The Adventures of Dody and Teedie
Illustration 2. His resemblance to a stork was accentuated by a habit of reading on one leg, while supporting a book on the jibbed thigh of the other. His health was, if anything, worse than ever: at least three times during the summer Theodore Senior had to take him across state for changes of air.
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The lungs crammed into that narrow cavity were themselves crammed with asthma, and the mere act of breathing placed a strain on his heart. Accordingly he sent for him. You must make your body. The promise, once made, was adhered to with bulldog tenacity. The piazza was a pleasant place for a city boy to work out. It faced south across the enormous Goelet garden, whence floated a constant supply of plant-purified air. Since the row of houses opposite, on the far side of Nineteenth Street, was low, sunshine poured down all day, all year round.
Here, to the caw of peacocks and magpies, and the occasional moo of a cow, Teedie pushed and pulled and stretched and swung, working himself into the rhythmic trance of the true body-builder.
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Drudgery it may have seemed to the little girl, but to a boy of such hyperactive temperament as Teedie, the work was both a release and a pleasure. He exercised throughout the winter and spring of — Fiber by fiber, his muscles tautened, while the skinny chest expanded by degrees perceptible only to himself. But the overall results were dramatic. Glorying in his newfound strength, he plunges into the depths of icy rapids, and clambers to the heights of seven mountains one of them twice on the same day.
Along with this physical exuberance, he develops a more studious interest in nature. Observed species are now identified by their full zoological names. A beryle alcyon dives for fish and a Putorious vison swims across his path, while coveys of Orytx virginianus and Bonasa umbellus rise from the banks on either side. Meanwhile he continued to read voraciously. Then, in the summer of , Teedie acquired his first gun. There was no spring to open it, and if the mechanism became rusty it could be opened with a brick without serious damage.
When the cartridges stuck they could be removed in the same fashion. If they were loaded, however, the result was not always happy, and I tattooed myself with partially unburned grains of powder more than once. Although Teedie blazed away determinedly at the fauna of the Lower Hudson Valley the Roosevelts had taken a summer house at Dobbs Ferry , he found, to his bewilderment, that he could not hit anything.
Even more puzzling was the fact that his friends, using the same gun, seemed to be able to bag the invisible: they fired into the blue blur of the sky, or the green blur of the trees, whereupon specimens mysteriously dropped out of nowhere. The truth was slow to dawn on him:.
One day they read aloud an advertisement in huge letters on a distant billboard, and I then realized that something was the matter, for not only was I unable to read the sign, but I could not even see the letters. I spoke of this to my father, and soon afterwards got my first pair of spectacles, which literally opened an entirely new world to me.
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I had no idea how beautiful the world was until I got those spectacles … while much of my clumsiness and awkwardness was doubtless due to general characteristics, a good deal of it was due to the fact that I could not see, and yet was wholly ignorant that I was not seeing. Through the miraculous little windows that now gripped his nose, the world leaped into pristine focus, disclosing an infinity of detail, of color, of nuance, and of movement just when the screen of his mind was at its most receptive. One of the best features of his adult descriptive writing—an unsurpassed joy in things seen—dates back to this moment; while another—his abnormal sensitivity to sound—is surely the legacy of the myopic years that came before.
Another revelatory experience occurred later that summer, and it was considerably less pleasant. Having an attack of asthma, I was sent off by myself to Moosehead Lake. On the stage-coach ride thither, I encountered a couple of other boys who were about my own age, but very much more competent and also much mischievous … They found that I was a foreordained and predestined victim, and industriously proceeded to make life miserable for me. The worst feature was that when I finally tried to fight them I discovered that either one singly could not only handle me with easy contempt, but handle me so as not to hurt me much and yet prevent my doing any damage whatever in return.
The humiliation forced him to realize that his two years of bodybuilding had achieved only token results. No matter how remarkable his progress might seem to himself, by the harsh standards of the world he was still a weakling. He must also learn how to give and take punishment.
Theodore Senior was as usual full of cheery optimism. Having been appointed American commissioner to the Vienna Exposition the following spring, he looked forward to an enjoyable winter cruising the Nile and the Mediterranean. His lazy wife was quite content to recline on deck-chairs, as on sofas at home, or hammocks in the country. The two youngest Roosevelts dreaded another year away from their friends, but for a while the excitement of an ocean voyage muted their complaints.
