I was raised with Southern sensibilities. When someone came to the door, they were welcomed to sit a spell around the kitchen table or out on the front porch, all the while sipping sweet tea and sharing pleasant conversation. Hospitality and politeness were always offered to visitors, even on days when we were not feeling very sociable.
It is this standard of behavior that I have come to expect from myself and others, which is why I find it so mind-boggling how unwelcoming I feel toward a certain “celebrity” whom I have not had the misfortune, I mean, the pleasure of meeting. Don’t believe me? Let me tell you about a dream I had last week.
In my dream, I was sitting out on the deck, sipping iced tea and soaking up the sun. Down the lane with his long-legged stride came Lyndon Baines Johnson. Despite the fact that good ole Lyndon had gone on to the great ranch in the sky 48 years ago, there he was, wearing a big grin and an even bigger cowboy hat. After a few moments, LBJ arrived at my doorstep. Being a Texan, born and bred, I figured he would fancy some sweet tea. He accepted and sat down on the settee across from me. (I don’t even own an outdoor settee, but for this dream, I did.) We talked about the Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and JFK’s assassination.
At some point in the conversation, I looked down the road, and who should be coming but Richard Milhous Nixon with his hands held up in victory. Even though he had been dead for 26 years, I asked him if he too would like to come and sit a spell. With his gruff voice, he said that he would and sat himself down on the settee beside his predecessor. We then talked about his Quaker upbringing, Henry Kissinger, and Watergate. Even though that pesky wire-tapping scandal ended his presidency, rocked the country, and tainted his legacy, I found him to be quiet, unobtrusive, and slightly awkward—in other words, the type of person with whom the nerd in me could relate.
Next came Gerald Rudolph Ford, Jr., stumbling over a branch along the way. He too joined us for some sweet tea and some deep thoughts. Although it had been 14 years since his passing, he was full of life. We spoke of football glories, assassination attempts, the end of the Vietnam War, and unpopular pardons.
Following in Ford’s footsteps was a peanut farmer from Georgia, James Earl Carter, Jr., otherwise known as Jimmy. The first living president to star in my dream, I was surprised to see him. But since he was there, I told him of how much I admired his humanitarian work in the decades following his presidency. A good person and a devout Christian, I appreciate how he serves God by serving others. Humble and soft-spoken, Jimmy awe-shucked my praise before reminding me of gas shortages and hostage crises.
No sooner had he finished speaking, then along came a retired actor, Ronald Wilson Reagan, who jumped up on an oak stump and delivered an impassioned speech on trickle-down economics, the Berlin Wall, the war on drugs, assassination attempts, the AIDS epidemic, the scourge of apartheid, and Iran-Contra… all before the ice had melted in my glass. Even though 16 years had passed since he had passed on, Ronnie could still deliver one helluva speech.
When Reagan came down from the stump, up walked George Herbert Walker Bush, whose death two years ago was mourned by many, myself included. He had a humorous outlook and a ridiculously impressive resume. Bush Sr. accepted a glass of sweet tea and a nearby rocker before talking about combat flights, the U.N. and the CIA, China, dimwitted VPs, the end of the Cold War, the start of the Gulf War, and a thousand points of light.
His political rival and unlikely friend, William Jefferson Clinton, then showed up with doughnuts and jokes to share. A natural-born people person, he could charm the spots off a leopard. The ensuing conversation centered on the economy, don’t ask/don’t tell, NAFTA, assault weapons ban, health care coverage, impeachment, war and peace and war again, sexual scandals, and balanced budgets. As Bill was entertaining the other ex-presidents, I rose and walked to the garage to grab some tools.
I had just come out of the garage, hammer in hand, when up the road strode George Walker Bush with his bubba drawl and Yale degree. He reckoned that he too could do with an ice-cold sweet tea before he sat down beside his father. The conversation shifted to oilfields, no child left behind, hanging chads, hurricanes, terrorism, war and more war, and immigration. As he spoke, I headed to the shed to retrieve two-by-fours which I carried, one by one, to the end of my lane.
I had just brought up the final board when up walked Barack Hussein Obama II. I welcomed him to the impromptu get-together and told him that the sweet tea and his predecessors were waiting for him on the deck. Soon, sounds of laughter drifted down the road, beckoning me back, but I had work to do. Hammer in hand, I began building a fence. As I hammered, I heard snippets of conversation about Guantanamo, equal pay, renewable energy, gay rights, health care reform, school shootings, Osama bin Laden, and travel to Cuba.
The conversation began growing louder, soon rising above my banging. Behind me stood the ex-prez squad, wielding hammers and saws of their own. They had come to lend a hand. Jimmy, a born builder, rallied the troops, showing them how to build things right and tight. When we were all done, my property was walled off behind an immense fence. (Seriously, where in heavens’ name did all that lumber come from?)
In the distance came an uninvited visitor swaggering toward us. There was just had one thing left to do. Grabbing a No Trespassing sign off the nearest tree, I nailed it to the gate before walking inside and locking the door. Whew… that was close!
I then turned to my guests and asked, “Did y’all drink up all the sweet tea, or is there a little left for me?” They laughed as we went back enjoy each other’s company on a sultry summer evening.