“Where flowers bloom, so does hope.” These words, spoken by U.S. First Lady Lady Bird Johnson, inspire all to create joy and cultivate optimism across America. It is the triumphant, joy-creating message of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin, Texas where we are celebrating the former First Lady and six others in “The Creating Joy Birthday Party.”
When President Gerald Ford presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Lady Bird Johnson in 1977, the inscription concluded with these words: “Her leadership transformed the American landscape and preserved it’s natural beauty as a national treasure.”
You feel the joy as we enter this national shrine to flowering in America. The place setting for each honoree has a Texas-size, cotton napkin embroidered with a wildflower connected to their life. Cincinnati-born Steven Spielberg has a beautifully rendered Ohio Trillium and Louisiana-born Madam C. J. Walker unfolds her napkin to reveal a beautiful and bold sugar cane flower.
HOORAY FOR THE JOY-GIVERS! (Note: The words attributed to these famous joy-givers come from words they have written or said.)
PLEASE GIVE A ROUND OF APPLAUSE FOR JOY-GIVERS CELEBRATING A BIRTHDAY THIS WEEK:
Dec. 18—STEVEN SPIELBERG is a film director, film producer and screenwriter. He is currently the most commercially successful director. The Cincinnati, OH native has received three Oscars, a Kennedy Center honor, a Cecil B. DeMille Award and an American Film Institute Life Achievement Award.
His films include: “Jaws,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial,” “The Color Purple,” Jurassic Park,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Minority Report,” “War Horse,” “Lincoln,” “The Post,” this year’s “West Side Story” and the “Indiana Jones” series.
Dec. 19—CICELY TYSON was an actress extraordinaire. In a career which spanned seven decades, she became known for her portrayal of strong, determined, African American women. She received praise and awards for her acting work in: “Sounder,” “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman,” “How to Get Away with Murder,” “Moon on a Rainbow Shawl,” “The Help” and “The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All.” She won a Tony for her Broadway stage performance in “A Trip to Bountiful.”
Tyson was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame, received a Kennedy Center honor and given our nation’s highest civilian honor—the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Dec. 20—ELSIE DE WOLFE (Ella Anderson de Wolfe) was an actress who became a celebrity interior designer. One of the first female decorators, she was on a mission to replace dark and ornate Victorian décor with lighter, simpler styles and uncluttered rooms. She called herself a “rebel in an ugly world.”
The highly quotable De Wolfe had embroidered taffeta pillows bearing the motto, “Never complain, never explain.” On first seeing the Parthenon in Greece, De Wolfe exclaimed, “It’s beige—my color.” And, at her home, the Villa Trianon (Versailles, France), she had a dog cemetery in which each tombstone read, “The one I loved best.”
After her marriage to British diplomat, Sir Charles Mendl, the press envoy in Paris, she was known as Lady Mendl.
Dec. 21—RAY ROMANO (Raymond Albert Romano) is a stand-up comedian, actor and screenwriter. He is best known for his titular role on the CBS television sitcom, “Everybody Loves Raymond” and as the voice of Manny in the “Ice Age” animated film series. He grew up in Queens and was in the same high school class as the joy-giving, comedic actress, Fran Drescher. Most recently, he created and starred in the TNT comedy-drama, “Men of a Certain Age.”
Romano studied accounting in college as a “fall back” career. He is a champion of life-long learning.
Dec. 22—LADY BIRD JOHNSON was born Claudia Alta Taylor in Karnack, TX. There is a story about her nickname. Once, a nursemaid said about her, “She’s as purty as a ladybird.” She studied journalism and art at the University of Texas at Austin.
When she was a child, the future environmentalist developed a love of nature. With her joy-creating efforts, the government of Texas agreed to plant wildflowers on the sides of the roads throughout the state. As First Lady, Lady Bird, who was married to U.S. President Lyndon Johnson, started a beautification program for Washington, D.C. She was instrumental in the U.S. Congress passing the Highway Beautification Act (1965) which is known as the “Lady Bird Johnson Act.” This federal law restricted roadside advertisements and provided rules and funds for planting wildflowers and other plants along America’s highways and byways.
