George's Headquarters - Valley Forge NHP, PA
He appeared, it seemed by magic, in a madras button down, khakis and Timberland boat shoes. George McGovern had a tan and a son standing next to him. But I didn't know who they were. The son wore a beard, t-shirt, jeans and 20 extra pounds. He smiled warmly but not like his father. I'll never forget the smile of George McGovern in Washington's Headquarters at Valley Forge.
His smile was white but not too bright. He asked me questions about General Washington. "Were there any other headquarter locations at VF?" No. "How were the colors of the bedroom walls researched?" Extensively. "How long had I worked there?" Two months. Not normal questions but you knew this guy was no normal visitor. Still, I had no idea.
It was hot on the second floor and my straw Stetson hung by the chin strap on top of a radio belted to my waist. I had no idea the radio was off. A man came up the stairs using the same banister we told visitors George Washington used. He saw McGovern and sang out, "Senator McGovern! What a surprise." McGovern turned from me, half smiled and almost whispered, " Jim...what's a lobbyist like you doing at Valley Forge."
McGovern and the lobbyist made some small talk while I wondered what to say as sweat trickled down the small of my back and into the crack of my butt. I was staring at McGovern now and forgetting everything. That I was born in South Dakota. That I hated Nixon. Wondering how things would have been different if only...if only...he had been elected president. This man who was not just some well heeled lawyer from the Main Line... but, George-fucking-McGovern.
George-fucking-McGovern turned from the lobbyist to me, held out his hand and said, "I'm George McGovern. " I shook a hand who had shaken so many others and said, "I'm John." He smiled and said, "Nice to meet you, John. " He introduced me to his son in the t-shirt and in less than a second the stairway was filled with 80 Girl Scouts.
McGovern looked at me with concern and as a good federal employee I showed him the escape. A 200 year old secret staircase by the fireplace. I showed the senator and his son the exit and closed the door behind them just as the Girl Scouts reached the landing.
Later at the Visitor Center, a ranger working behind the information desk asked, "Did you see him? We tried to call you." "Yes," I said. I had no idea how much he knew about history." The ranger laughed, "He has a doctorate in history you idiot." And I thought to myself, "Isn't it odd how we short change the most important people."