By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
When the Pennsylvania state trooper pulled us over for speeding on the Pennsylvania Turnpike, he told Dad that he probably would have let him go, “But you were sticking out like a sore thumb.” I was moving a freezer a little over a week ago and caught the thumb on my right hand between the freezer and the door jam. After the pain died down a little, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about the trooper’s statement to Dad. Dad didn’t say anything in response, but we never let him live it down.
The five of us — Mom and Dad plus Peggy, my brother Donnie and I — were traveling to West Point, N.Y., for dad’s 94th Infantry Division Reunion. We weren’t a vacation-taking kind of family. In fact, I only remember three — one to Kansas when we stayed at Gomer James farm that had a windmill; the trip to West Point when dad got the ticket which must have been in 1961; and our 1962 trip to Washington, D.C., when we went to the re-enactment of the second Battle of Manassas. Gomer James was on dad’s 105 Howitzer crew during World War II, and the trip to Washington was also a 94th Infantry Division reunion.
The cadets at West Point marched in review for the veterans attending the reunion as well as their families. Mom and Dad let us get a souvenir before we left for back home. Peggy got a beanie-style hat. I got a Rebel soldier Civil War hat because they were gray like the uniforms the cadets wore and my brother got a Yogi Bear pennant because that was his favorite cartoon character at the time. We called my brother “Yogi” after that until he got a job at the Dallas Pike (Union 76) Truck Stop, changed his hairstyle and I renamed him Stu, after Stuart Sutcliffe, the forgotten or “Fifth Beatle,” who died on April 10, 1962.
But dad’s sore thumb driving and Stu’s Yogi Bear pennant were only two of the memories that lingered in family lore.
The third memory came during our ride back to Claysville, Pa., when dad decided that we were close enough to swing by and visit the Eleanor Roosevelt home, Spring Wood, near Hyde Park, N.Y. Every trip with dad was always an adventure, and when he drove through a notch in the hedge row, through the yard and right up to the back porch, none of us gave it a single thought.
Dad stopped the car beside a monument that looked like a big headstone, got out of the car and announced, “It looks like this is where they planted the old boy,” just as some Secret Service guys started pouring out of the house. My dad and mom were both huge fans of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and in Dad’s mind, visiting his final resting place was the most patriotic thing he could do. The Secret Service guys were all over us so quickly that the rest of us didn’t get the chance to get out of our 1958 four-door, Chevrolet Belaire. They didn’t rough dad up or nothing. He was funny.
The agents did, however, encourage us to leave the backyard rose garden immediately.
I can still see that headstone in my mind as I think about us backing out of the yard and the Secret Service guys standing outside the back porch. I wondered if the commotion had caused Eleanor Roosevelt to rush to the back door to see what was happening. I didn’t wave. I didn’t think it was appropriate to wave at a former First Lady as we were backing out of her yard.
We always drove in the back yards of every house I had ever lived in. When we went to visit friends or family members, we always drove on their back yards. To many of the people of my mom and dad’s generation, the Roosevelts felt like close personal friends. Mom touched FDR’s arm when his motorcade passed through Claysville, probably in 1936 when he was campaigning for his second term in office. That was the family’s high water mark until I touched the convertible car President John F. Kennedy was riding in as he headed to the Washington County, Pa., courthouse to deliver a speech in the fall of 1962.
The events that took place during my 11th and 12th years, starting with Dad’s sore thumb and me rushing out into the street to put my hand on the right rear fender of a car transporting President Kennedy, helped to shape just about everything I knew of life. Since then, I’ve always tried to get back into the right lane after I pass another vehicle because staying in the left lane can apparently be offensive to some Pennsylvania state troopers; I haven’t tried to drive on the back yards of any former presidents — living or dead; and I remain absolutely convinced that Yogi Bear IS smarter than the average bear.
Bill Archer is senior editor at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.