A Life Well-Lived Despite Serious Flaws

Over the Labor Day weekend, I had the pleasure of learning more about a person who was exceedingly blessed with both intellectual and athletic gifts, born into one of America’s wealthiest families, and yet used his talents and opportunities for the betterment of all Americans.

I traveled to Sagamore Hill in Long Island, New York and spent two days gathering more information about Theodore Roosevelt.

Granted he was in a unique and privileged position to never have to worry about struggling to make a living in order to survive, which is the predicament of the great majority of us. But he did not squander his life drinking and partying—he used his time on Earth to help improve people’s lives.

The following are just a few contributions he made that I learned about at Sagamore Hill:

  • In his 1912 presidential bid, Theodore Roosevelt was a strong supporter of women’s suffrage.
  • He negotiated the deal to end the Russian-Japanese War, winning the Nobel Peace Prize. He actually was the first American to win a Nobel Prize.
  • He championed workers’ rights, reforming child labor laws and instituting the eight-hour workday.
  • When he was governor, Roosevelt was instrumental in reforming the corruption that ran rampart in the New York City Police Department.
  • He advocated food regulations and was instrumental in creating the Food and Drug Administration.
  • He was one of the leaders of the Rough Riders, a group of men who fought in Cuba to protect Americans during the Spanish-American War.
  • He was a scholar and wrote 35 books.
  • Roosevelt was a hunter and taxidermist. He would study the insides of animals he would kill to learn more about them.

On top of that he was devoted to family. Roosevelt set aside 4PM everyday to play with his children. It didn’t matter who he was meeting with, whether a dignitary or a cabinet member. He kept the 4PM appointment faithfully for his family. (It would certainly be wonderful if we were all in a position to do that.)

Roosevelt stood every time a woman entered the room. (Men, take note.) In fact, he was critical of Winston Churchill because when they met at Sagamore Hill, Churchill failed to stand when a woman entered.

To demonstrate his concern for others, there appeared an article in The New York Times in 1908 in which one of his secret service men manhandled a local dry goods merchant. Someone incorrectly informed the secret service man that the merchant came to Sagamore Hill drunk and unruly so he threw him out. When Roosevelt found out about the mistake, he apologized to this man. How do I know this? This merchant was Charles Kursman, my husband’s great uncle.

Of course, Theodore Roosevelt did have his faults. I did not find out about them from visiting Sagamore Hill, but from reading William J. Mann’s The Wars of the Roosevelts: The Ruthless Rise of America’s Greatest Political Family (Harper, 2016). In it Mann wrote: “For all his desire to be a force for good and for change in the world, the iconic dichotomy of Theodore Roosevelt would be his often brutal control of his family and his inability to countenance different worldviews.”

One of his serious transgressions was putting his younger brother Elliot (Eleanor Roosevelt’s father) in an asylum because he was an alcoholic and may have suffered from mental illness. Separating him from his family destroyed him and devastated Eleanor, who adored her father. Of course, in those days people did not understand these afflictions, but Theodore was more concerned Elliot would embarrass the family and derail his political ambitions than he was about his brother’s life.

The other was that Elliot fathered a son with his mistress named Katy Mann, who was a servant to his wife Anna. Of course, this was a potentially embarrassing situation, but Theodore (and Eleanor) never acknowledged the son’s existence or left him an inheritance. Katy Mann was desperately poor and sought out Theodore’s help but nothing was ever done.

Fortunately, the son Elliot Roosevelt Mann led an upstanding life despite his unfortunate beginnings . He grew up to be a bank clerk and auditor and was a family man who would have made the Roosevelt clan proud. (He tried to reach out to his half-sister Eleanor but she never responded.)

Why am I bringing up these two incidents? Even though Roosevelt accomplished much and used his talents and wealth to good use, I don’t want to portray him as a completely unselfish saint. I want to applaud his accomplishments and a life well-lived but by the same token, I want to give a balanced accounting of the man.

In other words, extoll the virtues but include the human being, warts in all.

Idelle Kursman is the author of the novel True Mercy. Please read and review her book on Amazon. Comments are always welcome.

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What is Stimming?

Those familiar with autism have most likely heard the term “stimming.”

In my novel True Mercy, Adam, the eighteen year-old with autism, often stims. Here are a few examples:

  1. Adam flapped his hands excitedly when he saw the Pizza Craze sign.”
  2. Both his hands were above his head shaking in the air.”
  3. Adam walked around in circles, hitting his head with his hand while mumbling, ‘What should I do? Should I call Daddy? Do I look for a doctor? What should I do?’”
  4. “‘Daddy, when can we see Marina?’ he asked, pointing his index finger in the air.

