Saturday, June 28, 2008

Presidents Are Cool ...

Are United States Presidents weird or what? I have the utmost respect for the office of president and I am not a politician nor do I aspire to be one. But since this is a presidential election year, presidents are on my mind.

Presidents have to be just a little bit different than the average person. What I mean is that not just anyone can put up with all the stress of that office. Join with me in a look at some of our nation’s Commanders-in-Chief. Most of these items are adapted from Don Hite’s web site, which is

• Benjamin Harrison had the first electric lights in the White House, but was scared to turn them on or off for fear of electrocution. Instead, he made the servants do it.
• President Calvin Coolidge enjoyed riding on a mechanical horse and whooping like a cowboy. He also thought it was great fun to hit the buzzer for the servants and then hide.
• Chester A. Arthur had over 80 pairs of pants and insisted on changing several times a day.
• Franklin D. Roosevelt had a collection of 25,000 stamps. He added to it by simply having the Postmaster General and State Department mail him every new issue.
• George Bush was the first sitting president to acquire an iPod. You know I’ve always wondered why they use the term, “sitting president.” Most of the pictures I have seen of George Bush show him standing. Why isn’t he the “standing president?” But I digress.
• Harry S. Truman once wrote a threatening letter to the music critic of the Washington Post in response to a negative review of his daughter’s voice recital stating, “I never met you, but if I do, you’ll need a new nose …”
• James A. Garfield who was assassinated while in office was a former classics teacher. He could simultaneously write Greek with one hand and Latin with the other.
• “Hail to the Chief” was written specifically for James Madison, because he was so short that no one ever noticed when he entered the room. By the way, the words to that song are based on Sir Walter Scott’s poem, "The Lady of the Lake.” The melody was written by James Sanderson who was conductor of London’s Surrey Theater orchestra.
• John F. Kennedy only watched the first halves of movies. Then he’d get bored.
• Lyndon B. Johnson proposed to his wife, Lady Bird, on their first date, which was a breakfast, then he bought her a wedding ring for $2.50.
• Richard M. Nixon loved football. Occasionally he called up NFL coaches to chat and offer strategic advice.
• William Howard Taft weighed 326 pounds and got stuck in the White House bathtub. He had a bigger one installed.
• Woodrow Wilson was a gifted mimic fond of telling jokes in Irish dialect. Also he enjoyed imitating drunks.
• President Franklin Pierce was arrested while in office for running over an old woman who was riding a horse. The case was dropped when it was discovered the woman was drunk and shouldn’t have been riding the horse in the first place.
• John Adams expressed a desire to live until July 4, 1926, the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. On that day he slipped into unconsciousness. That afternoon he momentarily revived and moments before his death uttered the words: “Jefferson survives.” In this he was mistaken because Thomas Jefferson had died earlier that same day.

So I’ll ask again. Are U. S. Presidents weird or what? No, presidents are not weird. They are just plain old human beings like you and me.

Winston Hamby

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I Spied A Spy ...

Did you ever know a spy? I mean a real honest to goodness spy? I did. In fact, I still do. Allow me to start at the beginning.

1945 was a significant year. That year, World War II came to an end and Dale Priest came to a beginning. Someone may ask, “Who?” Dale Priest, born February, 1945, to Gene and Edna Priest of Beaumont. So why was the birth of Dale Priest such a significant event? I’ll tell you.

I was ten years old when Dale was born so our paths did not follow along the same lines. However our paths did manage to cross from time to time. One day in 1957 while I was home from college for the summer I sang in a quartet made up of some Beaumont buddies.

One day we were rehearsing in one of our homes. I was playing the bongo drums and the group was singing away. There entered into the room a boy who must have been all of 11 years old. He started banging out some rhythms on the dining room table. Well, the group had to stop their song. When you have a bongo player and a dining room table beater going at the same time, the beat most likely will get sloppy. In other words, when the downbeat gets on the upbeat, you are going to have problems.

One in our group said, “Hey the kid’s pretty good. We ought to sign him up.” One of the others responded, “Naw, he’s too young.” That kid was Dale Priest. Although I saw Dale at church all of the time, the dining table rhythm episode was our first personal encounter.

A few years later after finishing college, serving in the U. S. Army, and getting married, I was employed by the First Security National Bank in Beaumont and assigned to their internal auditing department.

One day at the bank I received a phone call. The caller identified himself stating that he was with the U. S. Secret Service. I wondered, “What have I gotten into now?” The man asked, “Do you know a Dale Priest?” Then I wondered, “What has Dale done now?” The man explained that Dale who now was in the Army had applied for a Top-Secret Clearance so that he might qualify to handle some sensitive assignments for the U. S. Government.

I assured the man that I knew Dale and his family and that they were good solid American citizens. Then the man asked me more specifically what I thought of Dale. I said, “I would trust Dale Priest to transport personally one million dollars in cash from Beaumont to California with no paperwork involved. I can assure you sir that the money would be delivered on time and as directed.”

The SS agent then wanted me to come up with at least one thing that might go against Dale’s character. I recalled that for years, Dale had dated one of the very nice young ladies at church so I said, “Well, sir … maybe he likes girls too much.” The man said, “You can’t hold that against a guy can you?” I replied, “No sir, guess you can’t.”

Some years later, I saw Dale in a Beaumont restaurant. I joined him at his table and we enjoyed a really great visit. We exchanged some stories of life and I discovered that Dale indeed had been a spy. In fact, he remains fluent in the German language.

And today? Dale, having completed his PhD. at Rice in 1979, continues to serve as Dr. Dale G. Priest, Professor of English, Lamar University.

And I still am so proud to know a real honest to goodness spy.

Winston Hamby