Saturday, March 14, 2009


uxorious [ŭk-SORE-ē-əs]
adj. foolishly fond of, or affectionately submissive toward one's wife

[From Latin uxor ("wife")]

Almost four years ago, I went to the Yolo County animal shelter to find a new puppy. My sweet old dog, Moxie, whom I had named for the title character in Gregory McDonald's comic mystery, "Fletch's Moxie" -- one of many Fletch books, two of which became Chevy Chase movies years after I read the series -- had recently died of cancer. I didn't have a name in mind for the new doggy. I figured something would come to me when I saw him. By great luck, the cutest puppy in the history of the world (see picture below) was brought into a large cage just as I arrived. He was mostly black, but had white markings and a handsome pink spot on his little nose. While other dogs at the pound seemed nice, this beautiful puppy was the one for me. When I finally got him home, still without a name, I started looking over my large collection of biographies. I had recently read "Alexander Hamilton" by Ron Chernow, and thought Hamilton was a good dog's name. But in consideration that he might end up being called Hammy -- not all that kosher -- I opted instead for one of my favorite American heroes, Truman, after looking at the jacket of David McCullough's warm biography of our 33rd president.

Of the many lasting images I have of Harry Truman from McCullough's account, is that Harry had a deep, affectionate and undying love for his wife, Bess. He doted on her and treated her always as if her agreeing to be his wife was the most impossibly wonderful thing any human being had done for another ever. Thus, when I think of a doting husband, when I think of uxorious, I think of President Truman. I was not the first to use that adjective to describe the man from Independence. Here is a snippet from James McManus about Cassius Coolidge, the commercial artist most famous for his series of calendar paintings, Dogs Playing Poker, in which he describes Truman. McManus compares the Dogs Playing Poker paintings to Tennessee Williams' play, A Streetcar Named Desire:
But unlike Stanley Kowalski, throwing his muscular weight around in the original wife-beater T-shirt, Coolidge's dogs are cut from the same cloth as Harry Truman, the uxoriously buttoned-up Kansas City haberdasher who went on to become a judge and, by the time Streetcar opened, our most mainstream president. The dogs wear either flannel suits or handsome leather collars. Like Truman, they're upstanding gents, neither prudish nor overly macho. Their games are low-key male rituals, not make-or-break showdowns. While Coolidge was painting them, Truman's Monday night poker sessions with World War I Army buddies had a 10-cent limit. "A little beer or bourbon was consumed," his biographer tells us, "Prohibition notwithstanding."

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