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By William H. Benson

The Parallel Lives


Roger Williams VS. Cotton Mathers


Memoirs and mothers

In 1995, the author David Pelzer’s book, “A Child Called It,” was first published. In it, he claimed that his mother beat him, starved him, terrorized him, and banished him to the garage, where he slept on a cot. Gruesome beyond words, the book sold 1.6 million copies in five years.

I read it then and thought throughout, “No mother would do that.”

In 1996, Frank McCourt’s book, “Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir,” was first published. In it, he listed his impressions as a child growing up in poverty-stricken Limerick, Ireland, during the Depression and World War II.

His father, Malachy McCourt, was an alcoholic but a wonderful story-teller. When Frank was ten, his father abandoned the family to live in England. He never sent his wife and kids money.

Frank’s mother, Angela Shehan McCourt, was overwhelmed. She had given birth to six boys—Frank, Malachy, Jr., the twin boys, Oliver and Eugene, then Michael, and Alfie—plus a daughter, Margaret, who died when a few months old. The twins died when toddlers.

The four remaining boys struggled to find sufficient food when living in desperate conditions in Limerick, more a slum than a home. During the rainy season, water flooded the kitchen.

Frank calls his mother “Mam” and describes her as a woman incapable of knowing how hungry her boys felt every hour of every day. Instead of cooking meals, she preferred “to sit before the fire and chain-smoke her cigarettes while her children starved.”

On one occasion, Frank watched as his mother begged at the priest’s back door for scraps. Another time, Michael brought home a blind greyhound, and said, “The dog can have my supper tonight.” His brothers looked at him shocked and shouted, “What supper?”

A tragicomedy, “Angela’s Ashes: A Memoir,” won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography in 1997.

In 2005, Jeannette Walls’s book, “The Glass Castle: A Memoir,” appeared on bookshelves. In it, she describes her mother as a woman caught up in dreams of a fortune. Instead of cooking meals, she painted pictures, convinced that she would achieve fame as an artist.

When Jeannette and her siblings are grown up and doing well, she invites them to her home for Thanksgiving, plus their mother. Her brother looks at the turkey and dressing, and says, “You know, it’s really not that hard to put food on the table if that’s what you decide to do.”

By definition, a memoir is a narrative, written from the perspective of the author, about a part of their life. Some children remember events differently than do their siblings or parents.

David Pelzer’s brother Stephen said that David was placed into foster care, not because of their mother’s abuse, but because “David started a fire and was caught shoplifting.”

Frank and Malachi, Jr., joined forces and drafted a play that they entitled, “A Couple of Blaguards,” that appeared on a New York City stage. In it, they sing and recount their memories of their sordid life growing up in Limerick. It is funny, irreverent, “an unholy amount of charm.”

The two boys invite their mother to attend a performance. Part way through, she stands up in the audience and shouts at them, “It didn’t happen that way! It’s all a pack of lies.”

Malachy replies, “Well, you come up on the stage and tell us your side of the story.”

“I will not,” she says, “I wouldn’t be seen on the stage with the likes of ye.”

Frank McCourt wrote “Angela’s Ashes” and “A Couple of Blaguards” from “a child’s point of view. His impressions may not be accurate in some areas, but that is what he felt and thought.”

On Mother’s Day, we remember the truth that good mothers offer the best food to their kids. The Irish wit Oscar Wilde said, “All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.”

Frank McCourt died July 19, 2009, at 78, and Malachy, Jr., died March 11, 2024, at 92.

Thoughts on College Bowl and University Challenge

The quiz show, “College Bowl,” was first broadcast on radio in 1953, 71 years ago. The show transitioned to television in 1959 and stayed there until 1970. Its first host was Allen Ludden, the future husband of Betty White. He hosted the show until 1962 when he left...

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4th Amendment: Sections 4 and 5

Two weeks ago in these pages, I looked at the second and third sections of the 14th Amendment. Today I continue with its two final sections, the fourth and the fifth. Section 4 clarifies which debts the U.S. Federal government will honor as valid. The first sentence...

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4th Amendment: Sections 2 and 3

Last time in these pages I looked at Section 1 of the 14th Amendment. Today I continue. The last phrase in Section 1 of the 14th Amendment declares that no state can “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law.” All races are equal...

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14th Amendment, Section 1

In early 1866, the Joint Committee of Fifteen on Reconstruction in the 39th Congress wrestled with the idea that they must write a 14th Amendment to address certain issues: Who is a citizen? How does the country’s laws apply to former slaves and slave owners? Will...

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Black History Month: Reconstruction, 1865-1866

In December of 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln suggested a plan to reinstate the seceded states back into the Union, his “Ten Percent Plan.”

He would permit each Confederate state to form a new state government after ten percent of the voters in a state took loyalty oaths to the Union and recognized the former slaves’ freedom.

