For years now I have shared historical stories with you that I once shared with my eighth grade students in American History.
My first and favorite unit was the Presidential unit. I told human interest stories that thirteen-year-olds could relate to… or as Paul Harvey would have said … ” the story behind the story.”
One of the sweetest love stories that ever occurred in the White House … happened during the Ulysses S Grant administrations -the relationship between Grant and his wife Julia. And it all revolved around Julia’s natal eye condition-” strabismus” – commonly referred to as ” cross-eyed.”
Julia Dent was born with this condition ( 1826) long before medical advancements provided a relatively simple and widely successful procedure …which today is pretty commonplace in children born with this disorder. But this wasn’t the case in the early 1820’s…
Even as a little child, Julia considered herself as plain -and having a wandering right eye only confirmed this reflective self-image. Though conscious of this fact, it never deterred her natural warm, outgoing personality. She was popular and attracted lots of friends. She, however, was not much of a student academically at a St Louis finishing school.
She first met Ulysses through her older brother, Fred, who was Ulysses’ West Point roommate. He had just graduated but suffered from extreme shyness and was socially awkward . ( What was that new word from Webster dictionary this year/oh yeah… Grant was ” adorkable” -awkward in an endearing way.)
In Julia he had found his one and only… her warm, engaging personality put him at ease-something he had never felt in other social situations. He was soon to be reassigned and wanted to marry her before leaving but she was only eighteen and he had little financial security so they kept a secret engagement for roughly four years… until he returned from the Mexican War. Then they married.
Soon however, with one toddler and Julia “in the family way” again he was forced to leave his family …with Julia and children in tow moving back in with her parents in St. Louis. He was always miserable without her and finally returned home two years later.
Unbeknownst to Julia… photography and medical discoveries expanded rapidly during the Civil War… so much so that by the time her husband entered the White House as the 18th President photographers flooded the White House wanting promotional photos of the couple as well as photos for ” calling cards” that were very popular back then …as an etiquette courtesy.
During their tenure in the White House the Grants had the opportunity to meet talented and prominent professionals in many diverse areas-one being medical. One surgeon told Julia he could fix her right eye permanently now-thanks to the latest technology.
Julia was very excited about the prospect and was packing her bags to travel to Philadelphia for the procedure when shortly before her departure she got a handwritten note from Ulysses saying:
I don’t want to have your eyes fooled with. They are all right as they are. They look just as they did when the very first time I ever saw them – the same eyes I looked into when I fell in love with you-the same eyes that looked up in mine and told me that my love was returned.
It is said that Julia smiled … thought for a moment and then quietly unpacked her bags and canceled her appointment. Ulysses’ ” Eye” love you …sealed the deal!
So until tomorrow… What a beautiful love story and lesson on acceptance of what life hands you. My ” connector ” to this remembrance of this particular story originated Friday with the arrival of my ” cross-eyed” rooster! One never knows where a story idea might begin…
Today is my favorite day-Winnie the Pooh
When I read these words of a simple but profound way to commemorate September 11… I loved it… not lost in sorrow but passing on lessons learned and kindness shared in the “now.”