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Mechanical Sense, Antipathy to Show Habits

As father himself has indicated, he possessed little or no mechanical sense and as a result had no patience with mechanical devices. This was typified by his attitude toward the automobile.

In the early days of automobile development he continued to use the horse and buggy . . . said he always knew when he started out that he would get to where he was going and back again. Gradually, however, he was obliged to make use of the automobile, but he never learned to drive nor could he be induced to even try. Whenever a car stopped, even if it were due to a simple tire puncture, he would state in no uncertain terms what he thought about motor transport. When there was any appreciable delay on the road he became very impatient and threatened to get out and walk. Later on when the automobile had been greatly improved and as a consequence became more reliable, he lost his antipathy to motor transport and readily recognized the asset value of this mode of transportation. While he was not in the least mechanically inclined, he marveled at and admired the remarkable ingenuity of the creators of mechanical devices. He always stressed the point that the products of inventive genius were the children of the mind and had to be developed there before they could exist in concrete form.

While he was distinctly socially minded . . . thoroughly enjoyed social contact with people of all classes . . . he disliked social functions tinged with conventionality and accompanied by display. He entertained a suspicion in such instances that the element of social intercourse was eclipsed by the opportunities these functions offered for what he termed "show."

Nevertheless, his innate prejudice against ostentatious display was compensated for by the opportunities which were a subject which held for him an all-consuming interest. Naturally, when he became Governor and later a member of the Senate of the United States, he was obliged to attend many formal affairs, and regardless of the objections he would raise I have always harbored the belief that when he was actually on the scene of action he thoroughly enjoyed himself, but mainly because in the process he could enlarge upon his knowledge of human nature. The following quotations from his correspondence with me with reference to formal functions are typical.

January 9, 1925 "Last night Mary and I attended the President's reception at the White House. I don't care to waste Burlew's time or my time in telling you how much I enjoyed the reception. As I walked through the White House my mind went back to Abraham Lincoln. Insomuch as the Civil War was on during his entire term, I presume receptions in those days were rare. For some reason I have never given that feature of his life any attention. After attending one of these receptions, I find it easy to be reconciled to having no further aspirations for the presidency. The President, to my mind, is the most pathetic figure in American life. I doubt if Coolidge has a sense of humor anything like that possessed by Lincoln. Of course, that would help him amazingly."

February 2, 1928 "Before I forget it, permit me to say that I have just come from the White House where I had breakfast this morning at eight with the senators who were about half and half Republicans and Democrats. My main object in accepting the President's invitation was to get some pancakes and Vermont maple syrup."

January 3, 1925 "Last night Mary and I attended the Charity Ball at the New Willard. I did it solely to please Mary. I presume you have lived long enough to know to what extent women enjoy the glitter and show of a ball. President and Mrs. Coolidge were present, a considerable number of senators and a very large number of the "uppy-ups" of the city of Washington. It furnished me another opportunity to study human nature when it is on exhibition. I can't say that I enjoyed it except for the human nature element."

January 27, 1937 [sic 1927] "The society woman has a hell of a time in this city (Washington). There isn't a city on the globe, except Paris, where a woman can cultivate so largely her vanity."

So far as I can recall, father had practically no bad habits in the common acceptance of the meaning of that term. He was a moderate cigar smoker but had little use for cigarettes and very seldom smoked a pipe, but entertained no prejudice against pipe smoking. His antipathy toward cigarette smoking was undoubtedly due to prejudice based on his personal opinion that they offered nothing adequate in the way of smoking satisfaction.

At one time, his old friend and fellow classmate in the Medical Department of the University of Michigan, Dr. John H. Kellogg, told him that if he would give up smoking it would probably add ten years to his life. Father replied that while he recognized the probable truth of that statement he was not going to live the life of an ascetic merely to prolong his life but that he would continue his smoking for considerable periods during his lifetime. He had an iron will and undoubtedly could have abandoned smoking entirely had he so desired.

With reference to habit, father possessed some very definite opinions of even so-called harmless habits. I can well recall his aversion to gum chewing, and, for some reason I cannot now remember, he looked upon the custom of men parting their hair in the middle with disapproval.

During morning exercises he could not abide needless sound interruptions while he was reading, such as a student rattling an ink well; scraping the feet or the making of any unnecessary commotion. At such times he would stop his reading and in unmistakable terms vigorously comment on the situation. He was a master in the use of sarcasm and I have no doubt that many an old student can remember a number of caustic dressings down that he administered when he felt them justified.

His marked aversion to the use of liquor is easy to understand. He had observed the devastating effects of it on all sides, but certain experiences in his own family which caused him untold sorrow and many sleepless nights constituted an argument which demonstrated to his satisfaction that mankind would be better off without it.

As a result, he was bitterly opposed to the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. One of the few addresses he prepared for use in the Senate comprehended his views on this subject. Many of his own party conferees in the Senate disagreed with him on this matter, but it was characteristic of him that when he believed in a principle he would adhere to his convictions regardless of party policy or anything else.

Having been brought up in an atmosphere that demanded obedience, and being subjected at all times to rigid discipline, he naturally believed these things were essential in the building of character. In our home and elsewhere he taught the value of obedience, parental respect, discipline, punctuality and all of the so-called homely virtues. While he left the management of the home largely to mother, he did not hesitate to step into any emergency involving either by brother or myself, and we knew what to expect if we had infringed upon the rules of decent conduct.

If there was any one trait in human nature that he... (the narrative is here interrupted due to the loss of one of the original manuscript pages)