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I was born on my grandfathers birthday, a couple of weeks early, weighing in at a respectable six pounds eight ounces, on a twenty-one-inch frame. Mother and I came home to her parents house on Hervey Street in Hope, where I would spend the next four years. That old house seemed massive and mysterious to me then and still holds deep memories today. The people of Hope raised the funds to restore it and fill it with old pictures, memorabilia, and period furniture. They call it the Clinton Birthplace. It certainly is the place I associate with awakening to lifeto the smells of country food; to buttermilk churns, ice-cream makers, washboards, and clotheslines; to my Dick and Jane readers, my first toys, including a simple length of chain I prized above them all; to strange voices talking over our party line telephone; to my first friends, and the work my grandparents did..moncler outlet online.
After a year or so, my mother decided she needed to go back to New Orleans to Charity Hospital, where she had done part of her nursing training, to learn to be a nurse anesthetist. In the old days, doctors had administered their own anesthetics, so there was a demand for this relatively new work, which would bring more prestige to her and more money for us. But it must have been hard on her, leaving me. On the other hand, New Orleans was an amazing place after the war, full of young people, Dixieland music, and over-the-top haunts like the Club My-Oh-My, where men in drag danced and sang as lovely ladies. I guess it wasnt a bad place for a beautiful young widow to move beyond her loss..moncler outlet.
I got to visit Mother twice when my grandmother took me on the train to New Orleans. I was only three, but I remember two things clearly. First, we stayed just across Canal Street from the French Quarter in the Jung Hotel, on one of the higher floors. It was the first building more than two stories high I had ever been in, in the first real city I had ever seen. I can remember the awe I felt looking out over all the city lights at night. I dont recall what Mother and I did in New Orleans, but Ill never forget what happened one of the times I got on the train to leave. As we pulled away from the station, Mother knelt by the side of the railroad tracks and cried as she waved good-bye. I can see her there still, crying on her knees, as if it were yesterday..cheap moncler jackets.
For more than fifty years, from that first trip, New Orleans has always had a special fascination for me. I love its music, food, people, and spirit. When I was fifteen, my family took a vacation to New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, and I got to hear Al Hirt, the great trumpeter, in his own club. At first they wouldnt let me in because I was underage. As Mother and I were about to walk away, the doorman told us that Hirt was sitting in his car reading just around the corner, and that only he could let me in. I found himin his Bentley no lesstapped on the window, and made my case. He got out, took Mother and me into the club, and put us at a table near the front. He and his group played a great setit was my first live jazz experience. Al Hirt died while I was President. I wrote his wife and told her the story, expressing my gratitude for a big mans long-ago kindness to a boy..moncler outlet online.
When I was in high school, I played the tenor saxophone solo on a piece about New Orleans called Crescent City Suite. I always thought I did a better job on it because I played it with memories of my first sight of the city. When I was twenty-one, I won a Rhodes scholarship in New Orleans. I think I did well in the interview in part because I felt at home there. When I was a young law professor, Hillary and I had a couple of great trips to New Orleans for conventions, staying at a quaint little hotel in the French Quarter, the Cornstalk. When I was governor of Arkansas, we played in the Sugar Bowl there, losing to Alabama in one of the legendary Bear Bryants last great victories. At least he was born and grew up in Arkansas! When I ran for President, the people of New Orleans twice gave me overwhelming victory margins, assuring Louisianas electoral votes for our side..cheap moncler jackets.
Now I have seen most of the worlds great cities, but New Orleans will always be specialfor coffee and beignets at the Morning Call on the Mississippi; for the music of Aaron and Charmaine Neville, the old guys at Preservation Hall, and the memory of Al Hirt; for jogging through the French Quarter in the early morning; for amazing meals at a host of terrific restaurants with John Breaux, Sheriff Harry Lee, and my other pals; and most of all, for those first memories of my mother. They are the magnets that keep pulling me down the Mississippi to New Orleans..cheap moncler jackets.