When can we see Marina?’ Bruce now repeated his son’s own question to him.

When she finishes talking with the police,’ Adam replied. He stared out the side window for ten seconds before turning to his father again.

Daddy, when can we see Marina?’ he asked, pointing his index finger in the air again.”

But what is exactly is stimming?

According to Wikipedia, “Self-stimulatory behavior, also known as stimming and self-stimulation, is the repetition of physical movements, sounds, or repetitive movement of objects common in individuals with developmental disabilities, but most prevalent in people with autism spectrum disorders.” 

According to the American Psychiatric Association, stimming is one of the telling symptoms of autism. They go on to list examples in Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, : “Other common stimming behaviors include hand flapping, rocking, excessive or hard blinking, pacing, head banging, repeating noises or words, snapping fingers, and spinning objects.”

Many therapists have concluded that since individuals with autism are extremely sensitive to stimuli, this behavior serves as a protective response when these individuals encounter unfamiliar and unwanted external stimuli. Others believe it is used as a vehicle to relieve anxiety and other undesirable emotions.

Many individuals who do not have autism also stim. For example, in a stressful situation, some people bite their fingernails or tap their foot. However, they have enough control to stop stimming in circumstances when there isn’t appropriate, such as on a date or in a job interview. For those with autism, however, they don’t have the same control over their stimming, may not be aware of the effect it has on others, or find it too stressful to stop.

There are stimming behaviors that could cause self-inflicted injuries. These include head-banging, hand-biting, or too much scratching. There are also cases of those who stim on a constant basis. For these reasons, experts seek to find methods to reduce or stop these behaviors altogether by either medication or using an alternative form of stimulation, such as feeling the softness of a piece of cloth instead.

In True Mercy, I strove to portray this common behavior in an individual with autism by depicting eighteen year-old Adam stimming in order to give readers an idea of what they would encounter if they met someone with this neurological disotrder.

Idelle Kursman is the author of True Mercy. Please read and review on Amazon. She looks forward to reading your comments.

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There’s No Age Limit to Great Accomplishments!

This woman was born in 1860. Starting at 12 years old, she worked as a live-in housekeeper for 15 years.

This woman only attended school in the summer because she didn’t have warm clothing for the winter.

When she got married, she and her husband worked on farms in Virginia.

They spent two decades living and working on four separate farms.

The couple had 10 children but only five lived past infancy.

To supplement the family income, she made potato chips and churned butter from a cow she bought with her savings.

In 1905, they moved to Eagle Bridge, New York.

She and her husband eventually bought a farm.

Her husband died of a heart attack at the age of 67.

She then retired and went to live with her daughter. She never got married again.

This woman was always creative. For years she would craft embroidered pictures of yarn for family and friends. She also made stunning quilted objects.

In her seventies, she developed arthritis. She couldn’t embroider anymore, so she began painting.

When she had too much pain in her right hand, she would switch to her left.

She would paint rural scenes.

She created over 1,500 paintings in three decades.

Louis J. Caldor, an art collector, spotted her paintings in a country drugstore window. He bought up all of her paintings from the store and ten more from her Eagle Bridge house.

The following year three of her paintings were displayed in the New York Museum of Art.

When she first began, she would sell her paintings for $3-$5. At the height of her fame, her paintings sold for $8000-$10,000.

In 1949, President Harry Truman presented her with the Women’s National Press Club trophy.

During the 1950’s, Grandma Moses’ art exhibitions often broke records all around the world.

She has been quoted as saying, “I had always wanted to paint, I just didn’t have time until I was 78.

Don’t believe it is too late to make your dreams come true. Never give up.

Idelle Kursman is the author of the thriller True Mercy.

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Don’t Give Up!

There was a man who appeared certain to fail.

He was born to a poor farmer and his wife in Henryville, Indiana in 1870.

His father died when he was five years old.

His mother had to go out and work all day to feed her family. The boy had to stay home and watch his two younger siblings.

At age 10 he had to quit grammar school because his family needed him to work. He was hired out as a farm hand, but he was lazy and didn’t do the work. His boss told him to go home.

When he arrived home his mother berated him:

“It looks like you’ll never amount to anything. I’m afraid you’re just no good. Here I am, left alone with you three children to support, and you’re my oldest boy, the only one that can help me, and you won’t even work enough so somebody will keep you. I guess I’ll never be able to count on you.”

When he was 12, his mother remarried but his stepfather beat him. So the young boy moved out and went to live with his uncle.

