Babies Make You Plump

I’m afraid I’m far ahead in my reading (8 days in, one-third of the way through the Randall’s Washington: A Life) but behind in my posting on that material.  Last night, I had a decent excuse, as Comcast’s web service just stopped.  Feh.

I really will have to catch up with our hero’s travails, from his spy work to the disaster at Fort Necessity to his new mentor’s demise to his truly icky illness.  But last night, something (or someone) pleasant popped up.  Enter:  Martha Dandridge Custis.  What do we learn about our first First Lady?

Like all the women of her family, Martha was small.  She measured under five feet tall when she was fully grown, nearly a foot and a half shorter than Washington.  In a primitive paining made a year before her first husband’s death, John Wollaston, the same man who painted Sally Fairfax and Lawrence Washington, gave Martha bright, almond-shaped eyes, a small pursed mouth, a high, domed forehead and a trim figure..  She radiated a clam, poised self-confidence.  The portrait does not show her perfect white teeth, a rarity at the time, her tiny delicate hands, or her gentle manner.  After giving birth four times, by the time washington met her she was plump.  She was always elegantly dressed and bejeweled.  Everything in her manner said that she had grown accustomed to wealth and was at lease with her own authority.

Earlier, we’re told she had a tiny waist.  And that George had probably previously danced with her at Tidewater parties.  And by the time she’s 25, a widow with four kids, one under the age of a year, she flirts with him when he comes to pay a courtesy shiva call (OK, not being Jewish, they probably wouldn’t have called it that), leaves his manservant standing by the horse outside (because he said he was going to be out in mere minutes) and then sleeps over all night.  Sounds more like a booty call, but whatever.  One date later, they were engaged.  

And yet he wasn’t over his crush on Sally.  Indeed, they traded (fairly encoded within allusions to Washington’s favorite play, Cato: A Tragedy) some flirty letters.  In the analogy, Washington is Juba, in love with Sally’s Marcia, practically enslaved to her father Cato (for which, read George William Fairfax, her husband).  Washington has been an embarrassment to menfolk and country (England or America…or even Virginia) all during the war, not only writing Sally mash notes, but bugging everyone they knew (save her husband, his best buddy) to act as wingman and get messages to her and prompt her to write to him.  She was well behaved (up until the aforementioned watermelon incident, but eventually she admitted, in code, that she cared for him, too, but all was for naught.  (There was no divorce in Colonial Virginia, so even if she were willing to risk the scandal, she couldn’t have been with George anyway.)

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Published in: on January 8, 2009 at 11:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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