POTUS Wrote Us
You might not know this about Woodrow Wilson but he was a hot-head. The man had a temper. Not over all things. In fact, his temper, the thing he’d fixate about tended towards the unusual, the out of the ordinary. He was, for instance, very particular about his collars. The starch sawed into the fold of his slender neck, sometimes drawing blood. But, his secret passion, the issue that he cared about more than joining the League of Nations or fighting the impending Volstead Act was the sorry sanitary habits in his home state, Georgia.
At a time when he should have been seeing to more pressing issues, Woodrow took to the road. It was summer. The hot summer of 1919. The heat blanketed our town, sapping all desire to move from hammock to house let alone to hear the President speak in the town gazebo.
Despite the heat, our town of Gum Branch went all out. The high school marching band reassembled and practiced deep into the night. The bunting committee got to work. Word had it that the Mayor had contracted a Notable Preacher to put in a good word so that the weather might cooperate.
We lined up, each carrying our canvas chairs and freshly baked cakes and filed past the row of Johnny-on-the-spot moldering in the summer sun. I held my breath. I had brought along a fan made from one sheet of paper that I had recently learned how to fashion and thought myself clever.
When President Wilson took to the stage, the band struck up a jaunty tune. We applauded long and hard. We applauded what we believed would be a highlight of our life.
President Wilson then spoke for quite a while as was the fashion back then. He spoke about the need for the South to join the rest of the country. We needed to catch up. He was coaxing us the way a father urges on a recalcitrant child. He spoke at length about the virtues of clean hygiene, pleading with us to install indoor plumbing.
Mid-sentence, with a thought hanging between start and resolution, our President spied the line of Johnny-on-the-spot in the back of the park. He froze as his outrage shot straight out. President Wilson leapt off the stage. Strode long paces to the back of the park. Somehow a sledge hammer was thrust into his hand. Our President swung it high in the air where it hovered just for a lick and then slammed into the side of the Johnny-on-the-spot.
Shit, piss spewed straight out. Splashed the President square in the eye. The door of the President’s car flung open as if anticipating his next thought and he flew inside. The door slammed shut and he was gone. Just like that.
A month later we received a note from the White House signed by the President asking for our forgiveness. He spoke movingly about the unsanitary mess he had made as a result of his explosive temper. He went on at length about the particulars of that moment.
It was not a moment my family cared to revisit. However, as it was our only letter from the White House, it sat throughout my whole childhood perched on the mantle. In a place of honor.
(Title Provided By: Tim Duch)