Dec. 23—MADAM C.J. WALKER (born Sarah Breedlove in Louisiana—1867) was an African American beauty products entrepreneur and social activist. She was the first female self-made millionaire in the U.S. Walker made her fortune by creating and marketing a line of cosmetics and hair care products for black women through the business she founded, Madam C. J. Walker Manufacturing Company. Her name was a version of Mrs. Charles Joseph Walker, after her third husband.
She became known worldwide for her philanthropy and as a patron of the arts.
Dec. 24—HOWARD HUGHES was an engineer, business tycoon, investor, film director, philanthropist and record-setting pilot. During his lifetime, he was one of the most influential and financially successful people in the world. He received the Congressional Gold Medal and was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.
COMMENTS OVERHEARD AT “THE CREATING JOY BIRTHDAY PARTY:”
“Only a generation of readers will spawn a generation of writers.”—Steven Spielberg
“I am not a quitter. I will fight until I drop.”—Cicely Tyson
“Be pretty if you can, be witty if you must, but be gracious if it kills you.”—Elsie de Wolfe
“The clash of ideas is the sound of freedom.”—Lady Bird Johnson
“I got my start by giving myself a start.”—Madam C. J. Walker
“Passion will make you crazy, but is there any other way to live?”—Howard Hughes
“I do not dream at night, I dream all day, I dream for a living.”—Steven Spielberg
“Nobody would bother to beat you down if you were not a threat.”—Cicely Tyson
“A house should be a synthesis of comfort, practicality and tradition.”—Elsie de Wolfe
“I married a saint—well, a saint who curses.”—Ray Romano
“My heart found its home long ago in the beauty, mystery, order and disorder of the flowering earth.”—Lady Bird Johnson
“I had to make my own living and my own opportunity. But I made it! Don’t sit down and wait for the opportunities to come. Get up and make them.”—Madam C. J. Walker
“Do the impossible, because almost everyone has told me my ideas are merely fantasies.”—Howard Hughes
“Even though I get older, what I do never get is old, and that’s what keeps me hungry.”—Steven Spielberg
“Children should have a balanced start in life, a mother and a father. That is the only reason to get married.”—Cicely Tyson
“I am going to make everything around me beautiful—that will be my life.”—Elsie de Wolfe
“For the sake of your marriage, get a king-size bed. And if you really want to stay married, get two.”—Ray Romano
“Flowers in the city are like lipstick on a woman—it just makes you look better to have a little color.”—Lady Bird Johnson
“Perseverance is my motto.”—Madam C. J. Walker
“I am by nature a perfectionist, and I seem to have trouble allowing anything to go through in a half-perfect condition.”—Howard Hughes
“You shouldn’t dream your film; you should make it.”—Steven Spielberg
“Challenges make you discover things about yourself you never really knew.”—Cicely Tyson
“You will express yourself in your house whether you want to or not.”—Elsie de Wolfe
“I still feel like an immature idiot inside, but I look in the mirror and this old guy keeps getting in the way.”—Ray Romano
“Native plants give us a sense of where we are in this great land of ours. I want Texas to look like Texas and Vermont to look like Vermont.”—Lady Bird Johnson
“If I have accomplished anything in life it is because I have been willing to work hard.”—Madam C. J. Walker
“The human brain is still undergoing rapid adaptive evolution.”—Howard Hughes
“If each person in this world will simply take a small piece of this huge thing, this amazing quilt, and work it regardless of the color of the yarn, we will have harmony on this planet.”—Cicely Tyson
“I believe in optimism and plenty of white paint.”—Elsie de Wolfe
“It’s pretty hard for the Lord to guide you if you haven’t made up your mind which way to go.”—Madam C. J. Walker
“I am not a paranoid, deranged millionaire. Dammit, I’m a billionaire.”—Howard Hughes
“The public has an appetite for anything about imagination—anything that is far away from reality is creatively possible.”—Steven Spielberg
MENU FOR “THE CREATING JOY BIRTHDAY PARTY:”
APPETIZER—Everybody Loves Ray Romano Braciole Bites (cdkitchen.com)
SALAD—Lady Bird Johnson Edible Wildflower Salad (forestandfauna.com)
SIDE DISH—Madam C. J. Walker Louisiana Red Beans and Rice (yummly.com)
BREAD—Cicely Tyson Vegan Zucchini Bread (allrecipes.com)
BEVERAGE—Elsie de Wolfe Christmas at Versailles Cocktail (see below)
DESSERT—Howard Hughes Billionaire Bars (sugarandsoul.com)
ONE TO GROW ON—The best biography of the rags-to-riches trajectory of the nation’s first self-made woman millionaire is “Madam C. J. Walker: The Making of an American Icon” by Erica L. Ball (2019). Born to former slaves, married at 14 and widowed by 20, Walker refashioned herself into one of the most famous African-Americans in history. Her story is inspiring for every reader.
