When I was eight, my father treated us to a very special field trip — a visit to Macon County, Illinois, where my three brothers and I stood on hallowed ground: the spot where Abraham Lincoln lived as a young man. I remember the sweltering hot summer’s day, having journeyed hundreds of miles by car from the north side of Chicago to a wheat field in the middle of nowhere.
There, from an invisible log cabin, we learned about the Great Emancipator and preserver of our nation — how, with a poor family and little formal education, Abe Lincoln devoured books by candlelight; committed to hard work by splitting legendary numbers of rails per day; raised a family and lost a son; became a lawyer; served in the House of Representatives; rose to a seat in the Illinois State Legislature; and conquered slavery in his fight for equal rights and a united democracy. A remarkable physical presence and arguably the most revered leader in American history, Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States, came to life through my father, a history buff, then running as delegate to the State of Illinois to revise the constitution.
On that trip we bought fresh warm bread in New Salem and visited Springfield, the State Capitol, getting a savory taste of what was yet to come — a farm trip to meet Adlai Stevenson III, whose great, great, great maternal grandfather, Jesse Fell, served as Abraham Lincoln’s campaign manager, and more visits to the Capitol to see my father, also a lawyer, standing with elegance on the floor, successfully persuading senators to lower the voting age to 18 years during the peak of the Vietnam War.
Lincoln lived in Illinois some 30 years until he became President, and my father, tragically just a few more on top of that. The slogan, Land of Lincoln, was never a wonder — always something I noticed on the white and green license plates, something to be proud of — a constant reminder of noble vision, statesmanship, and humanity and its translation into our simple daily lives — the lessons Peter A. Tomei carried forth even after leaving a young family behind.
During an eighth grade field trip to the nation’s capitol, I had the honor of visiting the Lincoln Memorial, a magnificent edifice carved in Georgia marble, the best weathering stone known. I climbed the steps with my girlfriends and took heart in my memory of our father and naturally Abraham Lincoln, enshrined as an enduring symbol of freedom and hope.