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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

A Not-So-Brief-Rant on Transportation

I know I promised last week to return to the Civil War memoirs that some readers have enjoyed, but first some timely talk on transportation. I got all gussied up for the Authors Guild holiday party in South St. Pete, and because it was from 6-8 PM, I carefully considered what route to take. I never drive at rush hour if that can be avoided, and I didn’t really grasp how bad it is out there. But I did decide that from my East Hillsborough home, it would make more sense to sneak up on the Pinellas peninsula from the south, rather than taking I-275 through downtown Tampa, the Howard Frankenstein, and almost all of Pinellas. I left at 5:00, thinking an hour would be enough time, and maybe the Sunshine Skyway would be pretty at sunset.

I crossed over I-75 in Mango and could see that it was at a complete stop with the entrance ramp backed up, so I went on to US Highway 301, which was the main road south prior to I-75. (Yes, I’m old enough to remember that). At first I thought I was brilliant, as I sped along until reaching State Road 60, where the backup for the light was about a mile long. I decided to turn left at the light and go back to I-75, thinking that it should have lost a lot of its traffic at Brandon Boulevard. Wrong.

That is a very long entrance ramp, with options for both I-75 and US 301, and the backup for I-75 was horrific. This might have been tolerable if I had been able to listen to All Things Considered, Marketplace, and the BBC News – but WUSF was doing its end-of-the year fundraising. After 45 minutes of frustration, I still wasn’t out of Greater Brandon and decided that other authors could make merry without me. Because I’ve lived in this area for 46 years, I know most of the back roads (except for the new dead-ends that they keep adding), and thought I could make it back home faster by staying off the big streets. Wrong again. It took a second three-quarters of an hour. The trip meter showed that in 90 minutes, I had traveled 22 miles. And it isn’t even tourist season.

The Next Day…

I was out in the mid-afternoon, not rush hour, yet the electronic sign on I-4 informed us that it would take 26 minutes to travel the 22 miles to McIntosh Road – or less than one mile per hour. Nothing was said in either of these stopped-traffic cases about an accident or other emergency, nor did I see any such. And I’ve come to expect that it will take ten minutes to go the mile through Malfunction Junction where I-4 joins I-275. It’s worse than it was before they “improved” it, as now big trucks from the Port of Tampa enter from the Selmon Link and try to cross five lanes of traffic to get on I-75 North. I think we should track down the engineers who created this mess and sentence them to sit in that dangerous traffic for the rest of their miserable lives.

It’s no wonder that voters passed last month’s transportation tax by an unexpectedly wide margin. And I can’t believe that the leading Republican politicians who are suing to overturn the voters’ intent actually live in East Hillsborough. Do they have secret jetpacks to fly over everyone else? I also wish I could forget the hundreds of volunteer hours I spent chairing the Land Use Committee of the 1992 revision of Hillsborough’s Comprehensive Plan. We did a good job of envisioning population growth and what would be needed for it, and the Board of County Commissioners adopted its aims of concurrency and impact fees that would make growth pay for itself. I was hopeful.

That was 1992, but I already was nostalgic for 1972, when a trip from USF to Brandon meant just two traffic lights: at Fowler & 56th Street in Temple Terrace and at Parsons & Brandon Boulevard. In 1998, however, we began twenty years of Republican domination in Tallahassee. Now there are no comp plans, and excessive deregulation has gotten us where we are. I love the diversity that newcomers bring, but I’m about ready to create a plan to subsidize some to go back to the Rust Belt. It would be good for both areas.

Reminiscences of a Soldier’s Wife

As I said a couple of weeks ago, I did some work for Southern Illinois University and was paid in books. I’ve written about the memoirs of Julia Dent Grant, or Mrs. Ulysses Grant, and today I want to tackle those of Mary Logan. Yes, I expect that you’ve never heard of her, but she is the most admirable of the three women whose memoirs I read – Grant, Logan, and next week, Mary Todd Lincoln. I first “met” Mary Logan when I worked near Logan Circle in Washington, where a statue commemorates Union General John Logan. Although these three women lived in the nation’s capital at some point in their lives, the three were natives of the area where the Ohio River meets the Mississippi River – western Kentucky, northern Missouri, and southern Illinois. More important, all three grew up in slave-owning families, yet their husbands led the war that ended slavery.

Although she was not Catholic, Mary Logan was educated in a Catholic convent in Kentucky – and the convent’s farm was worked by slaves. Some were rented from their absentee owners, and she wrote: “Aunt Agnes was the head cook for us girls. We all loved Aunt Agnes, who slipped us many dainties. She and Uncle Harry had four or five little children. Her old master died, and the sons who inherited the slaves…sold Aunt Agnes... Uncle Harry rebelled; the nuns pleaded…but they seized Aunt Agnes… She fought like a tigress…but the driver whipped up the horses and they galloped away.”

