I’ve been slowly making my way through the thousands of stories, short pieces, essays and works in progress on my mother’s computer. I thought I’d share some of them here. This one was written in 2001 and submitted to NPR’s Story Corps. I don’t know if they used it or not, but I totally love it.
Harry S. Truman was coming to town and everybody was plenty excited about it, especially me. He was coming because of something they called a whistle-stop tour, where a train pulled into a station and he stood on the caboose and gave a speech. Then the train moved off to another town, where he did the same thing all over again.
He was running for President, but I didn’t care about that. All I cared about was that I was going to do a twirling routine for him before he talked. I was head majorette for our high school band, and I was going to perform in front of the caboose while Harry S. Truman and half the county watched. I was going to give them a twirling routine they would talk about for the rest of their lives.
I was good. I was really good. I could make my baton spin so fast it became a silver blur. I could pass it from hand to hand, pass it behind my back and between my legs, throw it in the air and catch it, all the time keeping it whirling smooth as silk, all the time smiling a wide-toothed smile like Dinah Shore or Betty Grable. I was hot. I was really hot. Harry S. Truman was going to be amazed.
The day came and so did the crowds, all clumped beside the railroad tracks and stretching and leaning out to see if the train was in sight. Little kids and dogs ran around, and the men in charge of the whole thing walked back and forth slapping pieces of notebook paper against their legs to show how important they were.
Finally we saw the engine coming, and everybody grabbed their kids and dogs and claimed their viewing spot. The engine eased past us, then a few cars, and then the caboose rolled to a stop right in front of us. A man climbed up the steps and stood at the door and talked to somebody inside, and then he turned around to the crowd and hollered, “Ladies and gentlemen, Harry S. Truman!”
The band started playing “The Missouri Waltz,” and everybody yelled and whooped. Harry S. Truman came out on the platform with Bess next to him, both of them smiling and waving at us like we were old friends. Bess put her hand down after a while. I guess she felt like a fool standing there waving to people she didn’t know, but Harry S. Truman waved at us until the band stopped playing and the crowd calmed down.
My heart was banging in my chest like the bass drum, because any minute now it was going to be my turn. The snare drummer started a long slow roll, and the band director nodded at me. Oh boy, this was it. I put my hand on my hip and got my baton in position. I sucked in my stomach and raised my ribs and strutted out in front of Harry S. Truman, looking good in my little short skirt and my white boots with the tassels, looking really good and knowing it. Trumpets blared, and I threw my right arm up in the air with the baton held over my head. It was dramatic, I tell you. Me in front of old Harry S. Truman and the sun sending sparks off the hard steel of that baton.
I was going to do a few fast figure-eights above my head, nothing spectacular yet, and then the band would swing into “Saint Louis Blues” and I would go into the routine that Harry S. Truman would talk about for the rest of his life. He might even forget what he’d come to say, he’d be so amazed.
The crowd had got quiet and Harry S. Truman and Bess were both smiling at me and nodding their heads. I smiled my big smile and turned my wrist hard and fast to bring the steel ball of my baton down to begin the first figure-eight. I turned it like I had done a million times before. But this one time, this one time while Harry S. Truman and Bess and half the world watched, this one time the steel ball of my baton klunked my forehead so hard the engineer probably heard the echo of it way up at the head of the train.
I staggered, and Harry S. Truman and Bess zoomed far away and got teeny. The band director came and took my arm and led me away, and the crowd leaned back and laughed their heads off.
I don’t know what Harry S. Truman’s speech was about. I didn’t hear it because I was on the back seat of the band director’s car with a wet rag on my head. The band director was leaning on the door laughing. I don’t know if Harry S. Truman was laughing or not, but I’ll bet he never forgot me.