In my last blog post, I marveled at how both my parents and I had each met a U.S. President. The odds of any one American meeting a President are pretty slim. The fact that all three of us had each met one of the Presidents seemed pretty cool—and I thought you might enjoy the stories behind those meetings.
If you haven’t been taking notes, two posts ago I told the story of my meeting President Jimmy Carter. And in the last post I shared the story of my Dad meeting President Harry Truman.
Now it’s time to tell you about the time my Mom met President Dwight Eisenhower.
My Mom worked as an x-ray technician at Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington, DC in the early 1950’s. If you remember my last blog post, Walter Reed is the same place where my Dad recuperated from his World War II injuries. But that is not where my parents met! My Dad was a patient there almost ten years before my Mom worked there. My Mom and Dad actually met in Atlantic City, NJ, my Mom’s hometown—and where she would come home for weekend visits while working in Washington. It was just pure coincidence that they both spent significant parts of their lives in that hospital—but not at the same time!
But back to the story: During President Eisenhower’s first term, he found himself suffering from a lingering pain in one of his wrists. His White House physician wanted him to get it x-rayed. Any medical tests for the President were performed at Walter Reed. This was not an emergency situation, so the x-rays were scheduled for about a week later—which also gave the Secret Service time to do a background check on the person scheduled to perform the x-rays, my mother.
(Yes, I was surprised, too. But, yes, they actually knocked on the doors of her old Atlantic City neighbors and made sure she wouldn’t be any kind of threat to the President.)
On the day of the x-rays, the President was driven to the hospital, accompanied by his Secret Service detail. Two agents led the President into the waiting area, just outside where the x-ray machine was housed. My Mom was then ushered in and was quickly introduced to the President.
She was nervous—instead of calling him “Mr. President” or “Sir” she somehow combined them and called him “Mr. Sir”. But she quickly recovered and proceeded to do her job in a very professional manner.
My Mom told the President to follow her into the room where the x-ray machine was. He—along with the Secret Service agents—followed her in there. She stopped dead in her tracks and said to the agents, “You can’t be in here. Only the patient can be in here.” And one of them said, “Ma’am, we’re the Secret Service. It’s ok.” And my Mom said, “And I’m the x-ray technician, and it’s not ok.”
They both looked at her, puzzled, and she said, “Look, it’s just not safe for you to be in here. This will take all of a minute.” She smiled and added, “It will be fine. We’re just doing some quick x-rays of the wrist.” The two agents looked at each other, kind of shrugged, and said, “OK, go ahead.”
The two agents left the room—and my Mom shut the door behind them. As she prepared the equipment, she asked President Eisenhower when he first started noticing that his wrist was hurting.
He said, “I really notice it when I’m playing golf. It gets more and more painful the longer I play. When I’m done playing, the pain starts to go away in time. But even a week later, I can still feel some residual pain.”
My mother said, “It’s funny you say that. I play golf, too, and had some issues with pain in my wrist. Although it sounds like your pain is a lot worse. For me, I found if I held the club just a little bit different, I had no pain at all.”
“Yes,” said my Mom.
He laughed. “If it were only that simple to just change my grip and make this pain go away, that would be something.”
“Well, show me how you hold the club.” The President held out his hands and showed my Mom how he would typically hold a golf club. And in a move that defines the word “chutzpah”, my Mom now reached over and actually placed her hands on his forearms and said, “The next time you’re golfing, try bending your wrist here slightly—like this—and see if that makes a difference.”
There was no window in the room where she now had her hands wrapped around the President’s arms—so the Secret Service could not see what was happening. This was probably a really good thing. I can only speculate that if they had seen her hands tightly grasping the President’s arms, they might have had no choice but to shoot her—which means that she would have not married my Dad, I would have not been born, and you would not be reading this story right now. Cue the “Twilight Zone” music.
After giving her brief “golf lesson,” my Mom then proceeded to position the President’s wrist to properly take the x-rays. And that was it. He thanked her, she opened the door, and as he left with the Secret Service agents back in tow, President Eisenhower turned back and said, “I’m definitely going to try adjusting my grip like you showed me.” My Mom said the Secret Service agents displayed that same puzzled look they gave her when she told them they couldn’t go into the room. And off they went.
My Mom never did find out what the x-rays showed—and there was no mention of the bothersome wrist in the press. But the President must have remembered the brief interaction very favorably: About two years later my Mom received a personal invitation to President Eisenhower’s second inauguration in January 1957. Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to go. A lot had happened in that two year period. She had begun dating my Dad, they got married in August 1955—and I was born two weeks before Election Day in 1956. So on Inauguration Day they had a two-month old infant—me—and it just would have been too difficult for them to go. But my Mom kept that invitation framed and on the wall until the day she died. (Despite the fact that she had voted for Adlai Stevenson!)