Tiny Stories About A Large Figure In U.S. History
Aaron Sitze's new book will not help you pass a course in U.S. History. In fact, you'll fail if Sitze's book is the only one you read. But The Andrew Jackson Stories provides an entertaining lesson in Newtonian physics, among other things, and encourages you to keep talking to your plants.
We'll get to those items in a bit. First, Sitze explains his fascination with Andrew Jackson and other famous presidents.
"When non-historians think about the presidents, they sort of become these cartoonish characters," the author says. "Abraham Lincoln is tall and noble, with his fist out, speaking for justice. Teddy Roosevelt is a rough-and-tumble guy who'd go around giving people noogies if he had the chance."
And what about the seventh president?
"Andrew Jackson has always been stern, grandfatherly, continually grumpy, and yet full of this unwavering confidence just to do whatever he wants," Sitze says.
The author admits Jackson experts will find fault with his book.
"People who are historians will pick up this book and say 'Andrew Jackson never did those things.' But he's just such an interesting fella, trouncing into the garden at odd hours," Sitze says. "He just makes an interesting character."
Sitze presents nearly two dozen stories about Jackson and his gardener in our final Read With Me selection for this summer.
Each story is told from the perspective of the White House gardener, who's never named. In one story, "Newton," Jackson invites his gardener to play a game. The President explains that the two must sit at a table under a tree filled with walnuts and squirrels, and drink whisky:
"There are only two rules in Newton," he said. "First, do not look up! Second, whoever is struck first wins!" I heard another quick snap-snap in the canopy, a pause, and then the rose vase in between us exploded into fragments of glass and water. I covered my eyes and pushed back in my chair. The wind came on again, and I heard thumps in the grass. I picked the shards from my clothes and examined the hefty walnut on the table. It was smooth, with thick green armor. The glass around it seemed afraid. Some of the smaller pieces had clung to Andrew Jackson's hair, pulling in deep and peeking out from the nest. "You have glass in your hair," I told Andrew Jackson. "Yes," he said. The bartender arrived and filled our glasses, and I understood why he approached and left so quickly. The walnuts hurt. "Aren't you going to get it out?" I said. "That's not the way I play Newton," he said. The whisky had made him even more calm and comfortable. He was becoming serene. His eyes went soft, and he placed his hands evenly on the table. Confidence surrounded him and hovered like an invisible dome. The walnuts would not hit him in this state. "Have you ever won Newton?" I said. "No." He smiled. He looked through me. His eyelids were half-open. "Have you ever lost Newton?" I said. "No." He answered politely.
President Jackson isn't in every story. Some feature just the gardener talking with his plants, such as "The Maple Seedling in the Strawberry Patch" which you can hear in the link below.
Sitze says many of these stories were inspired by working in his own garden -- part of what he calls his "morning meditation" -- coffee in hand, walking between rows of seedlings.
"I know I'm not literally talking to plants, but they do respond to care," the author says. "And when we care for another thing, to see it respond in that way does make a connection. So when the gardener starts talking with his plants, those are conversations that I have quite frequently."
Aaron Sitze is an English teacher at Oregon High School. His book is published by Lockjaw Press.
All the books in this summer's Read With Me series have been added to our archive, which goes back to June 2012.
We welcome your comments to each of our Summer 2016 author interviews, which you can find at the bottom of this page.