While Mother was in New Orleans, I was in the care of my grandparents. They were incredibly conscientious about me. They loved me very much; sadly, much better than they were able to love each other or, in my grandmothers case, to love my mother. Of course, I was blissfully unaware of all this at the time. I just knew that I was loved. Later, when I became interested in children growing up in hard circumstances and learned something of child development from Hillarys work at the Yale Child Study Center, I came to realize how fortunate I had been. For all their own demons, my grandparents and my mother always made me feel I was the most important person in the world to them. Most children will make it if they have just one person who makes them feel that way. I had three..moncler outlet online.
My grandmother, Edith Grisham Cassidy, stood just over five feet tall and weighed about 180 pounds. Mammaw was bright, intense, and aggressive, and had obviously been pretty once. She had a great laugh, but she also was full of anger and disappointment and obsessions she only dimly understood. She took it all out in raging tirades against my grandfather and my mother, both before and after I was born, though I was shielded from most of them. She had been a good student and ambitious, so after high school she took a correspondence course in nursing from the Chicago School of Nursing. By the time I was a toddler she was a private-duty nurse for a man not far from our house on Hervey Street. I can still remember running down the sidewalk to meet her when she came home from work..cheap sexy prom dresses.
Mammaws main goals for me were that I would eat a lot, learn a lot, and always be neat and clean. We ate in the kitchen at a table next to the window. My high chair faced the window, and Mammaw tacked playing cards up on the wooden window frame at mealtimes so that I could learn to count. She also stuffed me at every meal, because conventional wisdom at the time was that a fat baby was a healthy one, as long as he bathed every day. At least once a day, she read to me from Dick and Jane books until I could read them myself, and from World Book Encyclopedia volumes, which in those days were sold door-to-door by salesmen and were often the only books besides the Bible in working peoples houses. These early instructions probably explain why I now read a lot, love card games, battle my weight, and never forget to wash my hands and brush my teeth..cheap plus dresses.
I adored my grandfather, the first male influence in my life, and felt pride that I was born on his birthday. James Eldridge Cassidy was a slight man, about five eight, but in those years still strong and handsome. I always thought he resembled the actor Randolph Scott..cheap long dresses.
When my grandparents moved from Bodcaw, which had a population of about a hundred, to the metropolis Hope, Papaw worked for an icehouse delivering ice on a horse-drawn wagon. In those days, refrigerators really were iceboxes, cooled by chunks of ice whose size varied according to the size of the appliance. Though he weighed about 150 pounds, my grandfather carried ice blocks that weighed up to a hundred pounds or more, using a pair of hooks to slide them onto his back, which was protected by a large leather flap..cheap ball gowns.
My grandfather was an incredibly kind and generous man. During the Depression, when nobody had any money, he would invite boys to ride the ice truck with him just to get them off the street. They earned twenty-five cents a day. In 1976, when I was in Hope running for attorney general, I had a talk with one of those boys, Judge John Wilson. He grew up to be a distinguished, successful lawyer, but he still had vivid memories of those days. He told me that at the end of one day, when my grandfather gave him his quarter, he asked if he could have two dimes and a nickel so that he could feel he had more money. He got them and walked home, jingling the change in his pockets. But he jingled too hard, and one of the dimes fell out. He looked for that dime for hours to no avail. Forty years later, he told me he still never walked by that stretch of sidewalk without trying to spot that dime..Long Dresses.
Its hard to convey to young people today the impact the Depression had on my parents and grandparents generation, but I grew up feeling it. One of the most memorable stories of my childhood was my mothers tale of a Depression Good Friday when my grandfather came home from work and broke down and cried as he told her he just couldnt afford the dollar or so it would cost to buy her a new Easter dress. She never forgot it, and every year of my childhood I had a new Easter outfit whether I wanted it or not. I remember one Easter in the 1950s, when I was fat and self-conscious. I went to church in a light-colored short-sleeved shirt, white linen pants, pink and black Hush Puppies, and a matching pink suede belt. It hurt, but my mother had been faithful to her fathers Easter ritual..prom girl dresses.
