” I Only Have Eyes for You”

Dear Reader:

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.

Julia, self-conscious of her eye condition, only had profile photos taken of her.

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:

Dear Julia

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.”

About Becky Dingle

I was born a Tarheel but ended up a Sandlapper. My grandparents were cotton farmers in Laurens, South Carolina and it was in my grandmother’s house that my love of storytelling began beside an old Franklin stove. When I graduated from Laurens High School, I attended Erskine College (Due West of what?) and would later get my Masters Degree in Education/Social Studies from Charleston Southern. I am presently an adjunct professor/clinical supervisor at CSU and have also taught at the College of Charleston. For 28 years I taught Social Studies through storytelling. My philosophy matched Rudyard Kipling’s quote: “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” Today I still spread this message through workshops and presentations throughout the state. The secret of success in teaching social studies is always in the story. I want to keep learning and being surprised by life…it is the greatest teacher. Like Kermit said, “When you’re green you grow, when you’re ripe you rot.”
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1 Response to ” I Only Have Eyes for You”

  1. Johnny Johnson says:

    Mrs. Dingle the little story behind the story of History is what made me love History while in College. I was lucky enough to have the head of the History Department as a Professor, Doctor, and he always had stories behind the stories in his lectures, and I loved it! Today’s writing reminded me of those College days and how much I enjoyed my Professors classes. History has always been a favorite subject of mine and when you are lucky enough to have a Teacher or Professor that also loves History and includes the stories behind the stories it was a fantastical trip back in time. I also took the Old and New Testament in College from a Baptist perspective I guess and also had a Former Pastor and Doctor as my Professor and wow what a different outlook and understanding I was blessed with. The Pastor/Doctor/Professor knew all the stories behind the stories of the Bible and in depth meanings to scriptures that I never understood before. Thank you for telling the story behind the story of Ulysses and Julia, I learned something new! I try to learn something new everyday. It was the stories behind the stories that made me love History so much and I was going to major in History but my Father talked me out of it. My Father nudged me in a different direction. But I must say those of you in the Education field that took the time to tell the stories behind the stories are just the best Educators there are! I would be willing to bet some of your past students still remember those extra behind the scenes stories you taught in your classes in Junior High. History is still a favorite subject of mine and always will be because of Educators like you that went that extra mile as a Teaching style.


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