and UnitedHealthcare can help you feel confident about your choices. For those eligible, Medicare annual enrollment runs from October 15th through December 7th. If you're working past age 65, you might be able to delay Medicare enrollment depending on your employer coverage.

It can seem confusing, but it doesn't have to be. Visit UHCMedicareHealthPlans.com to learn more. UnitedHealthcare, helping people live healthier lives. I know everything there is to know about running a coffee shop, but for small business insurance, I need my State Farm agent. They make sure my business stays piping hot, and I stay cool and confident. See, they're small business owners too, so they know how to help you best. State Farm is in your corner and on it. Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.

Call your local State Farm agent for a quote today. Doing household chores can already be time consuming and tedious, and there's nothing more daunting than facing piles and piles of laundry that need to be done. I mean, that can be overwhelming for anyone. So, if you want to get those larger laundry loads done right and get back to your life, try All-Free Clear Mega Packs. All-Free Clear Mega Packs are bigger packs with two times the cleaning ingredients compared to a regular pack so that you can tackle any laundry load without the worry. All-Free Clear Mega Packs are also 100% free of perfumes and dyes and they're gentle on skin, which is great for any family's sensitive skin needs, which my family, we definitely have sensitive skin. So, the next time the whole family gets home from long vacation or you get the kids back from summer camp or whatever the situation is that's caused this big pile of dirty clothes, just know that All-Free Clear Mega Packs, they have your back.

Purchase All-Free Clear Mega Packs today and conquer any laundry load for all fabric types. Music And we continue with our American stories and up next, a story about Ulysses S. Grant by Louis Picone, author of Grant's Tomb, the Epic Death of Ulysses S. Grant and the Making of an American Pantheon. Today, Louis shares with us the story of how Grant's memoirs, considered the best presidential memoirs ever written, came to be.

Take it away, Louis. Music After his presidency, Grant almost immediately departed on a tour that was supposed to be just for Europe. He was going to travel all around Europe basically as long as his interest and money held out. He ended up extending that trip all through Europe, into Africa, all through Asia. And for two and a half years, he had traveled the world.

Never came back to America from May 1877 until September of 1879 is when he landed back in America. And everywhere he went, Grant was treated like a global celebrity, like royalty. There was parades, there was military honors given to him, he met with kings, he met with royalty.

So he was really given a hero's welcome wherever he went. And when he came back to America, his popularity was as high as it's ever been. And this was a time when America was still greatly divided after the Civil War.

Music Only 15, 18 years after the Civil War, Reconstruction had ended when Rutherford B. Hayes had taken office. But the North and South were still greatly divided. But Grant was the most popular man in America, and really perhaps the world due to this tour. But he was also perhaps the one figure that was admired by all sections and was really a unifier. He was beloved by Democrats and Republicans, by Northerners and Southerners, by whites and African Americans, by men and women. In the North, he was the savior of the Union. He was a liberator of four million enslaved. But even in the South, he was beloved. And it's just fascinating to think about that because he was the victorious general that defeated the South in the Civil War. But he was beloved because he was magnanimous. He had given generous terms to Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, but also all throughout the war.

He was known for treating Southerners with compassion, whether they were captured soldiers or whether they were Southern citizens. Music But presidents didn't have pensions until Truman. And Grant had spent most of his money that he earned as presidency in entertaining at the White House.

Presidents usually used to pick up most of the tab for entertaining at the White House. When he left office and took his worldwide tour, most of that was paid for by investments with a Virginia mining company that he had done very well with after the Comstock loads. But he was by no means wealthy. He had wealthy patrons that had been very generous with him. They had given him a home in Long Branch as well as given him a home in New York City, which in the Gilded Age, that didn't really raise any eyebrows as it would nowadays.

But in 1884, Grant had suffered two traumatic setbacks. Music In the spring, he was healthy and wealthy. Besides his generous benefactors, he had received enormous Gilded Age profits from his investments with a firm, Grant and Ward.

So one of the partners was his son and the other one was a man named Ferdinand Ward. And the profits they had achieved were really astronomical. So Grant was the wealthiest that he ever was in his life at the beginning of 1884. But by the fall, he was not only bankrupt, but he was mortally ill.

He had found out that the investments were part of a Ponzi scheme. And Grant had gone almost instantaneously from being wealthy and having no concerns about money to now he was bankrupt. And not only bankrupt, he was deeply in debt. And then in October, just a couple months later, he was diagnosed with inoperable throat and tongue cancer.

