Presidential oddities

The Presidency is such a powerful position we sometimes forget our Chief Executive is just another American citizen. Perhaps a few anecdotes, gleaned from a dozen biographies, will restore some balance.

When George Bush was a fourth grade student at Sam Houston Elementary in Midland, Texas he painted sideburns on his face and imitated Elvis Presley in his music class. He disrupted the class so bad the teacher sent him to the principal's office. The principal bent the future president over his desk and paddled him.

Bush is not the only future president who experienced corporeal punishment. During his senior year of high school, Jimmy Carter persuaded several friends to play hooky on April Fool's Day and go to a movie. The school principal failed to see the humor in the prank. He paddled Jimmy and denied him the honor of being class valedictorian. Two years later, Rosalynn Smith, the future First Lady, was class valedictorian when she graduated high school.

The high school yearbook of 1909 predicted Dwight Eisenhower would become a history professor at Yale. Instead, General Eisenhower made history as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe in WWII. President Eisenhower often broke the laws of Pennsylvania. He played golf almost every Sunday on a course near Gettysburg. A state law, passed in 1794, made it illegal to play golf on the Sabbath. The law has since been repealed.

It is comforting to learn that future presidents also struck out in the romance department. On August 15, 1915, 2nd Lt. Eisenhower, just out of West Point, proposed to his Kansas girlfriend, Gladys Harding. Gladys was a concert pianist. She rejected Ike, telling him her career had to come first. Two months later he met Mamie Geneva Doud. Gladys's career fizzled; Mamie became First Lady in 1953.

Thelma Catherine Ryan was born in a Nevada mining camp. Her Irish father called her Pat, as she was born on March 16, the eve of St. Patrick's Day. Pat worked her way through UCLA as a movie extra. Her future husband, Richard Milhous Nixon, attended Whittier College. He played football but admitted that "the only times I got to play were the last few minutes of the game, when it was safely won or hopelessly lost."

His wife used Pat as her name as First Lady.

Movie star Ronald Reagan was married to actress Jane Wyman. After their divorce, he courted another actress, Christine Larson. He proposed by giving her a diamond wristwatch. Larson rejected the proposal but kept the watch. Reagan later married a third actress, Nancy Davis. At age 69, Reagan became the oldest man ever elected president. He was also the only divorced man elected and the only one who had been president of a union. He was President of SAG (Screen Actor's Guild) when Nancy Davis requested an appointment to discuss a problem. Reagan reassured her, pledging the support of SAG, and invited her to dinner.

George Bush was a junior at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut when he proposed to Carolyn Wolfman, a student at Rice University in Houston. The long distance romance did not long survive. Jerry Ford dated a New York model for four years while at Yale Law School. She rejected his proposal when he said he was returning to Grand Rapids, Michigan to practice law.

In 1937, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt burned all FDR's love letters to her, saying they were too private. Harry Truman loved to tell this story: Soon after he became president, he found his wife at the White House fireplace, burning the love letters he had written.

"Bess, you have to think about history," he protested.

"I am, " Bess Truman replied. And kept on burning.

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