I am going to attempt to get Franklin D. Roosevelt and marshmallows in the same story. If successful, this will be no small feat.
It starts like this.
FDR lived before I was born, and marshmallows have been among my favorites treats since I was born. The state park named for him is slightly more than a rock’s throw from my back yard, and the Dollar Store that sells marshmallows is just another skip and a jump around the bend. I live on a road called O Street which FDR named during the reconstruction efforts to put people back to work, and I drive on O Street to go buy marshmallows.
You’re getting the idea by now. This just might work.
But first, let me set the background.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
FDR said that. I probably heard it in school, but like a lot of kids I didn’t listen well. The first time I became aware of his quote was during the movie ‘Pearl Harbor’; the one with the love triangle going on while the Japanese war planes were bombing the heck out of the ships in the harbor. The director inserted this quote as part of a radio speech to America after the bombing.
In a crackly-old-timey-radio kind of voice, from his wheelchair in the oval office, FDR spoke to the country. People in diners and coffee shops, living rooms and barber shops were huddled around the radio listening.
“The only thing to fear is fear itself.”
Kids. Don’t ever get your history from movies. They use this thing they call creative license that blurs the lines between history and Hollywood. FDR actually spoke these words in 1933 during his first inaugural speech. He had just been sworn in and was looking at the face of a crowd trying to imagine life beyond the Great Depression. The news stories were full of gloom and doom. The toilet paper shelves at every Publix across the country were empty. People were losing their jobs and their minds.
I had to look up the expanded version of what FDR said:
“Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
I can’t imagine what the people of the depression went through. The grim existence. The uncertainty of a time that held very little promise. These folks were all cheers during the Roaring Twenties and now they were living in the dark depressing thirties. How quickly things change.
And the President says to not be afraid. This nation will endure as it always has endured. We dare not ignore our realities, but neither should we ignore the things for which we should be thankful. Blah, blah, blah. You should look up and read the speech.
Now, back up with me. Two lines of thought are about to collide.
Zelda, our 5-year-old granddaughter, is staying with us this weekend. Around 7PM she says to me,
“Grandpa? Can we have a campfire?”
I have my comfy shoes on. I’m in couch mode. If it wasn’t DST it would be dark already and getting pretty close to my bedtime.
“Yeah. I bet we can make us a fire.” She screams and jumps. Then her eyes get big.
“Ooh, do we have marshmallows?”
So, I put on real clothes again and head off to the Dollar Store driving on the streets that FDR named. I drive by several Valley Houses that he built down this way in that same era. The imprint of FDR is all over this little valley.
I get to the store and have to ask for help finding the marshmallows. I take my one tiny bag to the counter to discover that the two ladies in front of me have buggies packed to the ceiling. I’ve never seen anyone ring up $142.67 at the Dollar Store before. Both buggies stuffed and both within a few dollars of each other. And both with, you guessed it, multiple packs of toilet paper.
Of course, the checkout was painfully slow. Me and the three guys behind me who maybe had 5 items between all of us, were shuffling our feet, trying to not notice or care about the roadblock in the checkout line.
I couldn’t help but overhear one of the buggy ladies say to the cashier,
“I just don’t know what we’re gonna do. This whole virus thing has me scared.”
I confess I’m cynical. My first impulse is to roll my eyes and sigh loud enough to be heard over a train whistle. But, to this lady, what I think doesn’t matter. I’m not oblivious to what fear does to people, and I’m not without compassion for those affected by this scare. What she needed was a hug and some help carrying those bags to the car.
Back at home, I’m sitting on the ground next to our campfire. A little dark headed girl in my lap. She’s holding a finely fashioned two-pronged marshmallow holder, formerly a coat hanger, out over the flames. A Barred Owl calls out in the distance.
“Not too close”, I tell her.
She’s learning the art of toasting marshmallows and not turning them into flaming torches. Though she let one catch on fire and wanted to do that with the entire bag before the evening was over.
In that moment, around that campfire, we were living. We were not being afraid. The TV was off. We went to the store, but we were not clearing the shelves for Armageddon. We were just doing the things that any family might do on a fine evening.
Nothing to fear. Really, nothing to fear.
Then it occurred to me. Use your imagination with me, here. Marshmallows look a little bit like tiny rolls of toilet paper.