His uncle’s house was too small, so he tried working 12-hour days on a stranger’s farm to earn his keep.

He volunteered for the army but that only lasted for a few months.

He worked as an insurance salesman but got fired.

Even though he didn’t have much of an education, he worked as a lawyer and made a lot of money– until he got into a fistfight with a client in court. That ended his law career.

Along the way he got married and had three children. Even though he was married for 39 years, it was an unhappy union from the start. The family had to move around a lot because he floated from one job to another.

In the early years of their marriage, his wife once took their children, sold their furniture, and moved out when a boss fired him for insubordination. She moved in with her parents. Her brother even wrote him a letter. He wrote “She had no business marrying a no-good fellow like you who can’t hold a job.”

He and his wife eventually reconciled but they often lived apart.

In 1932, his son died of blood poisoning when he was 20 years old.

For years he went from one job to another.

But then his luck changed.

In the 1930’s, executives at Shell Oil gave him a gas station in Corbin, Kentucky.

He was able to support his family. Travelers would often ask him where a good place to eat was. Since the nearby restaurants were not good, he decided to open a small restaurant on the side of the gas station. He did the cooking.

When a small rickety building next door became vacant, he turned it into a restaurant. By 1935 he bought another restaurant.

But both restaurants closed during the Great Depression.

He was down but not out. In 1937, he decided to go into the motel business and included his restaurant in the building.

At this time a hardware store owner showed him his new invention—a pressure cooker. The man borrowed it and started experimenting on the best way to fry his chicken.

It took him a long time but after experimenting with different herbs and spices, he made his chicken exactly the way he wanted it.

In 1941, he divorced his wife. He married a waitress in his restaurant and lived with her for the rest of his life.

The man came up with the name of his business: Colonel Saunders Kentucky Fried Chicken.

The motel business wasn’t producing a profit, so he decided to instead concentrate on franchising his chicken.

By 1963, at the age of 73, Colonel Harland Saunders had over 300 KFC stores. And capitulated to fame

So luck can change at any age.

You just never know.

So never give up.

Idelle Kursman is the author of True Mercy. It is published under her own publishing company, Luck Can Change, LLC. True Mercy is available on Amazon and IngramSpark. Please review it on Amazon and/or Goodreads.

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Human Trafficking: A Growing Worldwide Catastrophe

Last week I did not write because I traveled to New England. I saw family, toured the Boston Common, and took day trips to Cape Cod. Everyone needs a vacation to clear their minds and refresh their spirits, but I am happy to be back again writing on this blog.

In my novel True Mercy I write about human trafficking. In reality, this criminal activity is occurring all over the world, in First World countries and Third World countries, in wealthy, middle-class, and lower-class communities, and in all cultures and races. One only has to pay attention to the news.

Rockaway is a family-friendly, suburban town in Morris County, New Jersey. It has been reported in the local media that Adolphus Mims of nearby Morris Plains, leader of a human trafficking scheme, forced two Rockaway teenagers to engage in sexual relations for money over a four-day period at the now defunct Rockaway Hotel. Morris Plains, by the way, is another family-friendly, suburban town. Fortunately, the girls were rescued and Mims and his partner, a woman named Debbie Kooken, were arrested.

On the international front, 20 year-old British model Chloe Ayling was kidnapped and held hostage for six days when she arrived for a photo shoot in Milan, Italy. Her “photo shoot” actually turned out to be an abandoned building where she was drugged and transported to an isolated farmhouse. Her four captors intended to sell her as a sex slave on an online auction. Fortunately, Italian police rescued Ayling and arrested her captors.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the documentary I Am Jane Doe, which dealt with men manipulating teenage girls into advertising for sex on the online site Backpage.com, which is the second largest buying and selling of products and services website (Craigslist.com is the largest). They control 80% of the market for sex ads. Many of their ads feature under aged teenage girls in provocative poses under the guise of “escort services.” Many court cases have been brought up against Backpage.com, but all have been dismissed thus far. Congress has recently decided to challenge their right to advertise young girls.

When will this madness stop? As the saying goes, “If you stand around and do nothing, you are part of the problem.” Get involved to stop human trafficking by contacting one or more of these organizations. This list is not exhaustive by any means, but it is a great place to start.

Human Trafficking Organizations:

1. Zonta International – www.zonta.org

2. Stop the Traffik –  www.stopthetraffik.org

3. Hope for Justice – www.hopeforjustice.org

4. Durga Tree International – www.durgatreeinternational.org

5. Polaris – www.polarisproject.org

You can make a difference!

Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

–Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5; Yerushalmi Talmud 4:9, Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 37a.

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