16 December 2010

The Two Georges

George's Madras -O'Connell's, Buffalo, NY



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."

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Never been fond of him, but boomerang this: George has an occasional home in St. Augustine. You may already have known that.

-DB

M.Lane said...

How we shortchange them and how we assume that they did nothing to get where they are but wake up one day as a Senator. To quote my favorite rock star Aldous Snow, "oh I forgot, I got to be a rock star by winning it on a quiz show".

Great post! When I went to VF a year or so ago, I could not believe that I was actually standing in the place where George Washington was that awful winter.

ML
mlanesepic.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

George is now fulltime in St. Augustine and a wonderful neighbor! Still going strong! DMW

Sean said...

Stephen Ambrose wrote a book about B-24s in WWII and George McGovern figures heavily in it. "The Wild Blue". Good read.

tintin said...

I always thought it interesting that while McGovern flew 35 missions and won the Distinguished Flying Cross, Nixon spent the war stateside as a JAG attorney cheating enlisted men at cards.

Patsy said...

Funny, I doubt I would have recognized McGovern, but I definitely would have recognized Nixon.

My great-uncle had a farm on the Jersey side of the Delaware, just north of where Washington crossed. Troops were quartered there during the Battle of Trenton - the part of the farm house that dated from that period looked almost identical to the HQ.

Jordan said...

Two things that fade quite beautifully eh? Real madras and great memories.

Main Line Sportsman said...

" Wild Blue" is a fabulous read...
I used to train my bird dogs in fields right near Washington's HQ.

Anonymous said...

Hey tintin,

The Hubers have a gignormous collection of madras. Buffalo is a great trad town...you would love it based upon what you recount from day to day.. Great old neighborhood taverns, great food and best of all authentic people...you would be welcome with open arms, John.

Best

Fred

Sean said...

Nixon cheated at cards?

Surely you don't mean Richard Nixon?

Gregorius Mercator said...

Great post - I wonder what America would be like if he had won. Finally saw Frost v. Nixon the other week and it got me reading up on the race (it was a bit before my time).

Are you a Pennsylvanian? If you're ever in the Harrisburg area, I'd be happy to meet up for a friendly drink.

Brummagem Joe said...

McGovern was/is a good guy. He just made a few bad moves and was demonized by his opponents and the media who deal in cardboard cutouts. To be fair the same has happened to Nixon who certainly didn't have the character of George but wasn't totally without postitive qualities.

Family Man said...

Sure, Nixon "wasn't totally without postitive qualities," but the more I learn about him, the slimier he gets--and I count myself as a conservative-type.

Anonymous said...

Like many men of his era (those that had been to war, and were fortunate to return) McGovern; like my dad, were not at all fond of war or "police actions" as we called them "in the day". Those that have done the dying are not so eager to send others to do it for them.

tintin said...

Anon 16:00 - Perfect.