When I was living with him, my grandfather had two jobs that I really loved: he ran a little grocery store, and he supplemented his income by working as a night watchman at a sawmill. I loved spending the night with Papaw at the sawmill. We would take a paper bag with sandwiches for supper, and I would sleep in the backseat of the car. And on clear starlit nights, I would climb in the sawdust piles, taking in the magical smells of fresh-cut timber and sawdust. My grandfather loved working there, too. It got him out of the house and reminded him of the mill work hed done as a young man around the time of my mothers birth. Except for the time Papaw closed the car door on my fingers in the dark, those nights were perfect adventures..sexy prom dresses.
The grocery store was a different sort of adventure. First, there was a huge jar of Jacksons cookies on the counter, which I raided with gusto. Second, grown-ups I didnt know came in to buy groceries, for the first time exposing me to adults who werent relatives. Third, a lot of my grandfathers customers were black. Though the South was completely segregated back then, some level of racial interaction was inevitable in small towns, just as it had always been in the rural South. However, it was rare to find an uneducated rural southerner without a racist bone in his body. Thats exactly what my grandfather was. I could see that black people looked different, but because he treated them like he did everybody else, asking after their children and about their work, I thought they were just like me. Occasionally, black kids would come into the store and we would play. It took me years to learn about segregation and prejudice and the meaning of poverty, years to learn that most white people werent like my grandfather and grandmother, whose views on race were among the few things she had in common with her husband. In fact, Mother told me one of the worst whippings she ever got was when, at age three or four, she called a black woman Nigger. To put it mildly, Mammaws whipping her was an unusual reaction for a poor southern white woman in the 1920s.
My mother once told me that after Papaw died, she found some of his old account books from the grocery store with lots of unpaid bills from his customers, most of them black. She recalled that he had told her that good people who were doing the best they could deserved to be able to feed their families, and no matter how strapped he was, he never denied them groceries on credit. Maybe thats why Ive always believed in food stamps.
After I became President, I got another firsthand account of my grandfathers store. In 1997, an African-American woman, Ernestine Campbell, did an interview for her hometown paper in Toledo, Ohio, about her grandfather buying groceries from Papaw on account and bringing her with him to the store. She said that she remembered playing with me, and that I was the only white boy in that neighborhood who played with black kids. Thanks to my grandfather, I didnt know I was the only white kid who did that.
Besides my grandfathers store, my neighborhood provided my only other contact with people outside my family. I experienced a lot in those narrow confines. I saw a house burn down across the street and learned I was not the only person bad things happened to. I made friends with a boy who collected strange creatures, and once he invited me over to see his snake. He said it was in the closet. Then he opened the closet door, shoved me into the darkness, slammed the door shut, and told me I was in the dark alone with the snake. I wasnt, thank goodness, but I was sure scared to death. I learned that what seems funny to the strong can be cruel and humiliating to the weak.
Our house was just a block away from a railroad underpass, which then was made of rough tar-coated timbers. I liked to climb on the timbers, listen to the trains rattle overhead, and wonder where they were going and whether I would ever go there.
And I used to play in the backyard with a boy whose yard adjoined mine. He lived with two beautiful sisters in a bigger, nicer house than ours. We used to sit on the grass for hours, throwing his knife in the ground and learning to make it stick. His name was Vince Foster. He was kind to me and never lorded it over me the way so many older boys did with younger ones. He grew up to be a tall, handsome, wise, good man. He became a great lawyer, a strong supporter early in my career, and Hillarys best friend at the Rose Law Firm. Our families socialized in Little Rock, mostly at his house, where his wife, Lisa, taught Chelsea to swim. He came to the White House with us, and was a voice of calm and reason in those crazy early months.