Following Lincoln’s assassination on April 9, 1865, his successor, former Vice-President Andrew Johnson, decided to run with Lincoln’s Ten Percent Plan.

Throughout the summer and fall of 1866, the Southern states

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Black History Month: Phillis Wheatley and Billy Lee

Two African-American slaves from the eighteenth century: Phillis Wheatley and William “Billy” Lee. The first a woman, the second a man. The first a poet, the second a valet. The two received their freedom from their respective owners, and they each knew George...

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Older Posts

National Freedom Day and Black History Month

National Freedom Day and Black History Month

On Feb. 7, 1926, Carter G. Woodson, a professor of history, announced that he would celebrate and highlight for the first time ever a single week devoted to African-American history, and he called it “Negro History Week.”

He selected the second week in February because of its proximity to Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’s birthdays, Lincoln on Feb. 12, and Douglass on a day in February.

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Frederick Douglass’ “Slaveholder’s Sermon”

Frederick Douglass’ “Slaveholder’s Sermon”

On May 11, 2017, the newly-elected U.S. President, Donald Trump, issued an executive order to form a Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. He appointed Vice-President Mike Pence as chair, and Kansas State’s Secretary of State Kris Kobach as vice-chair.

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Assertion is not evidence

Assertion is not evidence

On May 11, 2017, the newly-elected U.S. President, Donald Trump, issued an executive order to form a Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. He appointed Vice-President Mike Pence as chair, and Kansas State’s Secretary of State Kris Kobach as vice-chair.

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Unique words in history

Unique words in history

December 16 marked the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, when colonial Bostonians dressed as Mohawk Indians boarded three ships—Dartmouth, Eleanor, and Beaver—split open 340 chests filled with tea, and dumped their contents into Boston’s harbor.

This defiant act was directed as a protest against Parliament’s insistence that the consignees of the tea in the American colonies pay an import tax, to keep afloat the struggling British East India Company, which brought the tea to the colonists.

The colonists were angry. They paid taxes to their

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Secession and Abraham Lincoln

Secession and Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln faced an absolute calamity on March 4, 1861, the day when Chief Justice Roger Taney administered the oath of office to Lincoln at his inauguration.

Already seven states from the South had seceded, or withdrawn, from the Union because voters had elected Lincoln President of the United States. Southern voters believed that Lincoln opposed the expansion of slavery into western territories, like Kansas and Nebraska.

South Carolina voted to secede on December 20, 1860, forty-four days…

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Election of 1864

Election of 1864

Throughout the year of 1864, President Abraham Lincoln believed that he would lose the election in November. He admitted in August, “I am going to be beaten, and unless some great change takes place, badly beaten.” The odds were stacked against him.

Plenty of voters in the Union had reason to despise, even hate, Lincoln.

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William Benson

One of University of Northern Colorado’s 2020 Honored Alumni

William H. Benson

Local has provided scholarships for history students for 15 years

A Sterling resident is among five alumni selected to be recognized this year by the University of Northern Colorado. Bill Benson is one of college’s 2020 Honored Alumni.

Each year UNC honors alumni in recognition for their outstanding contributions to the college, their profession and their community. This year’s honorees were to be recognized at an awards ceremony on March 27, but due to the COVID-19 outbreak that event has been cancelled. Instead UNC will recognize the honorees in the fall during homecoming Oct. 10 and 11……

Newspaper Columns

The Duodecimal System

For centuries, the ancient Romans calculated sums with their clunky numerals: I, V, X, L, C, D, and M; or one, five, ten, 50, 100, 500, and 1,000. They knew nothing better.

The Thirteenth Amendment

On Jan. 1, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, and by it, he declared that “all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are and henceforward shall be free.” Lincoln’s Proclamation freed some 3.1 million slaves within the Confederacy.

The Fourteenth Amendment

After Congress and enough states ratified the thirteenth amendment that terminated slavery, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1866. This law declared that “all people born in the United States are entitled to be citizens, without regard to race, color, or previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude.” The Act equated birth to citizenship.

The New-York Packet and the Constitution

Jill Lepore, the Harvard historian, published her newest book a month ago, These Truths: A History of the United States. In a short introduction, she describes in detail the Oct. 30, 1787 edition of a semi-weekly newspaper, The New-York Packet.


Mr. Benson’s writings on the U.S. Constitution are a great addition to the South Platte Sentinel. Its inspiring to see the history of the highest laws of this country passed on to others.

– Richard Hogan


Mr. Benson, I cannot thank you enough for this scholarship. As a first-generation college student, the prospect of finding a way to afford college is a very daunting one. Thanks to your generous donation, my dream of attending UNC and continuing my success here is far more achievable

Cedric Sage Nixon


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– Extra Times


  • Thomas Paine vs. George Whitefield
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