My Mother and the President
MY mother is a Christian, law-abiding woman. Furthermore, she has lived for more than half a century in New England. In other words, she is a Republican.
She never sought out President Roosevelt on her own. In fact, she never heard of him until he foolishly accepted the nomination for President in 1932. Then she found out that he was a Democrat, and thereafter she has felt an extremely active dislike for the man.
‘If he gets in,’ she warned us, ‘he will be as bad as that Wilson — or, for that matter, Cleveland.’
‘Go out and distribute Hoover buttons,’ she told us, ‘and tell everyone to vote for Hoover and that fine Mr. Curtis.’
Later the facts began to come out. Franklin Roosevelt was related to our own Teddy Roosevelt. ‘There is a bad strain,’ said my mother, ‘in every family. As a matter of fact, I never thought that Teddy’s own children were at all equal to their father. But it is a very bad thing to have a member of one of our fine old families running on the Democratic ticket. That couldn’t happen in Massachusetts.’
My mother shortly found out that Roosevelt was for drink. Drink had always been for the Democrats in Massachusetts, but all Democrats weren’t always for drink. Republicans probably drank, as my mother recognized, but always behind closed doors or in their cellars, decently. When election time came around, all her Republican candidates turned up dry (though sometimes reeling), and also those Democrats were dry who foolishly thought they had a chance to snatch my mother’s vote.
As election time drew nearer, we gave out more and more Hoover buttons, and more and more automobiles carried Hoover banners and stickers. There were automobiles with Roosevelt stickers, too. But our local authorities — the minister, the Republican newspaper, the butcher, my mother’s dressmaker — agreed that the good people of Massachusetts and the United States would return Mr. Hoover to the White House.
‘I only wish poor Mr. Hoover were a little more colorful,’ my good mother sighed. ‘It seems as though he could do more of the work. We have to push him so.’ And after careful thought, ‘Mrs. Hoover is such a fine reserved woman, so active in the Girl Scouts, that we couldn’t afford to lose her. She’s really almost another Mrs. Coolidge.’
My mother voted for Hoover in 1932, and her world has never been quite the same since. Away down inside I’m sure that she still hasn’t conceded that election to Franklin Roosevelt.
During those first four years, everything evil that she ever dreamed, of came to pass. Her taxes jumped. The President sent an army of men to dig a sewer right past our house. And whenever my mother wasn’t around to drive them off, they spent a great deal of time sitting on our stone wall.
‘You ought to be ashamed of yourselves,’ my mother lectured them. ‘Big healthy men like you, digging ditches and living on the taxpayers’ money. Why don’t you go and get yourselves jobs?’ When she brought them cold lemonade during the hot summer months, she would grow even more furious. ‘You’ve been here two years and what have you done?’
The President traveled around on battleships spending the people’s money. He built up an enormous debt, just as my mother said the Democrats always would do.
‘Mr. Hoover,’ she solemnly prophesied, ‘will have a terrible mess to clean up after the next election. And besides he’ll have to get this lazy riffraff off our stone wall and back to work.’
Drink came back, and my mother bought her medicinal liquor at a package store instead of from an apothecary. My brother kept cans of beer in the refrigerator. My sisters had cocktails before their meals when they ate in restaurants with my mother. Everything happened just as she had said it would under the Democrats. Mrs. Roosevelt told the young people how not to drink. Many prominent people, even Republicans, appeared in the public press holding glasses, bottles, canapés, napkins, all with a very liquorish and decadent air.
The tragedy grew. That woman was as unlike Mrs. Coolidge as could be. She kept no collie on the White House lawn, and spent little time there herself. She piled up more and more fabulous mileage behind her. My mother never saw it as a wonderful personal sacrifice for human welfare. Sometimes it seemed as though Mrs. Roosevelt did it just to get away from that man, and sometimes it seemed as though she were working hand-in-glove with him, doing the field work.
The President spent more and more of his time in the headlines. Even in our own home Republican paper he did wonderful things day after day on the front pages. You could usually tear each knightly deed down by keeping up-to-date on the editorial page, but who but my mother read the editorials? And there was that dreadful man on the front page every day, as poor Mr. Hoover had never been, the perpetual good-natured smile always grinning out at you.
