Chapter 49 — Harry and Bess Visit Walnut Shade

April 26, 2012

Sandy Cramer and Grace Morton want to thank everyone for the outpouring of condolences and support that have been received at City Hall after the death of Mayor Grant Combs. 

The South County High School theater department presented the play, Annie, on Friday night. Pat and Alice McManus’ dog, Roxy, played the part of Sandy.

There was a book signing at Singleton’s Rare Books and Photographs on Sunday afternoon. Glenda Singleton’s latest book of poems, Prairie Flowers and Prayers, has already made to number 197 on the Amazon poetry list after only a week.

The Prairie View Extension Club met at the home of Helen Baker on Monday. Members exchanged spring flower cuttings and heard about making ice cream the old fashioned way from Grace Morton.

Sandy Cramer says that John, Jr., who is at the University of California, Santa Cruz, made the  varsity lacrosse team, a sport that he had never played before heading off to college in January. She also reports that he now goes by JJ.

Pat Beck has been hired as the office manager for the ASCS office in Fremont and will begin her duties at the end of May. Lorene Robertson, who has been in that post since 1957, recently announced her retirement and will be training Pat.

Jeanne Riley and Lorene Robertson joined Kathleen and Olive Jane Johnson for lunch on Saturday at the Cedar Ridge Restaurant in Atchison last Friday. After a stop at Nell Hill’s, they returned to Walnut Shade and had a late afternoon tea at Olive Jane’s.

Ilene Wick, Lori Mendenhall, and Sheila Miller played Mahjong on Tuesday with Ruth Stanford. The Mahjong tiles, which had been missing for several weeks, were discovered in a drawer in Ruth’s bureau. Everyone is said to be relieved.

Frank and Sarah Brown met Marshall and Marie Green at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art in Overland Park on Sunday. Marie was in town attending a meeting of a committee of the Kansas County Commissioners on Friday and Saturday and stayed over until Sunday to do some shopping and art browsing.

Barb Wilson had lunch with Sarah Brown on Tuesday at Bluestem Bistro in Manhattan. Barb’s niece, Sandy, who is a junior at K-State, joined them.

A May Day Celebration will take place at the elementary school on Tuesday evening. Principal Jeffries invites everyone to come and enjoy the bonfire and May Pole dance. This year’s May Queen and King will also be crowned.

The Willing Workers 4-H Club met at the home of Lauri and Andrea Duffy. Sarah Heath called the meeting to order with a poem about spring. Hanna Tucker, who is entered in the county 4-H public speaking contest, gave a talk about spiders and showed several photos of spiders she has taken over the last year. Victoria Cramer demonstrated computer coding.

Lillian Reeves had a visitor from Park City, Utah. She would only say that his initials are RR. Hmmm.

Jeff Hawkins, Lou and Lois’ grandson, who is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Arizona, has received a grant from the Department of the Interior and the Institute for Museum and Library Services to work with conservators to catalogue part of the University’s basketry collection from Native American tribes of the Southwest and Northern Mexico.

Bill and Pam Heath had visitors from St. Louis on Saturday, Bill’s uncle and aunt, Nathan and Joyce Heath, who were on their way to Hays.

Ilene Wick’s grandson Charley and his wife, Harriet, have moved to Houston where Harriet has  a position at the Johnson Space Center in the Astromaterials Research and Exploration Science Office. Charley is working on his Ph.D. in hospitality administration at the University of Houston.

The Dixieland Stompers will be playing at B.B.’s Lawnside BBQ in Kansas City next weekend. They have been adding more blues-inflected numbers to their repertoire since Melody joined the group. We understand that the barbecue is pretty good at B.B.’s and we know the music will be.

Thinking about barbecue…

Until next week, I remain…

Your Faithful Correspondent


Walnut Shade has had it’s share of famous visitors in the past, as I’ve recounted, but probably the most unexpected pair arrived in the summer of 1957. Here’s the story, as I heard it from Hazel Bradford, who was there that day:

For the previous seven or eight months, folks in town had seen a steady increase in the traffic along Highway 75 because of the opening the previous winter, of an eight-mile stretch of U.S. 40 just west of Topeka that became the first segment of what is now called the Interstate Highway System. The Interstate System had been authorized by Congress in June of that year and signed into law by President Dwight Eisenhower, a native Kansan who saw the importance of good highways to national security and to economic development. Kansas highway officials hurried to get the segment done to have the honor of being the first in the nation to complete a part of the system. There is some controversy about whether Kansas or Missouri was actually the first, adding to the feud between the two states, exemplified by the bitter rivalry between the university athletic teams. Missouri had the first contracts to begin work, but Kansas actually started pouring concrete first, so the debate continues whenever the subject comes up in Topeka or Jefferson City.

In any event, when the portion of the system was opened in November, many national and local Kansas dignitaries were on hand to cut the ribbon. The President was not able to attend, but the former President, Harry Truman was invited. While Eisenhower and Truman were not especially close at that point in their relationship (early on, they had been friends, with Truman even offering to step off the political stage in 1948 and let Eisenhower run for the Presidency, but Eisenhower later criticized Truman’s secretary of state, George C. Marshall during the 1952 campaign and their friendship cooled), Eisenhower knew that having at least the former President would lend added importance to the ceremony. However, Bess Truman had come down with a cold a few days before and Harry didn’t want to leave her alone, so he stayed home. As it turned out, the day was cold and rainy, and Harry probably would have gotten a cold had he attended.

