Daddy’s long legs moved him along faster than my eight-year old ones so every now and then I stopped walking and skipped a few yards to catch up. It felt good walking the railroad tracks into town. Everybody knew that the railroad followed the shortest route so the three miles from our farm to the city limits sign would be less walking than if we followed the sandy road to the highway and then walked along the asphalt. If Mama needed something from the store, just “a shirttail full”, why, Daddy would grab up a toe sack and start walking to town. Of course I always wanted to go with him wherever he went so I’d ask if I could go too and as I remember it, the answer was always “yes.”
Sometimes a train would be using the track and I’d leave a penny on the rail before we got off the crossties to wait as the train lumbered by. I would always wave at the engineer and he would smile and wave back with a pull on his whistle cord.
Early one August afternoon, when we had walked the track almost to town, there was a train whistle behind us and we turned to see a train so short there were just two cars and an engine. The train was going really slow so we knew it was going to stop at the station up ahead.
“Must be the President on that one,” Daddy laughed as the engine ground to a stop to take on water. A small crowd gathered and beside the tracks as they sometimes did when a train stopped in our town. Daddy and I were the closest to the back of the train where a man in a dark blue suit stood between two other men, also in suits. The man in the middle was holding onto the iron railing around the little platform at the end of the car.
“My Lord, Joyce,” my Daddy said. “That is President Roosevelt.”
Daddy and I got as close as we could to the platform and immediately were surrounded by farmers in overalls and women in feed sack dresses and split bonnets. There were a few little kids like me, some barefoot, all staring at the men dressed in suits on a hot August afternoon. I don’t remember anything that the President said, only the voice that was so familiar coming from our table model Philco when our family gathered around to listen to his “Fireside Chats.” I remember that he was holding to the iron railing with his left hand as he spoke and his right hand was extended to the people. I remember looking around me and that he had the full attention of that little group of folks who happened to be in the right place at the right time. It was the middle of the Great Depression and most of the adults that I heard discussing the hard times we were going through felt that the President cared. His voice gave the people confidence that good times were coming and that this too would pass.
The engineer blew the train whistle; the President waved goodbye and the train pulled away from the water tower and rolled on across the flat land that stretches across west Texas.
Daddy turned to talk with friends about what had just happened and everybody was smiling and laughing. It felt good to know that we had “met” the President of the United States; that he had been here. I was so excited that I ran ahead of Daddy on the way home so that I could run in the house and tell my Mama about that remarkable day when Franklin Delano Roosevelt had visited Chillicothe, Texas. In an uneasy time, with hardship and sometimes real fear, he had left us with optimism for the future.
It was a long time later, when I was in high school that he died, our President, and I cried as did everybody that I knew. I knew that he had battled Infantile Paralysis but I didn’t realize that he could not walk without braces and support on either side from aides. The media was blind to his inability to move around and never revealed to the people that he could not walk nor stand unaided.