I walked in the rain this morning thinking of George H.W. Bush’s death. My earbuds provided a backdrop I was paying no attention to…until Bob Dylan’s nasal slur entered my ears…” The times they are ah changin’.” My thought was, “The times they have ended.”
Men like President Bush are dying out and it seems there is no one willing to replace them. Men who put character and the collective good above personal interest or gain. A man who believed in compromise rather than partisanship. Right or wrong. A man whose legacy was only punctuated by his presidency, a presidency that did not define the man himself. A man who honorably served his country for over seven decades. Keyword, “honorably.” I sure he had his failings but then so do I.
I know, he was a Texas oilman whose family is worth millions and who lived a life of privilege. Somehow, he, like a certain peanut farmer, managed to rise above their privilege. They both gave…or give back. Bush Forty-One and Carter are the last…and maybe the best of their generation of politicians; those who believed service and honor were the most important legacies of man. They are what politicians should aspire to be and unfortunately don’t. Their greatest legacies may have occurred after their presidencies.
I almost met then Vice President Bush on a hot summer day as he campaigned in Greenville, South Carolina in the middle-late 1980s. Almost but not quite. It is a story I’ve told before but as I walked this morning, it brought a smile to my rain-streaked face and once again muted the music in my ears.
It was a bright late July or early August morning and I drove a tractor pulling gang reels to Sirrine Stadium. In the Eighties, coaches didn’t have crews paid to keep up a field. Coaching staffs were the crew. This day I was my own crew, a crew of one. Head Coach and Athletic Director or not, this was my day to cut. Late July is prime grass growing season in upper South Carolina, requiring plenty of water and fertilizer…and cutting. Lots of cutting as in three days a week.
Hot and humid, wavy heat thermals rose off the black asphalt into a cloudless, silver-blue sky and the milky yellow orb heating it. As I drove our old tractor to the game field, I imagine my thoughts were on a young woman I was dating…one who became my bride for the past thirty-one years. My thoughts certainly weren’t on the two men who stopped me at the entry gate.
I didn’t see them at first. As I stepped off the tractor to unlock the gate, I dropped my keys. As I stood, they seemed to materialize with the thermals radiating from the tarmac leading to the field. Two fine specimens of American manhood. Was I smelling melting asphalt or testosterone?
Despite the ninety plus temperatures and humidity, they dressed in dark suits, white shirts, dark ties, and dark wraparound sunglasses. Shined black shoes reflected the sun back into my face. Think Men in Black, except much better looking.
A blond man with a high and tight haircut played Tommy Lee Jones with a youthful and smooth complexion. Long and lanky, I expected a Texas accent and got it. His Will Smith counterpart was shorter but made up for it in wideness. Both had muscles straining the fabric of their suits. I wondered why they weren’t sweating in the oppressive sun.
“Uh…can I help you?” I stammered.
Tommy Lee didn’t smile but asked, “Who are you?”
“I asked first,” trying to assume a casual air while leaning against the rear tractor wheel.
Tommy Lee pulled his coat aside and displayed a gold and blue shield held in a pocket holder and a black holster on his hip. Squinting in the glare I saw “US Secret Service” arched across the top and “Special Agent” arched across the bottom. “Okay, you have my attention.”
“I’m the athletic director at Greenville High School and I’m here to cut the grass.”
“Not today. This stadium is off limits. Your principal was supposed to alert you.” “Yeah, and my principal hates me and would like to see me shot.”
“May I ask why?”
Agent Tommy Lee glanced at Agent Will and simply shook his head.
It turns out Vice President Bush, a jogger, had scheduled a jog and my principal had failed to tell me.
During those days I was not a jogger and pretty much apolitical. I had a football team to field, grass to cut and a pretty brunette to worry about. With no more fields or teams to maintain, I became a jogger and more political, especially in the modern political climate. The pretty brunette said, “I do” and we still are. One era ends, another continues.
I don’t know if Forty-One actually jogged that hot day in July or not. I like to think he did and that we traveled over the same ground, he jogging, me driving a tractor in circles, clipping the grass he ran over. “I cut the grass George HW Bush ran on….” Do I get a certificate?
I like to think that if there is an afterlife, and I believe there is, he has been reunited with the love of his life, his Barbara. I’d like to think they are laughing together…maybe ridiculing the present forms of politicians while trying to look out us all from their “thousand points of light.”
Maybe, if I’m lucky enough, I’ll join him someday for a jog. I wish I could have heard his Texas drawl in person. Maybe I still can. Maybe I’ll grow up to be just like him. Rest in Peace George HW Bush. I know you weren’t perfect but you were someone to be admired and emulated. Other politicians…and humans, should take a lesson.
For more of Don Miller’s musings click on the following link, https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM.