Today is Emmett Wilson’s 133rd birthday!
I’ve been wracking my brain to come up with something clever, that does not feel contrived, to honor this auspicious day.
Most of the reason for the lack of inspiration is the residual mental crispiness of burnout from all the writing this past week. Yesterday, I wrote an 18-page ‘false start.’
Anne Lamott talks about ‘false starts’ as part of the natural development of the story in the writing process. But they can be frustrating. We get an idea, we go with it, and after getting it all down on paper, we realize that out of all of that text, only one, maybe two lines, are ‘gold.’ The rest is crap.
But the little bit of ‘gold’ that came out of my 18 pages of crap is pretty good, if I say so myself. God, grant me the strength to endure this L-O-N-G this process.
I digress. The topic is, Emmett Wilson, Birthday Boy.
I am in search of way to celebrate this man’s natal day. After all, had he not been born, I would not be sitting here, 133 years later, on a quest to tell his story.
A cake, perhaps? Not with 133 candles, though. I’m sure that would be in violation of some local fire code here in Maryland.
Maybe one with a heartfelt, perhaps humorous message.
OK. A message cake is a bad idea. What about a card?
What about a retrospective? What was he doing 100 years ago today, when he turned 33?
Well…it turns out it might not have been such a great day for him. This is what was going on the week of his birthday:
He was home from Washington, D.C, in between congressional sessions, in Pensacola, but not at home, per se. He had to move into the San Carlos Hotel. Now, you may think that’s not such a bad thing; it was a great place to stay, one of the best on the Gulf Coast. But, it wasn’t home.
Emmett’s ‘home’ had always been with his friends, the Kehoe’s.
And in 1915, J. Walter Kehoe, Emmett’s ‘best friend,’ had decided to run for Emmett’s office. To avoid any conflict of interest, Emmett had to move out of his ‘home’ for the duration of the campaign.
To make it more awkward, Emmett’s own private secretary, Jefferson Davis Stephens, was also running for his office.
The election was eight months away.
That had to be weird. And in moving to the San Carlos away from what was his ‘home,’ Emmett had worked so hard to become a member of the political inner circle — and he made it — only to be ousted in less than three years, and effectively branded an outsider.
Also, he’d almost died several months earlier from kidney failure, related to cirrhosis. The kidney damage was permanent, and his doctors had told him, by now, you have maybe five years tops, if you take care of yourself — which he didn’t. So, you know he wasn’t feeling good at this point in his life.
He might have had a birthday celebration, and his friends may have come together to honor him. I hope so. I hate thinking he had this sad life, but he made some poor choices, and so, had to live with the consequences.
Here’s what I’m going to do to honor his birthday this year.
At 11 am this morning, at my parish in Washington, DC, there will be a Mass said for the repose of the soul of Emmett Wilson. I know. He wasn’t Catholic, but that doesn’t matter in my faith. We believe we should pray for the souls of everyone.
I have to admit here (and don’t tell Pope Francis or my pastor), but I really don’t believe in Purgatory. My personal thought is that it is mostly a Catholic invention to scare a lot of kids into being good, and not because being good is the right thing to do.
But, like a lot of things in life, I may be wrong. Who knows if there is such a thing? What if there is?
Whatever. It can’t hurt. A Mass is a good gift. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Happy Birthday, Emmett!