letter to my cousins
Dear Don and Carolyn,
I hope this letter finds you and your families healthy and happy. I was doing some volunteer work for the Texas Book Festival this last weekend. I picked up historian Robert Caro and his wife Ina at the airport and drove them around town for a couple of days. I have been a lifelong reader of political biography, and was greatly looking forward to spending some time with them. While at the baggage carrousel, Bob Caro asked me if I had been in Texas all of my life. I replied that I had and told him that he had interviewed and quoted one of my aunts in his first LBJ book. He naturally asked her name and before I could get past “Ella” he stopped me and said “Ella Sorrell was your Aunt ?” He then turned to Ina and said , “Ina, Wade is Ella Sorrell’s nephew !”. He then told me that this was an interesting coincidence and that he had a story to tell me when we got in the car.
As we were driving into town he told me that he had just typed your mother’s name about two weeks ago. It seems that he is working on a memoir of his experiences writing about Johnson and had mentioned Aunt Ella as one of the people who helped him the most in his understanding of the man. He was kind enough to say that “Ella helped me more than Robert McNamara. “ I was about to say that Ella helped the entire country more than Robert McNamara simply by not pushing the country into Vietnam, but I decided that it was such a nice compliment that I would let it go.
His memory of their conversation was remarkable and I will relate it here in some detail. I assume that you have heard it from the other party, but you will enjoy hearing this. Caro began by asking Ella some questions about their days at Southwest Texas, as an aside the told me that unlike virtually everyone else he talked to from that class, “your Aunt kind of liked him.” After a few questions (which apparently betrayed some ignorance on his part) Ella told him, “I can see that you have not done your homework.” This conversation happened over twenty five years ago, and he was still very amused by this statement, he repeated it several times. She then asked if he had looked at the SWT Yearbook of their Senor year. He indicated that he had a copy but that it was a large book and that it had not given him much help. At this point, as I understand it, she asked him if he had noticed some missing pages. He had not. She was the first to explain to him that there had been numerous negative references to Johnson in the yearbook, but that the President of SWT had had all of the pages containing those comments physically removed from the book, after only a few copies had gotten out. It was apparently this story which was the key to open up many lines of inquiry which helped him get a handle on Johnson’s personality. As I mentioned above, this helped him so much that he is apparently paying special tribute to her in his memoir.
What made the story so special to me was hearing my Aunt’s voice telling this fellow, “I can see that you have not done your homework.” Can’t you just hear her saying that, ? a comment so pregnant with many emotions ;humor and bemusement, gentle chastisement, mystery and the hint that she could and would help him set the record straight. Caro thought that the comment, and what followed, were statements of “integrity”.
Toward the end of our visit, I asked Caro if he would inscribe some books to you. This may have been the most interesting thing that happened, because it tells so much about the man. After asking some questions about each of you, he took the books and said, “This is special, I need to think a bit.” He did not say anything for a few minutes, but simply thought. Finally, he began to write. When he was finished he handed it to me, proud of his work, and asked what I thought. I thought that it was wonderful. Then he turned to the back seat where his wife was and asked, “Ina, do you want to see what I wrote ?” This I really liked. Can’t you see him over the last quarter century, turning to her, his only researcher, and asking “Ina, do you want to see what I wrote ?” in hopes of her approval ? It was a wonderful moment.
Since your mother was so prominently mentioned in the first of his books, I assume that you have been following the series, and may well have the volume I am sending to you. I think, however, that you will enjoy the inscription as much as I did. I think of both your mother and father frequently, perhaps more so since my father died. Like Caro, I owe them a great deal and I am sorry that I am just now getting around to telling you.