As we sprint toward Christmas, the conversation of “The Creating Joy Birthday Party” naturally evolved to holiday plans. Ray Romano said, “I’ll be spending the holidays with my family. Nothing special, just some light bickering and biting sarcasm.” Cicely Tyson gave him a jolly wink and replied, “Bless you, my angel. And pace yourself.”
Elsie de Wolfe told stories of regal Christmas celebrations at Versailles and she dramatically re-created the joy-giving signature cocktail she served her holiday guests at the Villa Trianon.
Before dessert, all the partiers enjoyed a special exhibit of flower photography from the films of Howard Hughes and of Steven Spielberg. Then, like wide-eyed children at Christmastime, they enjoyed a shopping spree in the grand, garden-centric gift emporium of the wildflower center.
At the end of the evening, Lady Bird Johnson thanked the American joy-givers at “The Creating Joy Birthday Party” and charmed the crowd with her Texas drawl as she read:
“A Gardner’s Christmas Poem” (author unknown)
‘Twas the night before Christmas
And all through the yard
The branches were bare
And the ground frozen hard
The roses were dormant
And mulched all around
To protect them from damage
If frost heaves the ground
The perennials were nestled
All snug in their beds
While visions of fertilizer
Danced in their heads
The newly planted shrubs
Had been soaked by a hose
To settle their roots
For a long winter’s doze
And out on the lawn
The new fallen snow
Protected the roots of the grasses below
When what to my wondering
Eyes should appear
But a Prius full of gifts
Of gardening gear
St. Nick was the driver
A jolly old elf
And he winked as he said
“I’m a gardener myself.”
I’ve brought new seeds
And light systems, too
Give them a try
And see how they do.
To eliminate weeding
I brought bags of mulch
To attract the pollinators
I have flowers for best results.
To add to your joy
I’ve plenty of herbs
And ornamental grasses
For your hell strip curb.
For seed planting days
I’ve a trowel and dibble
And a roll of wire mesh
If the rabbits should nibble.
I have the latest books
Plus some gadgets you’ll love
Plant stakes and frames
And waterproof gloves.
Here are sharp shears
And a new compost pit
And for pH detecting,
A soil testing kit.
With these colorful flagstones
Lay a new garden path
For the view from your window
A bird feeder and bath.
And last but not least
Some well-rotted manure.
A green garden year-round
These gifts will ensure
Then, jolly St. Nick
Having emptied his load
Started his Prius
And took on the road.
And I heard him exclaim
Through the motor’s quiet hum,
“MERRY CHRISTMAS TO ALL,
AND TO ALL A GREEN THUMB!”
ELSIE DE WOLFE CHRISTMAS AT VERSAILLES COCKTAIL
3 fresh Basil leaves (Versailles has in the orangery)
1 ½ ounces Remy Martin 1738 Cognac
½ ounce Blackberry liqueur (Crème de Mure)
2/3-ounce Sauvignon blanc wine
Fresh blackberries and basil leaves for garnish
Bruise the basil leaves, then STIR all ingredients with ice and strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a spear of blackberry and basil leaf. JOYEUX NOEL, AMERICAN JOY-GIVERS!