There was one other person outside the family who influenced me in my early childhood. Odessa was a black woman who came to our house to clean, cook, and watch me when my grandparents were at work. She had big buck teeth, which made her smile only brighter and more beautiful to me. I kept up with her for years after I left Hope. In 1966, a friend and I went out to see Odessa after visiting my fathers and grandfathers graves. Most of the black people in Hope lived near the cemetery, across the road from where my grandfathers store had been. I remember our visiting on her porch for a good long while. When the time came to go, we got in my car and drove away on dirt streets. The only unpaved streets I saw in Hope, or later in Hot Springs when I moved there, were in black neighborhoods, full of people who worked hard, many of them raising kids like me, and who paid taxes. Odessa deserved better.
The other large figures in my childhood were relatives: my maternal great-grandparents, my great-aunt Otie and great-uncle Carl Russell, and most of all, my great-uncle Orenknown as Buddy, and one of the lights of my lifeand his wife, Aunt Ollie.
My Grisham great-grandparents lived out in the country in a little wooden house built up off the ground. Because Arkansas gets more tornadoes than almost any other place in the United States, most people who lived in virtual stick houses like theirs dug a hole in the ground for a storm cellar. Theirs was out in the front yard, and had a little bed and a small table with a coal-oil lantern on it. I still remember peering into that little space and hearing my great-grandfather say, Yes, sometimes snakes go down there too, but they wont bite you if the lanterns lit. I never found out whether that was true or not. My only other memory of my great-grandfather is that he came to visit me in the hospital when I broke my leg at age five. He held my hand and we posed for a picture. Hes in a simple black jacket and a white shirt buttoned all the way up, looking old as the hills, straight out of American Gothic.
My grandmothers sister Opalwe called her Otiewas a fine-looking woman with the great Grisham family laugh, whose quiet husband, Carl, was the first person I knew who grew watermelons. The river-enriched, sandy soil around Hope is ideal for them, and the size of Hopes melons became the trademark of the town in the early fifties when the community sent the largest melon ever grown up to that time, just under two hundred pounds, to President Truman. The better-tasting melons, however, weigh sixty pounds or less. Those are the ones I saw my great-uncle Carl grow, pouring water from a washtub into the soil around the melons and watching the stalks suck it up like a vacuum cleaner. When I became President, Uncle Carls cousin Carter Russell still had a watermelon stand in Hope where you could get good red or the sweeter yellow melons.
Hillary says the first time she ever saw me, I was in the Yale Law School lounge bragging to skeptical fellow students about the size of Hope watermelons. When I was President, my old friends from Hope put on a watermelon feed on the South Lawn of the White House, and I got to tell my watermelon stories to a new generation of young people who pretended to be interested in a subject I began to learn about so long ago from Aunt Otie and Uncle Carl.
My grandmothers brother Uncle Buddy and his wife, Ollie, were the primary members of my extended family. Buddy and Ollie had four children, three of whom were gone from Hope by the time I came along. Dwayne was an executive with a shoe manufacturer in New Hampshire. Conrad and Falba were living in Dallas, though they both came back to Hope often and live there today. Myra, the youngest, was a rodeo queen. She could ride like a pro, and she later ran off with a cowboy, had two boys, divorced, and moved home, where she ran the local housing authority. Myra and Falba are great women who laugh through their tears and never quit on family and friends. Im glad they are still part of my life. I spent a lot of time at Buddy and Ollies house, not just in my first six years in Hope, but for forty more years until Ollie died and Buddy sold the house and moved in with Falba.
Social life in my extended family, like that of most people of modest means who grew up in the country, revolved around meals, conversation, and storytelling. They couldnt afford vacations, rarely if ever went to the movies, and didnt have television until the mid- to late 1950s. They went out a few times a yearto the county fair, the watermelon festival, the occasional square dance or gospel singing. The men hunted and fished and raised vegetables and watermelon on small plots out in the country that theyd kept when they moved to town to work.
Though they never had extra money, they never felt poor as long as they had a neat house, clean clothes, and enough food to feed anyone who came in the front door. They worked to live, not the other way around.
