Patriotism at its finest

Back in 1992 my wife, Danny, and I lived in a wonderful old farmhouse in the quaint north central Mississippi town of Carrollton. We had just finished restoring the house — if you can ever finish restoring a 100-year-old home — and were beginning to think about starting a family. That twinkle in the eye thing.

Danny taught at the local elementary school and I had the honor of being publisher of both the Carroll County newspaper, The Conservative, and the The Winona Times newspaper in neighboring Montgomery County. The first President Bush — George Herbert Walker Bush — was in office and he had launched his America 2000 school program. His wife, First Lady Barbara Bush, was traveling the country to help kick off the program and our towns were all abuzz when we got the word that Winona Elementary School was the chosen location for the Mississippi event. On February 11, 1992 the First Lady came to town for a visit!

Grim-faced Secret Service agents were everywhere and I had applied for, and obtained, press credentials to cover the event. All of a sudden I found myself packed into a classroom — where Mrs. Bush was to read to a select group of students — shoulder to shoulder with a whole bunch of big city media folks. Wow the big times, I thought.

We’d been given a yellow press pass to wear around our necks, inscribed with the crest of the United States and the words Visit of the First Lady, along with the date, our names, and the location of the visit written in at the bottom. I remember thinking it a bit odd that those press passes were hanging around our necks by a piece of blue yarn, rather than some fancy presidential lanyard.

Some of us were also fortunate to have been given this little metal clip to attach to our lapel which would allow us even closer access to the First Lady than the “regular” reporters. It was a little pentagon-shaped thing, half green and half blue with G-3 stamped in the middle.

I’m not sure what the G-3 stood for and the Internet was new and hard to access back then, but even in today’s era of computer technology, the all powerful Google doesn’t seem to be real sure either. Maybe it is still “top secret.” I suppose, in retrospect, the pentagon shape might stand for the actual Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Regardless it was an honor to have one of those clips and to be that close to the First Lady of the United States.

There was a special feeling at the school and the children had lined the walkways, waving American Flags, and cheering for her. It was Patriotism at its finest. It was America. America before the days of the school shootings which started in Pearl, and have now become commonplace around the country. We were safe then and never dreamed of that type of carnage could begin a short five years later.

Mrs. Bush was a showstopper when she strolled into the room. Her white hair, her smart suit...those signature pearls strung around her neck. She also wore a big broach. I can’t remember the significance, which she explained to a fourth-grader after correcting him for the way he addressed her, but I do remember the correction.

She spoke charmingly and gently that day, yet she was firm, like she was with that little boy. She was in command of the situation. She was the “enforcer” as her family has described her.

I was so proud, so honored. And, I’m sure, I was probably shaking a little bit trying to carefully snap pictures, hoping to get the perfect shot just like those big city guys. Remember, there were no instant-view digital cameras back then, we had to wait — and pray — until we got into the darkroom and developed the film.

 As quick as the flash of the camera, it was all over, but the excitement lingered. Still lingers in my mind’s eye. Everyone was impressed by Barbara Bush that day, and around this great country we continued to be right up until her death last week, ironically, to me because of the year of our encounter, at the age of 92.

On the bookcase in my office, I  keep my press pass — blue yarn still attached — my lapel clip and two of the now-faded photographs of the First Lady that I took. Yes, they came out just fine! They are  still framed in the cheap dollar store frame I put them in 26 years ago. She deserves better than that, I suppose. But for the record, I’m just as proud of them today as I was that winter day in the darkroom in 1992 when they first appeared.

As for America 2000, the program established  six ambitious national goals to be obtained by the turn of the century. All children would start school ready to learn;  the high school graduation rate would increase to at least 90 percent; students would leave grades 4, 8, and 12 having demonstrated competency over English, mathematics, science, history, and geography; students would be first in the world in mathematics and science; every adult  would be literate and would possess the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in a global economy; and, every school in America would be free of drugs and violence and would offer a disciplined environment conducive to learning.

It’s 2017 and we’re still working on those lofty goals, but I can assure you Barbara Bush did her part, and for that and much, much more, we owe her our thanks.