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Proof that sometimes the readers know best

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© St. Petersburg Times, published April 24, 2001

One of the things I love most about Times readers is that they won't let you get away with anything inaccurate.

I learned years ago to stop identifying plants and flowers in print, because as sure as I said something was a nasturtium, some semiamateur natural scientist would write in explaining to me that anyone with a brain in his head would know that the angle of the stamen and the curvature of the petals quite plainly identifies the blossom as the rare flowerus smellgoodus and who do I think I am anyhow.

Thus is it ever with quotes.

Just before leaving on a barely earned but immensely enjoyed vacation, while writing about toilets that should, but don't, conserve water, I wrote that Franklin Delano Roosevelt had promised us a "chicken in every pot."

I have made the same mistake before. Actually an old Democrat like me should remember that it was Herbert Hoover, not Roosevelt, who, adding "and a car in every garage," made the promise in 1928. I'm only sorry I wasn't around then to raise the question of why people who didn't have cars had garages, but I guess chickenless pots and carless garages have the same epistemological roots.

Hoover made his promise right before the beginning of something now referred to in the history books as the Great Depression, although most Americans currently think that term has something to do with how Nicole Kidman feels about her breakup with Tom Cruise.

It was Roosevelt who actually ushered in the kind of chicken-pot prosperity envisioned by Hoover.

Incidentally, folks around where I live still call gopher tortoises "Hoover chickens," because during the lean years a lot of pots that didn't have chicken in them still needed filling.

So that ends it.

Hoover said it, not Roosevelt.


Well, not exactly as reader Anne Wiley pointed out in an e-mail received while I was gone.

Hoover or one of his speech writers lifted the phrase from Henry IV of France, who said the day he was crowned, "If God grants me the usual length of life, I hope to make France so prosperous that every peasant will have a chicken in his pot on Sunday."

It was a more modest promise than Hoover's, which was not day-of-the-week specific and therefore sounded like "every night," which would have made the line, "what's for dinner?" totally unnecessary.

By all reports, however King Hank (not to be confused with the English king about whom Shakespeare wrote not one but two ponderous plays) was pretty good at the king business and made more friends than enemies.

And Hoover, even though he was a Republican, was hip to the live-mike thing and was smart enough never to be quoted as referring to voters, publicly, as peasants.

And finally, Henry IV spent a large portion of his life in wars stemming from the differences between Catholics and Protestants.

Some things haven't changed that much.

Some folks, I have heard, took offense at me mentioning in a column on Easter Sunday that I was not a Christian and would be spending that day in New Orleans.

No offense was intended, but I can tell you that I ran into several thousand other people, probably some of them who were Christian, doing the same thing. Keep in mind that Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) is a pre-Lent festival and that the end of Lent is marked by Easter, at which time New Orleans residents celebrate with a great Easter parade.

The fact that I don't participate in other folks' religious services doesn't mean I disrespect them. My Wiccan friends didn't mind me skipping the vernal equinox observances and, as a Buddhist, I did not find it at all offensive a few months ago when my Christian friends chose not to mark the anniversary of Buddha's enlightenment.

And, let's face it, most of us non-Jews didn't do a whole heck of a lot for Yom Kippur.

If there are, indeed, many mansions in the house of heaven, I like to think that was meant to give us a choice of doors.

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