During the first year settling back into my hometown of Independence, I completed Missouri Master Gardener coursework with the University of Missouri Extension Service. In return, one of the great privileges made possible by this organization is the opportunity to work with the group charged with monthly maintenance of the Truman Home gardens, just two blocks from Waldo Guest Cottage and the Independence Square.
Growing up here, I attended junior high school on Maple Street, just a stone’s throw from where Harry and Bess lived. A couple of hours, of one day, when former President Eisenhower was due to arrive for a visit with the Trumans remain exquisitely vivid in my mind. Classroom studies were put on hold, as teachers and students poured out of the school and raced over to Mr. Truman’s home. We jockeyed for the best positions, waiting for our hometown hero and his wife to come out their front door. The teachers made sure those of us who were shorter stood in front, and I found myself pressed up against the tall wrought-iron fence. The fence, installed against Mr. Truman’s will, was vital to the protection and safety of the former First Family when they returned here to live after his Presidency. Though I was crushed against it, there was no better viewpoint.
When President Eisenhower’s motorcade arrived, the front door of the house facing Delaware opened, and Harry and Bess stepped out to the front porch, holding hands and waving to us with the other. They came down the steps, and walked the sidewalk slowly to greet Ike and Mamie. Mr. Truman beamed such joy at seeing all of us pressed together, calling out, “Mr. President! Mr. President!” A down-to-earth man, he took such joy in his hometown and all of us living here. Grasping a fence bar with one hand, I reached the other arm inside the gate and waved wildly.
What a day it was!
Next week, I’ll walk to the Truman Home carrying my rake, for the last gardening day this year. We’ll be raking the beautiful leaves of fall away from that fence where I stood all those years ago, still thrilled to my core from experiencing the gentle, affectionate presence of Mr. Truman.