If you are searching for a calming voice in these turbulent times in America, I urge you to find that of the great David McCullough – literally and figuratively. The legendary historian and author has a great voice for narration and has provided the voice for many documentaries over the years – and it is very calming and reassuring. But it is his complete grasp of American history that we need to pay attention to. Now, in his wonderful new anthology, The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For, we are treated to a collection of Mr. McCullough’s keynote speeches which shine a light on our collective past and what it means to be American, now and forever.

About The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For by David McCullough: “Over the course of his distinguished career, David McCullough has spoken before Congress, the White House, colleges and universities, historical societies, and other esteemed institutions. Now, at a time of self-reflection in America following a bitter election campaign that has left the country divided, McCullough has collected some of his most important speeches in a brief volume designed to identify important principles and characteristics that are particularly American. The American Spirit reminds us of core American values to which we all subscribe, regardless of which region we live in, which political party we identify with, or our ethnic background. This is a book about America for all Americans that reminds us who we are and helps to guide us as we find our way forward.”

In our current political climate and on the eve of the celebration of our Independence, it is good to be reminded of what holds us all together as one nation.

The American Spirit: Who We Are and What We Stand For by David McCullough is available from Amazon and other fine booksellers everywhere.

I dug up this essay I wrote a while back as part of my ongoing memoir project. I kept thinking about this snapshot of family life with my dad at the helm as I mourned his recent passing, and thought I would share. How I long to be that little boy in the way back again.

The Last Farewell and the Summer of 1975

As Viewed from the Way Back of a Ford Country Squire Station Wagon

The summer of 1975 stands out in my mind as the time when my father was at the most “dad-ish” – the epitome of the patriarch of the American nuclear family in the latter half of the last century. Perhaps this is because that summer I was old enough to remember things well, and it was the last summer we had true family trips before my older brother and sister spun off out of high school ending our togetherness.

As it was in the summer of 1975, our requisite Ford Country Squire station wagon was completely full on trips around New England, with: my parents in the front; my oldest brother, and my sister and her best friend in the back seat; and what seemed like ten feet of luggage behind them before you got to me and my middle brother – in the two jump seats in the “way back”.

The way back was the best place to be as a kid. Separated from the rest of the family, and out of swinging distance should said older brother decide it was time to give out a love punch or two. In the way back we were in our own little world – complete with no seatbelts and a tailgate window that could be controlled by my dad in the front seat.

This particular Ford Country Squire station wagon had six radio speakers long before that was common in cars. Two speakers up front, two in the middle, and best of all, two in the way back – all to hear the tinny AM radio and the music stations of the day that would play whatever was on the top 40 no matter the genre.

The speakers were also controlled by the driver, my dad, who ruled the radio, what station would be played, what songs he would allow to be sent across all speakers, and at what volume. A power he loved almost as much as controlling the car’s high beams with a foot pedal, but that is another story.

When I say dad had the power over the radio controls, that is technically true. However, the power really belonged to my sister and her friend, who at 15 needed their fix of pop music to get through the day. At that time Elton John ruled the charts and their hearts, and when a song the girls liked, say Elton’s “Philadelphia Freedom” or America’s “Sister Golden Hair” or KC and the Sunshine Band’s “Get Down Tonight” came on, they would shout “turn it up turn it up” – and my dad would comply. Eventually the radio will be at full tilt, my mother sleeping through it all. By the time “Rhinestone Cowboy” came on the car would be pulsing and all of us – save for the too cool oldest brother – singing along.

A song the girls did not like would receive a chant of “turn it down turn it down” – an honor bestowed on that summer’s ubiquitous “Love will Keep Us Together” and “The Hustle” if I recall, with all due apologies to the Captain, Tennille and Van McCoy and the Soul City Symphony.

Occasionally we in the way back shouted “turn it up” and got our wish – like that summer’s “Listen to What the Man Said” by Wings, which is still a favorite. Inevitably commercials would come on and dad would turn the volume down until the “turn it up turn it up” chorus began again.

The trick was that dad would turn off the speakers in the front and just have the music in the back for us kids – something that was evident every so often when a song that he particularly liked came on and he would turn off the back speakers and blast the volume up front. Favorites at the time were Tony Orlando and Dawn, Roberta Flack, and John Denver. But the song that stands out the most from those crazy hazy days in the way back of our Ford Country Squire station wagon in the summer of 1975 – the song that always got the front seat speaker radio treatment was: “The Last Farewell” by Roger Whitaker.

The first few notes elicited groans from the wee ones in the back as we knew what we were in store for. The speakers in the back would go silent, all the windows would be rolled up, the song would blast from the front, competing with my dad singing along, as we all covered our ears:

“There’s a ship lies rigged and ready in the harbor, tomorrow for old England she sails,” he would warble at the start.

My mother would stir from her slumber.

“For you are beautiful, and I have loved you dearly, more dearly than the spoken word can tell,” dad sang the chorus at the top of his lungs.

Mom feigned annoyance.

“For you are beautiful, and I have loved you dearly, more dearly than the spoken word can tell,” he sang more insistently in my mother’s direction.

Mom would smile. They would share a special look, or sometime a squeeze on the arm.

Before long the song would be over. Mom would be back to her nap. Earth Wind and Fire’s “Shining Star” would come on.

“Turn it up! Turn it up!”

