Wild About Harry

It’s rare to figure out a way to go on vacation for next to nothing. Thanks to a couple of voluntary bumps my wife and I took on United Airlines recently and some hotel points, our family of four enjoyed a memorable week in Miami and Key West over winter break. Our first few nights were spent in Key West at a lovely hotel removed from downtown and across from a popular public beach. The kids swam and we met several East Coast ex pats escaping their harsh winter season. Drew, my ten year old, and I visited Truman’s Little White House, his primary residence of escape when Washington DC was getting overwhelming. The small house, then situated on a naval submarine base, has been lovingly restored and offers informative guided tours.

When not conducting the business of state, Harry enjoyed swimming, reading, playing poker and the piano, and had his staff participate in what he called “loud shirt” contests – he who wore the most outrageous tropical shirt won. Of course when Mrs. Truman and daughter Margaret came for a visit, a few things had to be put away. The custom made poker table had a top cover that instantly concealed what was underneath. The bar was generally closed down when Mrs. Truman was present, except for the President’s morning “heart starter”: a fresh squeezed glass of Florida orange juice and a shot of bourbon. Of course the President, who didn’t care much for fishing, nonetheless had to accompany the First Lady out on the water to indulge one of her favorite pastimes.

While the former President died when I was very young, his life as it was outlined by our guide reinforced my belief in just how much a man of the people he truly was, especially in Key West. He didn’t relax in a palatial mansion or private home far from the watchful eyes of the press or the public. He walked through town. He talked to people. He caroused with the press. He genuinely enjoyed the company of the servicemen and officers who shared this vacation home with him. Truly, he was exceptionally unique among other men who have held the office, but then again, those were different times.

I think the most touching story the guide told our tour group was about a small satchel the President always carried with him when traveling to and from Key West. The President never had it out of arms reach and never permitted anyone to carry it for him. His aides always believed the satchel carried important papers. While the contents were important to the President, it didn’t carry anything terribly important to country. It simply carried the President’s classical music records that he loved listening to in the evening hours as the sun set in Key West.

After my visit it was easy to see why our tours to this unique destination continue to sell out each January. I can only hope that someday, I might be able to wrestle the tour away from Mark so I can begin planning my return visit!


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