The incident had a profound effort on the teenager, but her life – like those of most young women – was arranged by others. Her father had been a soldier in the Mexican War, and after he picked out a younger soldier as his preferred son-in-law, Mary Cunningham married John Logan in 1855. He was 29 and she just 17. Her mother therefore sent “a colored mammy, whom we called Aunt Betty… I do not know how I should have gotten through many domestic trials, as I was ignorant of the details of home and housekeeping.”

The Logans had two children, one of whom died very young, and like U.S. Grant, John Logan took a break from the Army between the Mexican and Civil Wars. Unlike Julia Grant, Mary Logan was an active assistant in her husband’s career; he practiced as both a prosecutor and a defense attorney, and she “spent many hours reading law-reports and marking decisions on points that he might have to argue.” She also traveled with him on the judicial circuit, and later, when he was back in the Army, she again traveled – alone, even late at night. That was unusual for the time; Julia Grant, in comparison, insisted on a military escort.

Male voters in southern Illinois elected John Logan to the US House in 1858, and as soon as Mary and their newborn daughter could do so, they joined him in Washington. When the Civil War broke out just two years later, John resigned from Congress and returned to southern Illinois to raise a regiment for the Union – in the midst of many Confederate supporters, some of whom rioted. Nonetheless, Mary continued to travel alone, writing that her husband kept her “busy driving back and forth between Carbondale and the telegraph station… He would not trust anyone else to send or receive the dispatches.”

Neither Mary Todd Lincoln nor Julia Grant would have done that, nor would have their husbands considered such. The three women, however, were akin in seeing their families break up, as brothers and others took the Confederate side. Mary Logan also willingly took on the emotional pain of unrelated people. She recalled: “One dreary November evening, just as the sun was setting, two ladies and myself went with a poor stricken grandfather to bury his little grandchild, the daughter of a soldier who was away at the front and whose mother was lying [fatally] ill… We took hold of the ropes, two standing opposite each other and gently lowered the coffin. We then alternated in helping him to fill the grave.”

Probably because John Logan was not a West Point graduate, he endured more than his share of criticism from jealous officers, but he proved that a smart non-professional can win battles: the Army of the Tennessee that he commanded was crucial to the fall of Atlanta and thus to Lincoln’s reelection in 1864. Lincoln, a lawyer like Logan, also insisted that Logan temporarily leave the battlefield to campaign for him, as many southern Illinois men continued to sympathize with the Confederacy. The state was home to both Lincoln and Logan, and Mary showed her astuteness when she recorded: “Mr. Lincoln requested him to come home and take part in the civil campaign, which was fraught with quite as much importance as the military one.”

John Logan again served in Congress after the war and was a strong contender for the presidency in the 1870s and 1880s. Republicans would have been better off to have chosen him, a man of proven principle, instead of the non-entities who won. But Rutherford Hayes, James Garfield, Chester Arthur, and Benjamin Harrison could be controlled by the oligarchs who really ran the government during the Age of the Robber Barons, and they did not want a man as thoughtful and independent as John Logan. Mary Logan understood that, too.

Christmas Past

Mary Logan lived until 1923 and has much more to say about the national scene, but given that we are approaching the winter holidays, I’m going to finish with some of those remembrances. She was the oldest of thirteen children, and as a girl, lived in Marion, Illinois. Apparently Christmas there had a tradition that now belongs to Halloween. She recalled: “The merchants in small towns were the only ones who dreaded the Christmas holidays, because of the troops of children going from shop to shop crying, ‘Christmas gift! Merry Christmas!’ and expecting something in return. Marbles, toys, confections, ribbons, and trinkets were given sometimes, greatly to the loss of profit by the proprietors…

“The tree was an important factor in the preparation for the advent of Christmas. A fine evergreen, of which there were giant specimens in the primeval forests that surrounded every town, was cut down and brought to the largest private home, or to the church. .. The decorations consisted of dried grasses and colorful autumn leaves, tinsel thread, pop-corn strung on strings, red and yellow berries… oranges, apples, lemons, and every variety of chenille and knitting-yarn…

“If the tree was in the church, the whole town joined in. Every man, woman, and child was remembered… [We] prepared an appropriate programme of recitations and carols… A round of sleighing-parties, candy-pullings, dinner parties, and merrymaking consumed the whole time from Christmas Eve until January 2. Christmas Day was set apart for religious service… Among the vicious or lawless people, it was a season of debauchery; tramping about, they went shooting, drinking, and yelling like heathens…

“I can never forget the thirteen pairs of well-filled stockings hanging round the broad old fireplace…and the dining table [where] mother and father opened the numberless packages we used to prepare for them. The hours we brothers and sisters spent in executing our surprises! The madcap fun! The merry dancing and candy-pulling… We used to lariat some favorite schoolboy and threaten his execution with a sweet cord of taffy.”

Kids will find a way to be kids – and grown-ups, too. Next week, Mary Todd Lincoln and maybe more Christmas.


Doris Weatherford writes a weekly column for La Gaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper. With pages in Spanish, Italian, and English, it has been published in Tampa since 1922.
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