Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A Changing America

Some years ago I saw a photograph in American Heritage magazine which depicted a young woman standing beside a black sedan parked at the portico of the White House in Washington, D.C.. Accompanying the photograph was the following memoir:
"In 1937 Marguerite and I were married and we began our honeymoon in Washington, D.C. Of course we wanted to see the White House.
There was no gate, fence, concrete barriers, not even guards, so we drove in, right up to the portico, parked, and took a stroll around the grounds. No one interrupted our walk until a man in civilian clothes came out of the White House and politely requested us to move our car because the President was waiting to leave. When we asked if we could take a photograph first, the President's aide agreed, as long as we hurried. The result is enclosed."
Last year I related this story in a letter to my first cousin who is ten years older than I am. She wrote to me of a similar incident experienced by her future husband (whom she did not meet until after WWII). I will let her tell it in her own words:
"In November 1942, before he was shipped to East Africa, Merrill was stationed briefly in Washington. He worked days, so had evenings free. He and two buddies were out walking around Washington one evening when they passed the White House. One said "Let's go in", so they walked up the drive to the portico, sat down, and smoked a cigarette. No one stopped them or questioned them. They talked for a while, speculating on whether or not Franklin was at home. Then they got up and continued their walk. Ah, yes, how much we have lost!"

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