I see it almost every day -
In my talented artist friend Jael’s email signature.
It's a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt:
“Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people."
I have looked at the quote hundreds of times, but it always makes me smile, for it reminds me of one of my father’s truly positive and wonderful experiences during the darker days of World War II.
I'd like to believe it was more than good fortune.
In my opinion, my dad was one of the smartest enlisted men in the Marine Corps (if a smart jarhead enlistee isn't an oxymoron).
My father had been chosen to represent the Marines for tea at the White House with none other than Eleanor Roosevelt.
So the Marine brass at Camp Lejeune flew him up to Washington in a stripped-down DC-3 piloted by some Army Air Corps yahoo. My dad hated to fly, not due to "white knuckle" fear, but because a boot camp injury to his inner ear caused him to suffer from severe, life-long motion sickness. I can vividly remember him standing on the kiddie ark at the Children's Zoo in Philadelphia and turning green in seconds. The boat sat a foot-deep pool of motionless water and was moored in concrete. During their approach to National, the Air Corps pilot decided to have some cruel fun with his passengers and proceeded to fly the plane sideways all the way up the Potomac. Unknown to his human cargo, this particular pilot had a legendary reputation for deliberately scaring the living crap out of passengers from other branches of service. Fortunately, by the time my father arrived at the White House his famously sensitive stomach had relocated itself back below his neck.
As it turned out, the tea was attended by just three servicemen, my leatherneck father, one representative apiece from the Army and Navy, and Eleanor.
From the start of the conversation, there wasn’t a single formal moment. Eleanor immediately cut through the regal aura of the settings with a bulldozer. In no time the three men were put at ease. Fresh from the mosquito-infested swamps of North Carolina, my father was suddenly a guest in the White House having tea with the First Lady, yet oddly, he began to feel at home. Eleanor wanted to know all about the men and their families, and in return, gossiped at some length about her own family. She didn’t hesitate to share personal stories - her difficulties with her children and other very nonpublic dirt. The four had instantly become equals, just four souls sharing a sane moment together during very trying times. My father described the meeting as one shared with a long and trusted family friend. As the clock ticked on, well into her afternoon's busy schedule, time appeared to be of no urgency to Eleanor. The moment was too pleasant to interrupt with any official business. Eleanor Roosevelt was talking to my dad. Franklin and the rest of the World would just have to wait.
Even when she spoke of “small” things, Eleanor Roosevelt managed to do it with total understanding of the conversation's value to those with whom she shared those “trivial” thoughts.
When Eleanor had an “idea,” the great woman made it work.
Her convictions were never allowed to be tempered by the mediocrity of others.
The three men could not have enjoyed a sweeter, more spiritually lifting and more memorable experience, and no doubt, over the following days, they would share every second with appreciative comrades back at their bases.
I’m sure it wasn’t Eleanor’s only tea with servicemen during those difficult years. No doubt, many of those fortunate few who attended her teas returned to their units with similar stories, boosting morale even among those who could only imagine the moment the three had experienced.
The times were not yet a changin’, but boy what a president that bright and perceptive lady would have made.
As a wise woman once said, "A woman is like a tea bag. You don't know how strong she is until you put her in hot water."
A Democrat with a backbone, nonpareil.