I am still searching for the perfect bag to carry back and forth to work – but the quest may be narrowing now that I have found the Field Tan Waxed and Natural Leather Briefcase from the fine folks at Winter Session.

About the Field Tan Waxed and Natural Leather Briefcase from Winter Session:

“Smaller and slimmer than the Day Bag, our Briefcase is a sturdy, versatile bag with a YKK double-slider zipper closure designed for carrying daily work essentials. Constructed from 20oz waxed cotton canvas, the Briefcase features solid brass hardware, rivet-enforced pockets, slim leather carry handles, and a detachable leather shoulder strap.”

Find the Field Tan Waxed and Natural Leather Briefcase from Winter Session here.

See Winter Session’s entire collection of work bags here.

Learn more and visit Winter Session online here.

FF: The Star Spangled Paper Plates from the Caspari Collection

Your Fourth of July party deserves something better than dollar store plates (although as  you know I am a big dollar store fan) so spring for something a little nicer, like the Star Spangled Paper Plates I found from the fine folks at Caspari.

About the Star Spangled Paper Plates from the Caspari Collection:

“Star Spangled Square Paper Salad Dessert Plates per package, 7¼” x 7½”. Available in a dinner, salad, or dessert plate. Ideal for 4th of July, Memorial Day and Labor Day events.”

Find the Star Spangled Paper Plates from the Caspari Collection here.

See all the great products from Caspari here.

FF: The Sausages from Bacon Freak

So, what to put on those plates? Well before you go for the boring old hot dog, I beg you to check out the sausages from the fine folks at Bacon Freak – yes BACON FREAK.

About the Sausages from Bacon Freak: “What Makes These Sausages So Good? Big Fork Sausages are all-natural, artisan sausages made in Chicago using local ingredients. They are minimally processed and naturally encased and the meat comes from hogs raised outdoors in the Midwest by independent farmers. They contain no preservatives, MSG, nitrates, nitrites, hormones, antibiotics or artificial flavors. The flavors of each sausage variety were created by a chef for optimum flavor and they contain 20% less fat than bacon.”

Try the Big Fork Chicken & Bacon Sausage (above right): “Chicken bacon sausage is made from free-range chickens raised on Amish farms. Paired with hardwood smoked, nitrate-f12 oz and contains 4 sausage links.ree bacon. This all-natural sausage is naturally encased, without any water, preservatives, hormones, or antibiotics added, just pure ingredients like sea salt and brown sugar. Naturally smoked using a blend of Hickory & Applewood hardwood. Each package is 12 oz and contains 4 pre-cooked sausage links.”

See all the great – and I mean great – products from Bacon Freak here.

There is a lot to love about the fine folks at Ezra Arthur who “believe in heirloom quality men’s goods handcrafted in America and designed for life.”

Like their Ezra Arthur + Max Sprecher Signature Straight Razor (above right):

“This signature razor features a full-sized 8/8″ 1/4 hollow ground blade intended to last several lifetimes. The blade is forged from 01 carbon steel which has a Rockwell hardness of 63. This gives the blade a hardness that is favorable for honing a sharp and long-lasting cutting edge.”

…and their gorgeous burgundy No. 2 belt (right):

“Strong and durable, this elegant belt will be with you for years to come. The No. 2 belt is made with an English bridle leather tanned by Hermann Oak of St. Louis, Missouri.”

About Ezra Arthur:

“Ezra Arthur is owned by four brothers who honor their grandfather by crafting lifestyle accessories worthy of his name.”

Learn more and visit Ezra Arthur online here.

It is hard to believe for some of us that Princess Diana will be gone 20 years ago this August. Which means there are young adults out there who were not around when she was alive and do not know how special she was. Now, as part of Penguin/Radom House’s wonderful “Who Was” series of books for children, Princess Diana is introduced to new generations in Who Was Princess Diana? by Ellen Labrecque and Nancy Harrison, with illustrations by Jerry Hoare.

About Who Was Princess Diana? by Ellen Labrecque and Nancy Harrison: “A shy twenty-year-old girl stepped out of a horse-drawn coach and into the world spotlight, capturing the imagination of millions as a real life fairytale princess. Although the storybook marriage didn’t have a happy ending, Diana learned to use her fame as a way to champion charitable causes near to her heart. She became the People’s Princess by humanizing the image of the royal family and showing care and concern for all people, including the homeless, the sick, and others in need.”

The great thing about the “Who Was” series is that it provides background of historical and pop culture figures past and present (it is “Who Is” for those still alive) for children to get into the conversation. In addition to Princess Diana, the series has scores of volumes ranging from Who Is Winston Churchill to Who is Lucille Ball.

Who Was Princess Diana? by Ellen Labrecque and Nancy Harrison is available from Amazon and other fine booksellers everywhere.

Learn more about Penguin/Radom House’s “Who Was” series here.

 

I discovered London-based artist and designer Robin Lucas when I spotted a really cool lampshade he created featuring a jungle tiger (right). When I went to explore where this really cool piece of art came from, I discovered the whole world of Mr. Lucas’s illustrations and fell in love with them.

About artist and designer Robin Lucas:

“Robin Lucas is an artist and designer. From an early age, he has always had a sketchbook on the go and holds a particular fascination for the natural world, history, gardens and interiors. A keen collector of books, art, and curiosities; Robin uses these interests to create a natural dialogue between interiors and his work.”

Learn more about artist and designer Robin Lucas and see a collection of his work here.

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