My favorite childhood meals were at Buddy and Ollies, eating around a big table in their small kitchen. A typical weekend lunch, which we called dinner (the evening meal was supper), included ham or a roast, corn bread, spinach or collard greens, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, peas, green beans or lima beans, fruit pie, and endless quantities of iced tea we drank in large goblet-like glasses. I felt more grown up drinking out of those big glasses. On special days we had homemade ice cream to go with the pie. When I was there early enough, I got to help prepare the meal, shelling the beans or turning the crank on the ice-cream maker. Before, during, and after dinner there was constant talk: town gossip, family goings-on, and stories, lots of them. All my kinfolks could tell a story, making simple events, encounters, and mishaps involving ordinary people come alive with drama and laughter.
Buddy was the best storyteller. Like both of his sisters, he was very bright. I often wondered what he and they would have made of their lives if they had been born into my generation or my daughters. But there were lots of people like them back then. The guy pumping your gas might have had an IQ as high as the guy taking your tonsils out. There are still people like the Grishams in America, many of them new immigrants, which is why I tried as President to open the doors of college to all comers.
Though he had a very limited education, Buddy had a fine mind and a Ph.D. in human nature, born of a lifetime of keen observation and dealing with his own demons and those of his family. Early in his marriage he had a drinking problem. One day he came home and told his wife he knew his drinking was hurting her and their family and he was never going to drink again. And he never did, for more than fifty years.
Well into his eighties, Buddy could tell amazing stories highlighting the personalities of dogs hed had five or six decades earlier. He remembered their names, their looks, their peculiar habits, how he came by them, the precise way they retrieved shot birds. Lots of people would come by his house and sit on the porch for a visit. After they left hed have a story about them or their kidssometimes funny, sometimes sad, usually sympathetic, always understanding.
I learned a lot from the stories my uncle, aunts, and grandparents told me: that no one is perfect but most people are good; that people cant be judged only by their worst or weakest moments; that harsh judgments can make hypocrites of us all; that a lot of life is just showing up and hanging on; that laughter is often the best, and sometimes the only, response to pain. Perhaps most important, I learned that everyone has a storyof dreams and nightmares, hope and heartache, love and loss, courage and fear, sacrifice and selfishness. All my life Ive been interested in other peoples stories. Ive wanted to know them, understand them, feel them. When I grew up and got into politics, I always felt the main point of my work was to give people a chance to have better stories.
Uncle Buddys story was good until the end. He got lung cancer in 1974, had a lung removed, and still lived to be ninety-one. He counseled me in my political career, and if Id followed his advice and repealed an unpopular car-tag increase, I probably wouldnt have lost my first gubernatorial reelection campaign in 1980. He lived to see me elected President and got a big kick out of it. After Ollie died, he kept active by going down to his daughter Falbas donut shop and regaling a whole new generation of kids with his stories and witty observations on the human condition. He never lost his sense of humor. He was still driving at eighty-seven, when he took two lady friends, aged ninety-one and ninety-three, for drives separately once a week. When he told me about his dates, I asked, So you like these older women now? He snickered and said, Yeah, I do. Seems like theyre a little more settled.
In all our years together, I saw my uncle cry only once. Ollie developed Alzheimers and had to be moved to a nursing home. For several weeks afterward, she knew who she was for a few minutes a day. During those lucid intervals, she would call Buddy and say, Oren, how could you leave me in this place after fifty-six years of marriage? Come get me right now. He would dutifully drive over to see her, but by the time he got there, she would be lost again in the mists of the disease and didnt know him.
It was during this period that I stopped by to see him late one afternoon, our last visit at the old house. I was hoping to cheer him up. Instead, he made me laugh with bawdy jokes and droll comments on current events. When darkness fell, I told him I had to go back home to Little Rock. He followed me to the door, and as I was about to walk out, he grabbed my arm. I turned and saw tears in his eyes for the first and only time in almost fifty years of love and friendship. I said, This is really hard, isnt it? Ill never forget his reply. He smiled and said, Yeah, it is, but I signed on for the whole load, and most of it was pretty good. My uncle Buddy taught me that everyone has a story. He told his in that one sentence.