Dance cards, Pentagon papers, and history keepers


We never have more than we can bear. The present hour we are always able to endure. As in our day, so is our strength. If the trials of many years were gathered into one, they would overwhelm us … but all is so wisely measured to our strength that the reed is never broken.

H.E. Manning 1808-1892

Being a journalist was both an honor and a burden; it served as a sound moral compass. I’ll briefly revisit this with Katherine Graham, later.

Last night, I dreamt of journalism. In the dream, I was the flack, and my employer wanted me to lie to the press. The inquiring reporter was on deadline, and with every delayed response the story seemed bigger, its legs grew longer, and the damage to my employer’s reputation greater. I can’t place who or what I worked for in the dream. I want to say it was government, but I’m not sure. I pleaded with my boss to come clean. I’d rather quit and irreparably damage my career than lie to the reporter. In the end, I told the truth, the reporter made the deadline and had several follow-up stories. I left that job, returned to the newsroom, no longer on the dark side, but back with the Fourth Estate. Any journalist will tell you that was most certainly a dream because once you leave you can never go back.

Karen's 1993 ornament
Karen’s 1993 ornament

There are so many parallels I can draw from the dream to life in December 2017.

First, one of my favorite ornaments: 1993 #1 Journalist Karen T. Craven. I graduated from Northern Illinois University in December 1993. My mom gave us an ornament every Christmas, so when we flew the coop we had our own collection. For the last few years, Bridget picked this ornament from my collection and insisted it gets hung on the Christmas tree. It used to make me sad, I looked at it with regret that I should have stuck it out as a reporter longer. Her enthusiasm helped me change that. I hung it with pride this year. I am so grateful for a mother who took an overpriced ornament from Hallmark and made it into something truly special, that creates new meaning with every passing year.

Second, being truthful. Bridget asked if my sister Annmarie and brother in law Mike could spend Christmas Eve with us. They did. At breakfast yesterday, I thanked them for their presence in our lives, and the presents they shared with us, too. Annmarie and Mike probably have shared in half of Bridget’s Christmas mornings. I believe their presence on Christmas Day provides Bridget an assurance of the unconditional love found outside of her parents. I’m so proud that Bridget expressed her desire to have them share Christmas Eve and Day with us.

Third, seeking and speaking the truth: Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now has been in and out of head for the last couple of weeks. Being a true and fair person requires us to look at both sides of the story. I’ll write more about this song on another day, but here’s the verse that’s spot on for this morning:

But now old friends they’re acting strange
They shake their heads, they say I’ve changed
Well something’s lost, but something’s gained
In living every day.

Something is gained in living every day, right? December 25 represents a day that could have gone two ways, something lost or something gained. And I chose the latter, but only by acknowledging the former. I didn’t want to be alone on Christmas Day and spoke out and sought the company of family and friends.

Fourth, the history keeper: On Christmas Eve, my mom gave us a lot of sentimental gifts. I received a box containing a Holy Bible and an envelope of assorted papers, with this note.

Mom's Christmas note to Karen
Mom’s Christmas note to Karen

Inside the envelope are so many lovely things, including an undated note from my Great Aunt Veronica to her sister, Dor, my Grandma.

Aunt Veron to Grandma
Aunt Veron to Grandma

Dear Dor: 

I thought I’d drop in a minute tonite, but the ironing is too much, I have to wash my hair + so on. I thought you’d like to have the iron, even tho you’re not well enough to use it. I’ll see you tomorrow. I can order your Sunday food when I go to Ashland. 

Take it easy well you rest – a lot – — This iron is my Christmas present to you + Pete hope you’ll like it. I’ll see you soon.


PS (Dorothy Ann’s Godmother)

This must have been written soon after my Aunt Dorothy was born because Veron tells her sister to “rest and take it easy” and she refers to herself as (Dorothy Ann’s Godmother).  I am betting my Aunt Dor was not yet baptized, hence the reference.


My grandmother’s dance card from senior prom at Harper High School on May 18, 1934. The first eight dances were empty, but she was busy for nine through 12.

Dorothy Burns Dance Card Harper High School Senior Prom 1934
Dorothy Burns Dance Card Harper High School Senior Prom 1934
Dorothy Burns Dance Card Harper High School Senior Prom 1934
Dorothy Burns Dance Card Harper High School Senior Prom 1934

Other items include: The payment record to the jeweler from whom my grandfather purchased my grandmother’s wedding band and the title for the 1931 Ford Coupe my grandfather purchased for $40.00 on August 19, 1936 (this requires further research to determine if this is infamous vehicle that experienced countless flat tires on the way to  Paw Paw Lake).

Fifth, coming full circle with the dream: I was privileged to be a journalist, my duty was as a history keeper. Yesterday I spoke to a friend about why I left the Criminal Courts at 26th & California for a job in the suburbs that I no sooner started than detested. I was afraid I could not endure the cruelties of life that were so graphically displayed there. That fearful realization is tethered to the Comfort Prayer from this morning. I do believe that God only fills our plate with what we can handle, with what we can endure, and if we pause long enough we’ll realize that God is our most loyal fan and our loudest cheerleader. Sometimes it takes a while, in my case about a quarter of a century, to appreciate that fact.

I’ve always wondered without journalism where we would be? What if no one photographed Pearl Harbor, Vietnam, or September 11; no one documented the Civil Rights Movement or Women’s March, or there was nothing to intricately connect our shared experiences like fine Irish lace? Outside of our those shared experiences, each family needs its own history keeper. Each family should know its own truths. Who knew that when my mother gave me a Christmas ornament 24-years ago that its meaning was not so much about the trajectory of my career, but more about my role in this family, its history keeper?

Last, the parallel from this dream that I think is most timely is The Post. From senior prom dance cards to the Pentagon Papers, we are all history makers and keepers. I plan to see The Post early next year. Why? Because sometimes we need to revisit our past, to inform our present. The weight of what Katherine Graham endured is a timely and sobering reminder there is no greater threat to our democracy and to our future history than the undermining and disempowerment of a free press. Enough said.


2 Thoughts

    1. Thank you. I know I need to go back to bed after I finish! I committed to write 90 days in a row, so today I am 1/3 of the way through. Come the end of February I’ll scale back, or maybe the well will run dry.


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