By the summer of ’57, several more segments of the Interstate System had been completed and people were out exploring the new, fast, safe ways to get around the country. Harry and Bess loved road trips, so they joined the throng. One sunny Saturday, they got in their 1955 Chrysler New Yorker, which had replace the 1953 Chrysler they had used to drive from Independence, Missouri to New York to visit their daughter, Margaret (in 1953, when Truman left the White House, presidents did not have the protection of the Secret Service; it was not until 1958 that ex-presidents were afforded that protection, so as hard as it is to imagine these days, the Trumans made the trip alone). The Trumans drove from their home and all the way to the Maple Hill Road, the terminus of the new highway, without incident, but on the way back, Truman was pulled over by a Kansas Highway Patrolman for failing to signal when passing a farm truck that was driving slower than Harry wanted to go. When the patrolman approached the car, he was startled to see the ex-president at the wheel and Mrs. Truman in the passenger seat. Somewhat embarrassed, he asked for the President’s license and they were both chagrined to learn that Truman had forgotten it back in Independence. The officer wanted to let Truman off with a warning, but Harry would hear none of it. He insisted that he be given a ticket for his infraction, which the officer obliged reluctantly (how would he explain to his superiors that he had ticketed the former president for a minor traffic violation? There is no record of what happened when he got back to patrol headquarter but one can imagine the scene), and he sent the Trumans on their way with Bess driving.

By this time, it had gotten to be about noon and the couple decided to turn off on Highway 75 to find something to eat rather than drive on to Topeka. After a few miles, they found themselves in Walnut Shade and at The Shady Cafe. Now, in small towns, local restaurants are the hub of news and gossip. Mostly gossip. Everyone who comes and goes from the place is noted and their current story is added into the town’s ongoing narrative. When someone new shows up, they are as likely as not to not even be overtly acknowledged; merely observed and filed away the collective consciousness in case that person returns at some future date.

And so it was with ex-President Harry S Truman and Bess Wallace Truman. Gladys, the waitress on duty, walked over with a carafe of coffee and two cups and asked if they would like to see a menu. The Trumans said “no thanks” and ordered the blue plate special, which on Saturday’s was meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, creamed corn, and a roll, made fresh every day by Sarah Simpson, the owner’s wife. A salad was extra, but no one in Walnut Shade in 1957 ever ordered a salad and neither did the Trumans. Instead of coffee, they ordered iced tea, since it was a warm day and the air conditioner had not yet been installed in their car (at that time not everything came standard on a car; it was much more a la carte than it is now. I once saw an invoice for the 1940 Chrysler Harry bought when he was elected to the Senate, a coupe for himself and a sedan for Bess. Being a United States Senator, he felt he had to meet a certain standard among his colleagues and so he splurged and had a radio and a heater installed in each one, and extra $92!)

The regulars in The Shady Cafe let the Trumans eat in peace, but when they had finished their meal, Harry struck up a conversation with the couple at the next table, something that he did on a regular basis when he and Bess were on a trip. He wanted to know what people were thinking and feeling about the country, even when he wasn’t in charge. Now Kansas has always been a thoroughly Republican state, but it was, until recently a progressive Republican state. In the 1948 election, Tom Dewey beat Truman in Kansas by nearly ten points (only Vermont, Nebraska and Maine gave him a higher percentage), but Miller County went for Truman overwhelmingly, 1056 votes to 322 (somewhat incredibly, there were two votes for Strom Thurmond, the Dixiecrat party candidate; no one in the county knew who those two people could have been, but the suspicion was that they were a couple who moved to Georgia the following spring, apparently not wanting to associate with the “liberals” here in this part of the country).

After a bit of conversation and slices of apple pie, the Trumans got up to leave. When they went to the counter to pay, Gladys said, “Mr. President, this meal is on us,” and the ten or fifteen people in the Cafe started to applaud. Harry protested, as he did with the patrolman who had given him his traffic ticket, but Gladys was adamant, as was George Simpson, who had come out of the kitchen to say goodbye to the Trumans.

“Mr. President, I’ve been saving this picture of you since you left office. Would you mind autographing it for me?” George had pulled out a framed picture of the President, one of those official ones you see in the Post Office or other government building, and he quickly took it out of the frame.

“I’d be happy to on one condition. Would you give Mrs. Truman your recipe for apple pie? I’ve been eating the ones her mother has been baking for forty years and yours is way better.”

“It would be my honor, sir,” George replied hesitantly, noticing the combination of scowl and grin on Mrs. Truman’s face.

“And you’d better have Mrs. Truman sign that photograph, too, since she was just as much the President as I was,” Harry said, laughing, as Mrs. Truman’s scowl turned completely to a grin.

With that, they walked to their car and headed home. There is no record of any other traffic issues that day, but it was a memorable one for everyone involved, I’m sure. So the next time you stop in Shirley’s, the successor to The Shady Cafe, you’ll know why there is a picture of Harry Truman on the wall, signed by him and by Mrs. Truman.


News from the past:

Parkersburg, May 29, 1954 — The Grant family reunion was held at the Grant farm beginning on Saturday afternoon. Eighty-two family members from Kansas, Missouri, Colorado, Oregon, South Carolina and Texas attended. Those who arrived early on Saturday enjoyed donuts, juice and coffee before the fish fry  that evening, prepared by Glen Grant and his sons Harry, David and Jeff. On Sunday morning, before a worship service on the grounds, donuts, juice, and coffee were served. At noon, relatives enjoyed sandwiches at noon and the afternoon was spent by the children playing games while the adults visited, shared photos and remembered family members who had passed. Later that afternoon, everyone went to the cemetery to put flowers on the graves. Neighbors of the the Grants catered the evening potluck meal and the family was serenaded by  a local string band. For relatives who stayed over until Memorial Day on Monday, a big breakfast was shared, along with donuts, juice, and coffee.

[I wonder if the donuts on Monday were left over from Saturday and Sunday?]

About stclairc

Abstract artist, photographer, writer
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