“Girls, we’re going to see the president!” Such exuberance from my usually-quiet father! My sister and I jumped into the backseat of the car (no seat belts) bouncing and chanting, “We’re going to see the president.”
We drove to the same train station where we had met our grandparents when they came on the train from Colorado to see us. Oh! Trains brought good things. My heart raced, my eyes widened, as we girls skipped behind Daddy from the parking lot to the station landing, where a crowd was gathering.
“Over here, over here. Stay with me! Let’s try to get where we can see President Eisenhower when he arrives on the train! … Here he comes now!”
Ah, that wonderful sound of a train whistle! The chug, chug … the whoosh … the grinding, whining brakes. The hugeness, the power of it. And yet friendly, full of possibilities.
“I see him! I see him! He just stepped out on the rear platform of the train.”
“Daddy, I can’t see! I want to see Ike!” my little sister exclaimed. He lifted her up to his shoulder.
“There he is! I see Ike!” she cried and people around us grinned and chuckled. My little sister was always attention-grabbing in her cuteness … and a lot smaller than me. How I wished I was little enough to be hoisted up where I could easily see. But I stood on tiptoe and squinted against the sun, and I caught a glimpse of a white-haired man with a broad, dependable face and wide grin, waving to the crowd, looking like someone’s grandpa. Mr. Eisenhower spoke words in a warm, strong voice, like a preacher; the crowd cheered and waved. Then he disappeared back inside the train, which prepared to take him to the next town on his Whistle-stop tour.
Volunteers handed out “I Like Ike” buttons. Daddy helped pin them on our shirts. We wore them proudly for days.
On the way home, Daddy probably told us about how the army had drafted him off the Kansas farm and taken him on a big boat to a far-away place called Korea. And Eisenhower was his general. He had great respect for him. He had helped us win the great war. And now he would help our country overcome its new challenges.
I knew nothing about politics. Evidently, though, the “world” and “our country” were smaller than I had thought. “The president” was a real person. He came on the train to see us. My daddy liked him. He was a good man who did good things and made us feel good, and hopeful.
The rest of my life—as things became more and more complex, and we became more and more cynical—I carried the memory of a simpler time when I had seen the president.