Teedie, for his part, took a serious, almost professorial view of the trip. As proprietor of the Roosevelt Museum, he was determined to treat his visit to the Nile as a scientific expedition and had already printed a quantity of pink labels for the identification of specimens. His new spectacles had focused his general interest in animals to an almost total obsession with birds. Hitherto his near sight had forced him to confine his observations to large, slow creatures that inhabited terra firma. As Teedie turned fourteen, he blossomed into a grotesque flower of adolescence, offensive alike to eye, ear, and nostril.
Mittie Roosevelt, fresh and crackling in her perpetual white silks and muslin, could hardly have contemplated him without despair. Apart from the owlish spectacles and snarling teeth, there was the over-long hair, its childish yellow darkening now to dirty blond; the bony wrists and ankles, which protruded every day a little farther from his carefully tailored suit; the fingers stained with ink and chemicals, the clumsy movements and too-quick reflexes.
His voice had not so much broken as taken on a new undertone of harshness, while its shrill upper frequencies remained. Teedie alone seemed to be unaware of his eccentric appearance. All the way south, through England and Europe, Teedie continued his scientific labors. Railroads, museums, even sanitation systems were unfavorably compared with those of America.
Not until Egypt hove over the Mediterranean horizon, on 28 November , did Teedie respond emotionally to his surroundings. How I gazed upon it! It was Egypt, the land of my dreams; Egypt the most ancient of all countries! A land that was old when Rome was bright, was old when Troy was taken! It was a sight to awaken a thousand thoughts, and it did. His diary entries immediately become lengthy and enthusiastic. The descriptions of street life in Alexandria are as dense with visual detail and sound effects as film scenarios. You can not express yourself on such an occasion. Passing through the Nile Delta en route to Cairo, Teedie munched sugarcane and gazed in rapture at a multitude of exotic species: humped, long-haired zebus, delicate waders, great flapping, shrieking zic-zacs, kites and vultures floating on spirals of hot air, water buffaloes wallowing in the chocolate mud.
The career of natural historian, to which Teedie was obviously headed, was a respectable one, if not as profitable as a partnership in Roosevelt and Son. Stamped the presidency with his own colorful personality. His enormous popularity gave him political clout that matched his celebrity status. Died: January 6, Did you know? World Timeline - See a timeline of world events during Theodore Roosevelt's administration. Early Career Newly-minted New York State Assemblyman Theodore Roosevelt convened the Cities Committee at Albany one day in , armed with his Harvard education, his moral indignation, his physical prowess, and a scavenged chair leg to defend against assault, should debate take a physical turn.
Dogged, audacious, bombastic, and naive, he had begun his journey to American legend. In the years since, he had repeatedly reinvented himself. Frail, nearsighted, and tormented by near-fatal asthma attacks, young Theodore, or Teedie, as he was known, devoted his early life to learning.
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He read voraciously, from children's magazines like Our Young Folks to the poetry of Longfellow and Western adventure books by the writer Mayne Reid. At age 8, Teedie founded the Roosevelt Museum of Natural History in the family home and stocked it with specimens he collected or begged -- the skins of mice, birds, and snakes, the skull of a seal, each carefully tagged and catalogued.
While in his mind he modeled himself on the rugged heroes of the West, the wispy Teedie scarcely seemed headed for a heroic life. But as a teenager, he overcame his frailty through exercise, spending hour after hour lifting weights, doing calisthenics, and boxing. Roosevelt's burgeoning physical strength would not be enough to gain his admission to Harvard, a goal which caused him to rebuild himself once again.
He commanded an impressive store of knowledge, but Harvard's entrance examination emphasized mathematics, Latin, and Greek -- areas in which he was weak. He worked assiduously under a tutor named Arthur Cutler, and after two years' study, passed the exam.
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If Roosevelt had made himself into a model man, he would learn at Harvard that all men did not aspire to the same models. His boisterous, nature, his distaste for debauchery, his New York pedigree, and his intellect set him at odds with the other Harvard men, many of whom were wayward sons of New England's elite. Once more, Roosevelt transformed himself -- this time from an outsider to an insider.