Which at the time, a diagnosis of cancer was pretty much a death sentence. So Grant's number one concern at this point became to make sure that he didn't die leaving his family financially destitute. So Grant decided to publish his memoirs with the number one goal to raise that money for his beloved wife Julia and his children. By this point, Civil War memoirs had become somewhat of a cottage industry.

They were very popular in privates all the way up to generals were writing their memoirs and making profits. But Grant was like the white whale. He was the victorious general that people most wanted to hear from. And publishing companies were after him to write his memoirs, but he had always declined. He didn't consider himself to be a very good writer, and he didn't need the money before.

But now, his situation had totally changed. So immediately after getting that diagnosis, he went straight to the Century Publishing. Now for years, Century Publishing had been after Grant to write his memoirs. Now he had a relationship with Century Publishing over the years.

He had written some small articles about individual battles. So he went to them. He didn't tell them why, but he said, I'm ready to write my memoirs.

And they were thrilled. But they presented Grant with a publishing contract that was pretty much a standard contract at the time. It was the same contract they probably would have given any author that they'd worked with at the time. So Grant luckily didn't sign the contract.

What he did is that he took the contract home. Now by this point, Grant had developed a friendship with Mark Twain, who was probably perhaps the second most popular man in America at this time. It's kind of like an interesting friendship because Twain had actually briefly served in the Confederate Army. So Twain came to visit Grant at his New York City brownstone, and Grant showed him the contract. Now Twain had recently started his own publishing company, which was Charles L. Webster and Company. Twain looked at the contract and was astonished that Century would have offered such a meager contract, such a standard meager contract to someone like Grant. So Twain had told him, why don't you publish your book with my publishing company?

I will give you a much better contract and really do as much as possible to guarantee that Julia was well taken care of after you died. So it turns out the first book that Twain's publishing company ever published was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. And the second book that he published was Grant's Memoirs. Right away, Grant started to write, and as he was writing, his health began to deteriorate. Over the next eight months, he continued to write as he was in great physical pain. Soon he was struggling to swallow and his weight plummeted.

He was struggling to speak. He got to the point that he could no longer dictate his memoirs, so he had to write his thoughts and his memoirs by hand. After a while, his doctors started to grow concerned that writing the memoirs were the only thing that were keeping Grant alive. They became his will to live, and this was really the final and perhaps the greatest battle of Grant's life, to finish these memoirs with an impending death.

So after eight months of writing, he finally put his finishing touches on his memoirs on July 19th. And just four days later, Grant died. The entire country was basically on death watch with Grant. Once the press found out about Grant, about the fact that he was sick, which a family tried to keep it secret. The press had had some clues, and they started to gather outside of his home.

This became national front page news almost every day, where the public was kept apprised of Grant's health. And they knew he was writing his memoirs to gain this financial security. But the fact is, if the book wasn't good, it wouldn't have sold.

There was no great revelations in the book. It's not like Grant had told anything that the public really wasn't aware of. But it was Grant's voice. It was his authentic, plain-speaking voice, his humility, his humor that was in there, that had never been conveyed by a president before and was just so much better than the other Civil War memoirs due to his perspective as the victorious general. I mean, it wasn't only considered a great Civil War memoir. It is widely considered the greatest presidential memoir or memoir by a president that's ever been written in history. And it's just fascinating because he'd never written before. He never wrote a book before. Well, it was the largest amount that had ever been earned by an author up until that time. No other author in history had ever earned what Julia had earned on behalf of Grant. The royalties ended up being between about $420,000 to $450,000. Now, in today's money, that's about $12 to $13 million. What this meant was that Julia, who lived another 17 years after Grant, never had to worry about money for the rest of her life, all because of Grant's final battle in writing his memoirs.

And a great job on the production by Monty Montgomery and a special thanks to Louis Picone. His book, Grant's Tomb, go to Amazon or the usual suspects and pick it up. What a life.

And what a way to end life. My goodness, looking at an impending death, pushing out a book that Mark Twain publishes. And my goodness, not a bad track record for Mark Twain, his first two. Huck Finn and then Grant's memoirs. And by the way, pick up Grant's memoirs. You can't stop reading them. It's not like reading presidential memoirs today with five ghost writers.

Grant's memoir is here on Our American Stories. Soon millions will make Medicare coverage decisions for next year. And UnitedHealthcare can help you feel confident about your choices. For those eligible, Medicare annual enrollment runs from October 15th through December 7th. If you're working past age 65, you might be able to delay Medicare enrollment depending on your employer coverage.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-02-15 17:48:33 / 2023-02-15 18:05:35 / 17

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