Valentine’s Day on Presidents’ Day: My Three Heartbeats, by Jamie Stiehm
Valentine’s Day and Presidents Day made me feel sweet and bitter blue after reviewing the story of my heart. The only remedy for what hurt me was to choose the presidents who are my best valentines.
We have come to this in the pandemic, a famine of femme fatales. So little flirting, no looking back on Zoom meetings. The only valentine I received was from my mother.
Let me explain. The long fast brought my past into clearer pictures, the men I loved and lost – and those who lost me.
First, the Cambridge classics man. Ideal for an Anglophile. Except he was sullen like English weather and he liked nothing more than a cup of tea, not even me.
We got married and lived in London and San Francisco. Friends thought we were charming at parties. At home, not so much. If you don’t get along well in these cities, you don’t get along well. He’s one of the richest lawyers in London now, a real Jane Austen catcher.
The author and I met after exchanging notes, feeling as free as seduced birds. The weeks passed, between us, in the French Quarter of New Orleans, a few steps from the Café du Monde.
When he gave me a watch, I said, “I’ll be thinking about you all the time.”
Flying to London we picked up the Hampstead we all knew as the Indian restaurant on the High Street. We even went to Wisconsin to see my grandparents. Most of the time, life floated and frolicked by the mighty Mississippi.
And it’s like an American novel by Austen, even now.
Later hearing Bruce Springsteen in concert with my absolute favorite historian cut like a knife. There, in the middle of the song, he told me about Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. I said over the group, “Strictly speaking for me, we both could have died on the spot.”
Yes, a lyric from his breakup song with Dylan, “Diamonds and Rust.” The river froze at that moment.
They’re pretty dead to me now, to tell you the truth. The movie date with a future Secretary of State was great, no tears.
So, let’s look at the gallery of 45 men present like no other on Presidents’ Day. For my valentines, I know the trifecta that I would choose. (Hint: not Ike, although I like him.)
As a historian, I know them, warts and all, too well: lots of generals, lawyers and slavers. Fierce Andrew Jackson was all of the above.
You might think I would enjoy being tasted and dined by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello, where he serenaded me with his violin. But I wouldn’t. He reminds me too much of the gracious gentleman writer from the South—with whom I traveled at Monticello.
Give me the bright, witty prairie lawyer, the first president from outside the original 13 states. The president who recited “Macbeth” by heart, murdered in a theater in a Shakespearean tragedy.
The same one who won a war he tried to avoid and freed four million people. When I was little, we visited Springfield, Illinois. Abraham Lincoln’s Corner House left a living imprint on me – even the bedroom. The crush started young.
I also love the flippant Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He can show me his stamp collection and make me a martini anytime. The eternal optimist in the darkest depression. Like Lincoln, he won a war and then died. The rich man from Harvard with a common touch.
My family recently visited Roosevelt’s home in Hyde Park, New York, by the Hudson River, where the 39-year-old spent countless years recovering from polio and planting trees.
Ready for the third presidential Valentine’s Day? Bill Clinton. Peace and prosperity are hard to beat. Bill is therefore at his best. Disarmingly, he has a special sympathy for women, and I don’t want to “iser”. Like Roosevelt, he married an extraordinary young woman who was considered ordinary.
In a small town in Arkansas, the bright blue-eyed boy was raised by his mother, grandmother, and “Pappaw,” his grandfather and Hope’s ice cream man. “Billy Clinton” grew up talking to all kinds of people, an incredible gift that propelled him to the top.
Richard Nixon, Andrew Johnson and Donald Trump come last, each a “really good hater”, in the words of Samuel Johnson. They are in the dungeon of history.
Hearts to Lincoln, Roosevelt, Clinton.
Jamie Stiehm writes about politics and history. She can be reached at JamieStiehm.com
For more from Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, visit Creators.com
Photo credit: ArtTower on Pixabay