Rather than adapt his nature to Harvard, he adapted Harvard to his nature, challenging his teachers in the classroom, challenging his classmates with the idea that fun was not burlesque-hall grogfests but tramps in the idyllic Adirondacks, and challenging Harvard's elite clubs to deny membership to such an obviously remarkable young man. Accepted grudgingly, Roosevelt gained admission to a number of important Harvard clubs, including the vaunted Porcellians.
He performed above average academically and earned a Phi Beta Kappa key. Yet in his Autobiography , he wrote: " I am sure [Harvard] did me good, but only in the general effect, for there was very little in my actual studies which helped me in after-life. It was at Harvard, however, that Roosevelt's life was remade by love, as personified by Alice Hathaway Lee, the sister of a Harvard friend.
Spurned repeatedly, Roosevelt eventually won Lee's hand. The couple married and moved to New York, where Theodore briefly studied law. But he quickly remade himself again, this time entering one of the most disreputable fields imaginable: politics. At the time, men of TR's ilk eschewed politics, a grubby profession peopled by "saloonkeepers, horse-car conductors, and the like. When TR arrived at Albany, his dandyish appearance and his penchant for moralistic diatribes quickly made him a political pariah -- and a media sensation.
The press loved Roosevelt and provided an outlet for his attacks on the political machines, which served the wealthy few at the expense of the majority. By his third one-year term in the legislature, the pedantic greenhorn had become a skilled diplomat capable of wielding political and moral force with equanimity. The rising star of Albany, Roosevelt seemed destined for greatness. Then tragedy struck. On February 14, , Roosevelt's mother, Mittie, died of typhoid. The same day, his beloved wife, Alice, died of Bright's disease. Completely shattered, the man who had transformed himself from a weak, asthmatic boy into a powerful, talented politician finished his assembly term and retreated to the Badlands of North Dakota.
There he would rebuild himself once again. Domestic Policy Theodore Roosevelt appeared an unlikely candidate for a reform president. Born into a wealthy family, he enjoyed a youth beyond the reach of most Americans, touring Europe and the Middle East, studying with private tutors, and coming of age in a New York mansion.
A Harvard man, he socialized with America's upper crust. In practice, however, TR looked after the interests of working class Americans against rapacious corporate trusts, defying -- and some would say betraying -- the very society from which he had sprung. When TR entered the White House in , he took control of a federal government that often aligned itself with big business.
Roosevelt restrained his progressive leanings for a short time, wisely avoiding a shakeup on Wall Street, where jittery investors saw him at best as a loose cannon and at worst as a dangerous demagogue.
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In early , however, TR took the offensive against powerful corporate trusts. He convinced Congress to create a Bureau of Corporations to regulate big business, then shocked the nation by bringing an anti-trust suit against J. Morgan's Northern Securities Corporation. Morgan condemned the president, not just for what he had done, but for the ungentlemanly way in which he had done it -- publicly and without warning. A new paradigm had been established in Washington, and Roosevelt would go on to file suit against more than 40 major corporations during his presidency.
If Roosevelt's trust-busting surprised big business, it was certainly consistent with the major influences on his life. Theodore Roosevelt grew up worshipping a father who preached the moral duty of helping the poor, and he worked to be like his father in every way he could. As a young man, TR experienced life as a rancher in North Dakota's Badlands, where all the money in the world could not make a cow easier to rope or the summer sun less blazing, and years of honest work from sunup to sundown might still leave a person poor.
He learned to value working class people, and he never forgot them. From the time he took office in to the time he left it in , the cowboy president did much to help working Americans. He passed laws to ensure the safety of food and drugs sold in the American marketplace. He placed millions of acres of land under federal protection, preserving America's natural resources.
Teedie especially devoured legends and stories of adventure featuring fictional and historical characters of virtue and daring. Reading great stories of admirable characters reveals to young readers a world of awesome possibilities that transcends that which they learn through their own everyday experience. Providing our sons with books that espouse nobility and honor is one of the most effective ways for us to teach them virtue. For the majority of his youth, Roosevelt suffered from severe asthma.
His young body lacked the healthy muscle and girth that would later loom in his presidential portraits. He would continue to hike, hunt, and generally explore, and rarely complain. Despite having extreme seasickness, he joined his family on a trip across the Atlantic. While on this European expedition and during a two-week-long bout of asthma and stomach sickness, Teedie ventured to climb a mountain on the Austrian border.