Today on the Lifeline, Michael Kramer writes about adventures he had with his family and two Presidents of the United States, and how a coincidence turned into a treasure hunt with an incredible reward.
“Showing up is 80 percent of life.” - Woody Allen
It’s a philosophy of life that I learned very early on as a youngster growing up in South Florida. In the days before sprawling theme parks, the Kramer family - my dad, mom, and baby sister - would create our own adventures by getting into our Ford Falcon and just show up somewhere - anywhere.
More often than not, it was Destination: Unknown. For example, on Easter Sunday 1963, we began a ride going north on A1A, when we ran into a detour in Palm Beach that took us past a residence where hundreds of people had gathered. Curious, we stopped, got out of the car, and found ourselves in front of the Kennedy Compound, where everyone was waiting for the First Family to appear before attending Easter services. While Jackie, Caroline, and John John made their way into the limo, JFK ignored the Secret Service agents who were guarding the car, and bolted his way to those of us who had been waiting patiently across the street.
“Happy Eash-tah! Happy Eash-tah!” JFK exclaimed, in his signature Boston accent, while shaking every hand that was extended to him, including ours. An exhilarating moment. And all we did was show up.
But there was another presidential encounter that occurred 10 years earlier, when the Kramer family lived in New York − and it has been a source of mystery for me for decades. For many years I’ve had a vague recollection of being with President Eisenhower at the Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn. Why my family made the trip from Brooklyn, New York to Washington with their three-year-old son was never clear to me. However, in retrospect, the answer was simple. My parents were adventurous rascals who just liked to show up!
And I know that it happened because it was documented in a photograph that was pasted in one of our very old scrapbooks. Unfortunately the photo has mysteriously disappeared. It was a picture of Dad holding me up while Ike was surrounded by an adoring throng of people. I swear.
That photo has remained elusive for more than 60 years. As the years have raced by, however, I had begun to doubt not only my memory of the photo, but also whether the event even took place. Still I have stuck by this story, telling and retelling it to my children more times than they cared to hear it. But recently my daughter Samantha was talking to a neighbor of hers in Longwood who was supervising construction work at the Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas. Taking advantage of this serendipitous moment, Samantha told him about my alleged Eisenhower encounter. A few days later, this wonderful gentleman obtained the contact information of a library employee who he said could help in the quest for evidence that my family was, in fact, present at this fateful event.
The very next day, I phoned archivist Kathy Struss, armed only with my foggy recollections. She couldn’t have been more accommodating. Kathy did some research and a week later, she sent me high-res copies of a dozen black-and-white photos of the 1953 Easter Egg Roll. Most of them were a sea of blurry faces. But there was one Xerox copy that was remarkably clear. I painstakingly pored over a myriad of microscopic faces, feeling a bit like Peter Falk in an episode of Columbo. After maybe 10 minutes, I spotted a handsome gentleman in the crowd, donning a stylish Fedora. His face was partially blocked, but I was pretty sure it was Dad. And if I had any doubts, they were quickly dispelled by a little lady standing not far behind him. It was definitely my mother, stretching her five-foot frame to the max so she could see over the horde in front of her. My dad’s been gone 50 years, my mom 14. But it was as if they were saying hello to me from across the years. A beautiful, bittersweet moment!
While it was not the aforementioned elusive photo of Dad and myself with Ike, in some ways it was even better – discovering my mother and father, looking as they did more than six decades ago. But wait a minute. Why wasn’t I in the photo that Kathy sent from the library? Maybe after all these years, I had subconsciously insinuated myself into this historic event.
Immediately after I found my parents in the photo, the first person I called was my sister Hedy who was born a year after the Easter Egg Roll. We met for lunch and with no assistance from me, she quickly found our dad and mom in the photograph. She also found a bush of hair over Dad’s right shoulder. I was there! Dad was holding me in his arms so I could see above the crowd. So while I didn’t have the good common sense to be facing the camera when the photo was taken, at least, at the tender age of three, I was savvy enough to just show up!
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