Remembering Ewell Hudson Mohler, Jr.

My grandfather, Ewell Hudson Mohler, Jr., passed away on Wednesday, September 19.

Yesterday, my family held a small ceremony at Fairfax Memorial Park. My remarks at his graveside are below. I hope they can help convey what he meant to me and honor his memory.

My mother Jenny and her two brothers, Joseph and Matthew, had just finished telling some incredible stories from their teenage years. My cousin Jeannine also spoke. We’re the two oldest grandchildren and we both lived with my grandfather for a few years. “Marlborough Road” is how we refer to the home they’ve lived in for the past few decades

So I think Ewell’s kids must have sufficiently chilled him out by the time I really got to know Ewell.

A gift that my mom gave me was taking me down to Virginia a lot as a child to hang out at Marlborough Road and we’d probably go once a month or  once every other month. And I remember as a really young child an intense sadness every time we had to leave and go back to New Jersey. And I remember looking around the house and just kind of singing a sad song to myself because they just showered me with unconditional love. And all their grandchildren. Wow, have they showered us with unconditional love. And Ewell included, in his own way. He wasn’t always a deeply outwardly affectionate man, but that affection he had for all of us was so evident in his actions and his deeds and his words, too.

I had this unique privilege of living with my grandparents at Marlborough Road right after I got out of college because I was going to be working in the region. So of course, no questions asked, no rent, here’s free food and housing, you know, you’re our grandchild. And Jeannine had a very similar experience in college going to Mason. That’s a really neat way to get to know your grandparents because it’s not a situation where it’s your birthday, it’s Christmas or it’s a holiday. You’re really there every day getting to know how they live with each other and how they live their life day to day. It became an incredible gift because in a way Ewell became like my buddy. He became just this older guy that I knew who also happened to be my grandfather.

And there’s this conversation we had at dinner one night. I had just gotten started doing the 9 to 5 thing and you know, you go to high school you go to college and everyone says get the degree and get this degree and everything is going to be great. There’s this pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and it’s going to be great. And you get to work and, well, I’m sitting at a desk all day, there’s fluorescent lights over me and I’m sitting around in meetings and I’m on the phone and sending emails all day and this doesn’t feel right. And it’s eight hours every day. So I’m saying something along these lines, which, of course, a lot of 22 year old people say, but that perked Ewell up. And it was one of the very few times he just dropped his knife on the table — CLINK — and me and Joan got silent and we look at him and he goes, “Son. Work’s not fun. It’s something you do.”

And it just immediately hit me how much sense that made. And I thought how did I get through high school and college and no one ever told me that who was, like, paid to teach me. But here was Ewell with his wisdom and he was able to pass that on.

I love that phrase. It’s just something you do.

And like Joe and Matt and Jenny have conveyed, Ewell was always doing something. He was constantly in motion. And I think of what Joe said a little bit like he was always reshaping little pieces of the world around him to make them work better. It didn’t matter how big or small his world was. He was going to fix all these little things. He was going to address them. And he did it in such a deliberate, patient way.

And that’s one of the greatest lessons he passed onto me was the value of patience. Because I’m nowhere near as patient a person as he is. And I’ll always carry that with me whenever I’m doing things.

I think so much of how Ewell is a part of me and all his children and grandchildren. I mean at the literal level, we’ve got Ewell DNA in all of us. Right? We look a little bit like Ewell, we act a little bit like Ewell, we have a little bit of Ewell’s hair, a little bit of his gait. There’s a little something about us all where we can just see it. It’s Ewell.

By getting to know him, additionally, what I’ll be able to do is carry Ewell with me for the rest of my life as I go about doing things. And at his core because of that patience and that deliberation he is the most moral man I have ever met. And it was the thinking that went into everything that made him moral.

So his heart still beats inside mine. Still beats inside all of us. And his mind lives on in every decision we make because we carry with us everything that he taught us.

So every time I try to reshape some little part of the world around me, I know Ewell is going to be with me.

And I love him so much and I love you all so much.

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Ewell

My grandmother, grandfather and me.

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Ewell Hudson Mohler, Jr. December 29, 1929 to September 19, 2012.

Bruce Springsteen at the Political Conventions

Bruce Springsteen is probably the only American artist who can get play at both political party conventions.

New Jersey governor Chris Christie referenced one of his songs in his RNC keynote address, talking about his childhood and the role his mother played in his life:

“I was her son as I listened to ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ with my high school friends on the Jersey Shore.”

And the Obama campaign has been using “We Take of Our Own” as a campaign theme song. It played at the DNC as Obama ended his acceptance speech.

For the record, Springsteen is publicly supporting Obama and made a new video of the above song for the campaign.

Springsteen has a storied history of politicians invoking him and his work.

Wikipedia has the tale of the mixtape for the 1984 election. And Salon has a more detailed overview of Springsteen’s evolving politics and ideology.

It started with Reagan name-checking Springsteen in a speech:

“America’s future rests in a thousand dreams inside your hearts. It rests in the message of hope in [the] songs of a man so many young Americans admire—New Jersey’s own, Bruce Springsteen. And helping you make those dreams come true is what this job of mine is all about.”

Springsteen responded at a concert a few days later:

“Well, the president was mentioning my name in his speech the other day, and I kind of got to wondering what his favorite album of mine must’ve been, you know? I don’t think it was the ‘Nebraska’ album. I don’t think he’s been listening to this one.”

Then he sang “Johnny 99,” a song about a laid off autoworker driven to robbery – which inadvertently leads to murder – to pay his mortgage. “I ain’t saying that makes me an innocent man,” Johnny tells the judge. “But it was more than all this that put that gun in my hand.”

According to the Associated Press, Walter Mondale stepped into the fray, too:

…Mondale went to New Brunswick, N.J., and accused Reagan of trying “to steal one of New Jersey’s most important heroes.”

“Bruce may have been born to run, but he wasn’t born yesterday. And when Bruce heard what President Reagan had said, here’s what the Boss had to say to him,” said Mondale, pulling out a U.S.A. Today article in which Springsteen was quoted as saying:

“There’s something really dangerous happening to us out there. We’re slowly getting split up into two different Americas … I don’t think the American dream was that everyone was going … to make a billion dollars. But it was that everyone was going to have a chance to live a life with some decency and some dignity.”

“That’s the real Bruce Springsteen, and he’s for the Mondale-Ferraro ticket,” Mondale said to cheers. But his press secretary later admitted there had been no formal endorsement.

Whoops.

The confusion probably started with columnist George Will, who mistakenly declared “Born in the U.S.A.” a paean to hard work and patriotism. In fact, it’s about a veteran who is let down by a lot of empty promises and misguided decisions from his government.

An artist’s worst fate, even more so than being ignored, is to be misunderstood. Being misused by politicians probably sucks even worse.

In any case, Springsteen seems to have taken matters into his own hands.

It’s much harder to confuse the message of “We Take Care of Our Own” than “Born in the U.S.A.” And he’s become much more explicit about who he does and doesn’t support for president.

If politicians are going to invoke you by name, they practically invite you to declare yourself for or against them and their policies. And while a lot of artists might have responded by taking a long vacation every two or four years, Springsteen made the right decision — to stand up for himself and what he believes in.