October 1, 1997

Letters to the President

Filed under: Life Stories — schroder @ 12:00 pm

I’ve been writing a lot of letters lately, some to people I’ve never met and others I’ve known in my travels through the newspaper industry. I’m looking for potential investors in my company. Things have been tight recently and, after three years, it might be time to look for some real live capital. These letters are a challenge for me to write.

I haven’t been good about writing letters to my friends or family the past few years, but I have been sending them copies of my newspaper. When I see them, they say they feel like they have kept up with me through my (sometimes too) personal columns. So I usually let them do all the talking about what’s been going on in their lives.

When I was a child, I loved to explore. One time I was rummaging through the attic and found a box of old love letters my mother had written my father before they were married and some after their wedding when he was overseas during World War II. I grabbed my brothers and sisters and we squealed with delight as we read through the more sappy passages. Apparently, dad had kept these hidden for years and mom didn’t know it. When we began peering into their youth, it must have embarrassed them because the next day, I caught dad looking over them one last time before he tossed them one by one into our outdoor trash incinerator. I was sorry I stumbled upon them.

I’ve kept letters all my life. Some stupid ones from grade school, some from old flames in high school when I was at boarding school. And all the ones from my own courtship. I keep them in case my children or ex-wife have any interest in reading them someday.

When I was eight or nine I began writing President Lyndon Johnson. I wish I had copies of those letters today. They would serve as a diary of sorts. I can’t remember all that I wrote him, but I do remember discussing important subjects such as my cats and my goldfish. I talked about my family and school. I don’t believe I addressed any political subjects. Vietnam was not on the front pages yet.

I remember one day sitting at my kitchen table writing in pencil on legal pads. I had written six or seven pages when my dad came home from work.

“What are you writing?” he asked.

“Oh, a letter to the president,” I replied, matter of factly. I didn’t even look up to see what must have been a puzzled smile on his face.

The amazing thing is that I got letters back. They were written by the president’s “personal” secretary and she assured me that President Johnson enjoyed reading about my cats and my family. She even sent along some autographed photographs of LBJ holding up his famous beagles by the ears.

One time, when I was at summer camp in Tennessee, my dad forwarded a letter from the White House to me. I’ll never forget that day at lunch, when the counselor handed out the day’s mail. When he got to mine, his face turned ashen. He got up and walked around the table and pointed to the return address with the White House logo. He looked puzzled.

“Oh,” I said. “It’s just another letter from President Johnson. He and I have been writing each other for a while.” My cabin mates were not very impressed, but my counselor treated me with a lot more respect after that.

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