It all started at the beginning of the pandemic when he broadcast a live video stream each day at 5:15 pm Chicago time choosing to read a paragraph or a page or two from a book, often dusty, from his library then expound on it, inviting authors, historians, and others for Q&A to a live audience of 100 or so people online, an intimate setting for a man with over a million followers, inviting questions, calling us by name.
You know his voice. If you listen to NPR on Saturday mornings, he is the host of Weekend Edition. He is a voice of reason in an age of insanity.
To express our thanks, one of the regular viewers, Peggy Shannon (author of the forthcoming book Churches of Paris) contacted other regulars and invited them to answer what does Open Book mean to you? She collected the answers, bound them, then delivered the present.
So it was we gave thanks, letters of gratitude, today to Scott, and Open Book, and to his family. And to all those who feed us, transport us, shelter us, and comfort us. Caroline called for the tissues. At least a box was needed to soak up the tears of those who read from the opened book, not to mention those who watched in real time on Twitter and Periscope.
For the family who gives so much, Happy Thanksgiving, and thank you for your gifts to us.
In the early days of Twitter in 2009, I heard your touching essay on the radio about a close family friend of yours who passed away. I tweeted you about the afterlife. You responded. Who does that? You made me a fan for life.
When the Covid-19 pandemic started, I said to myself, “I hope Scott never retires. We need his voice of reason and reassurance on Saturday mornings.”
My phone sent me a message: “Scott Simon is live….”
It was Open Book.
What it means to me is new ideas, learning new things, things I should have learned in school, for example, the writings of James Baldwin.
After your session with a historian about Robert E. Lee, I called my dad who had attended Robert E. Lee Elementary School in Richmond, Virginia in the 1930s. “Dad, there’s this program you should watch. It’s with Scott Simon, you know, the NPR radio host on Saturday mornings….” This is an example why truth matters, because dad grew up with the theology Lee was a great man, a loyal statesman to his country, Virginia.
How Open Book inspired me is like this:
On Valentine’s Day this year I completed a manuscript that took one year to write and four years to finish, because of wine, or the effects thereof, having a daytime job, a thousand vines, and a wife to care for…
The book was finished, but my godmother’s eyes had failed, and mom’s eyes weren’t as good as they once were, so I had an idea, inspired by you. I would read them my book, a chapter at a time, and this became my project during the lockdown, during the pandemic, that at happy hour, I would open a bottle of wine, talk about how it was made, and read a chapter of the book. And when it was June 6th, I’d talk about what that date meant to me, and read the chapter that featured D-Day events and characters, and then when you and Caroline talked about your experiences during Open Book about Normandy and D-Day, I realized we were connected by more than Twitter and Internet signals but by life events.
The last chapter of my book reading recording experiment acknowledged all those who had inspired the work with a huge shoutout to you, who gave me the idea to read it aloud, record it, so those whose eyes were bad could listen, and with their ears, see. Here’s a link to it on YouTube: https://youtu.be/2EXK_nVfyCY?t=57
I don’t have your address, so I can’t send you wine. But if I could, this is the note I’d send to accompany the bottles. Since Peggy has given me an impossible deadline of writing this tonight, when the wine bottle is now half-full, I could think of no better essay to send than what I wrote to another pair of Chicagoans ten years ago:
Dear First Lady and Mr. President,
For months, there has been nothing but dreary news in the media about the economy. No city or town has been passed over by the damage and pain. Even in our semi-rural, gentlewomen and gentlemen farmer community, we have seen neighbors’ homes foreclosed, families uprooted, shops on Main Street abandoned. I am reminded of what scripture tells us about the biblical patriarch Joseph and his dreams; he foresaw seven years of famine followed by seven years of abundance. In ancient Egypt, after seven years of drought, the rains returned and so did the crops. And from the depths of the 1932 Depression, the United States emerged to become the world’s greatest economic power. The lessons from the past speak to our time. We will rise again.
We come and go – but the land is always here, always serene. You should visit this area sometime and experience it – to park your burdens at the entrance for a day and reconnect with Nature and the Earth. In the vineyard among the vines, there are answers to all dilemmas. All things have their seasons. After midnight’s darkness, the sun will rise again. After winter’s cold, spring’s thaw will follow. We spent the cold, dark winter pruning vines, cutting back, cutting expenses as well. In winter, the vineyard is barren. Just as the sun must rise and the swallows return to Capistrano – this Recession, it too shall pass.
Yesterday in the vineyard, I came across a shoot – a green shoot – with fragile green leaves – signaling the start of spring. Then I saw another, and another. Green shoots, everywhere. Mr. President, just as there are green shoots in the vineyard, there are green shoots sprouting in the economy. The recession is ending. Growth is on the way. Stay the course and keep the faith. We are keeping hope alive.
About that wine I gave you …The first bottle is Petit Verdot, the most fragrant wine known to womankind and dogkind – a wine made for fine ladies. It is for Michelle. The second bottle is a blend made from all the different grapes of our vineyard, some Petite Sirah and Petit Verdot and Zinfandel and Tempranillo and Grenache and Aglianico … the recipe is a little bit of this, a little bit of that. This is the Ellis Island of wines, an assembly of our leftovers, our poor, our huddled masses. Grapes yearning to be free. A melting pot. A kitchen soup. And the result? Bluey the Aussie gave it six licks, the most I’ve ever seen, and it is perhaps the best wine we’ve ever made. Just as the good Lord brought people from all over the world to this country to make America the Beautiful – we have taken grapes from each corner of our vineyard – and carboys of wines from all corners of the winery – to create this blend, which we henceforth call President’s Cuvée.
May God bless your Presidency and the United States.