My mother talked a great deal more about him than she ever did about Mr. Hoover.
‘It seems as though every time Mr. Hoover opens his mouth these days,’ she finally said, prophetically, ‘he always says the wrong thing. I’m beginning to think that it’s almost time for a change. Mrs. Hoover has been so fine and self-effacing that one hasn’t even heard of her since she left the White House. I wish that Mr. Hoover would step down and let one of our fine up-and-coming young Republicans take his place.’
Alf Landon never appealed particularly to my mother. ‘Too dull,’ she said; ‘another Hoover.’ She liked Mrs. Landon, who reminded her in a Middle-Western sort of way of Mrs. Hoover, though of course not of Mrs. Coolidge, who had come from New England.
So we didn’t work very hard for Landon. ‘He’ll win anyway,’ — my mother gave out her ration of sunflowers, — ‘for they’re sick of that man, even those that are on the public welfare. Mr. Landon is extremely quiet because he thinks so much, just as Mr. Coolidge used to be. He’ll take those poor people off relief and put them back to work.
‘Besides, he’s got the business men and the rich men behind him. They’ve been holding back,’ my mother whispered, ‘because they don’t trust that man. He’s always had so much money he just doesn’t know what it’s worth.’
And then Landon was defeated and Roosevelt went in, and relief continued, and the men came back to finish the sewer in front of our house, and my mother’s taxes rose another notch.
’I really don’t know what to say,’ she said. ‘Everyone I asked said it was a Republican year. For he has gone back to Washington, and now Massachusetts is Democratic, and it just seems as though the whole world would come to an end. If I were God, I’d just turn away.’
My mother never did recover her full confidence and political vigor until she discovered Wendell Willkie. All during that first feverish month when people rushed up to each other to ask, ‘Who is this Willkie?’ my mother knew. He was the man whom she had already named to be the next President of the United States.
‘This is going to be a good year for the Republicans,’ she said, confidently, ‘even if it rains on election day. Mr. Willkie is a business man, and he will get rid of all those Harvard men and get some real business men to help him run the government. Mr. Willkie will have all the business men and the rich men behind him because he won’t try to take their money away. They’ll hire more people, and everybody will go back to work. We’ll be as happy as we used to be under President Coolidge.’
Mr. Willkie’s voice wasn’t what my mother expected, especially after he had been bellowing for a few weeks. But his manner, his enthusiasm, his youthfulness, and particularly his crusade, a sort of extension of my mother’s own crusade, won her completely. Mrs. Willkie was a dear little woman who had already promised that she wouldn’t go running around the country.
‘They are so much our own kind of people,’ my mother summed up the case.
As election time drew nearer, Mr. Willkie gave England the kind of support my mother wanted for England. ‘That man in the White House,’ she said, ‘is adopting Mr. Willkie’s own views on England and many other things just because he knows the people are for Willkie and the only way he can get any votes at all is to copy him.’ This gave her considerable pride, and as her spirit martially followed the Willkie train on that tremendous cross-country trek she again and again found the President in agreement with her. The terrible-browed Mr. Lewis came to agree with her. A1 Smith, safely out of the way, was on my mother’s side.
After the election, my mother conceded her defeat. Nobody could ever beat the President. He could serve hot dogs to the King of England. He could seize Republicans for his Cabinet. He could sink the country deeper into debt. He could even go to war.
My mother hasn’t thought very much about unemployment for a long time now. She’s too busy fighting the war. More and more the President has come to look at things from her viewpoint.
When Mr. Willkie went to the White House and the President called him Wendell, my mother forgave him too. She began to send all our friends folded newspapers with President Roosevelt’s picture circled, and, scribbled in the margin, ‘He is my friend.’
My mother is now deep in the great war question, and she stands shoulder to shoulder with President Roosevelt and King George. I even expect that the next time I climb off the train in New England and walk into her living room I shall see there President Roosevelt’s picture hanging in the place of honor where poor Mr. Hoover hung for so many years.
H. E. FRENCH