When we honor Presidents, we honor each other, and when we honor each other, we honor ourselves, and when we honor ourselves, we honor Our Presidents. Those were the famous words children at my elementary school learned George Washington said when he took the day off from being President on his birthday to create what would become Presidents’ Day.
My family always celebrated Presidents’ Day, which is really supposed to be Washington’s Birthday. We were ahead of the curve and always honored all Presidents, calling it All Presidents’ Day, which to a Catholic boy sounded like All Saints Day. My brothers and sisters and I knew that early in the morning, President Abraham Lincoln would slide down the chimney. My parents said he flew like Santa in in a stagecoach pulled by angel-ghosts of Union soldiers in dark blue uniforms with real gold buttons and landed on the roof. President Lincoln delivered gifts and mail as he had delivered the US from evil.
When we woke at dawn we would giddily gather round in a big oval and open our mail that my parents said was delivered by President Lincoln (to give postal workers a day off). Children from other countries wrote us letters saying they wanted to be American and have a President. I wonder now if most of the letters were written by my parents. Also, these kids didn’t have last names. I assumed their parents could afford only one name. I started using used my first, middle, and last names; it was like eating all the food on my plate to help the starving kids in other countries, which were all poorer than America.
I was jealous that non-American kids my age knew how to type. My mother said they had to know, because they would be working for me one day. I would never have to learn– I’d be a business executive and would “dictate” whatever I wanted to write. I didn’t like the idea of being a dictator, especially on Presidents’ Day, as it was not Dictator’s Day, and I knew Hitler was a dictator and a monster.
Breakfast was bacon and eggs. “French people have Continental Breakfasts, just bread and jelly, because they’re poor,” our dad explained. Dinner was the traditional Presidents’ Day Turkey, in honor of Benjamin Franklin (who my sister thought was a President); it alluded to how Franklin wanted to make the turkey our National Bird. I am glad he didn’t push for eagle, as those probably aren’t good eating and were “endangered species,” which I thought meant dangerous. There was plenty of applesauce (for President Johnny Appleseed); squash (for the “Indians,” who and loved and honored all of our Presidents, who helped them assimilate and named towns after them to thank them); potato (we always had that); and Caesar salad, to honor Rome’s first President.
Dessert was cherry pie, in honor of George Washington. My parents told us to never lie, so I never do.
After dinner we would play “Cleaning the White House,” pretending our house was the White House needing to be cleaned before a visit from Bob Hope. Then we played “Which President Am I?” We played for money, because my parents said that was The American Way: “Try that in Russia!” my father said.
“Or China,” my mother added.
Here are some real zingers I recall – answers below:
1. Which two Presidents died on the same day?
2. Which President was the shortes?
3. Which President skinny-dipped every morning in the Potomac?
4. Which President kept a pet billy goat at the White House?
5. Which President was so fat he got stuck in his bathtub?
6. Which President sometimes brought two pet alligators to the White House?
7. Which President once had a job that was the last name of another President?
In 1971, when I was 6, I got the alligator question wrong –I said “crocodiles.” My father said I had to be more precise. As I forked over my allowance money, I threw a temper tantrum and tore up my paper placemat with every President on it, which we got at a Chinese restaurant. My father said I should blame my, whose union never let them teaching anything good about America.
1. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both died July 4, 1826.
2. James Madison was 5’4,” which seemed pretty tall to me.
3. John Quincy Adams. For a couple of Presidents’ Days, I thought my mother said “Pontiac,” not “Potomac.” I pictured President Adams driving a four-door sedan naked.
4. William Henry Harrison. In 1978, we added, “Which President has a pet Billy in the White House?” (Answer: Jimmy Carter.)
5. William Howard Fat.
6. Herbert Hoover.
7. Andrew Johnson was a tailor. (Zachary Taylor.)