Chapter 18

   After bacon and eggs and toast and coffee, Ike and Mamie Eisenhower walked out of the big two-story house on the long quiet street and shook hands with Joel Carlson and his wife. “Thanks for having us,” said Dwight Eisenhower. The couple had spent the night in the guest bedroom. At the end of the driveway a man waited with three ballerina dolls in his arms. 

   Ike lit a cigarette. He looked at the man. He looked at the man standing next to him.

   “John Krajicek, from Ames,” said the Secret Service agent in a dark suit.

   The man holding the three dolls gave them to Mamie Eisenhower.

   “Thank you so much,” she said, squeezing his arm.

   John Krajiceks’s face lit up.   

   “It is my pleasure,” he said.

   The President and Mrs. Eisenhower were in Boone, Iowa, on a Friday. It was the last day of summer. The next day was the first day of fall. It was a clear crisp Midwestern morning.

   Once in their car they were driven to Carroll Street, to the house Mamie was born in sixty years earlier. Mrs. Beatrice Smiley, Mrs. Myrtle Douglas, and Mrs. Awilda Stranberg, all dressed up, all in a huddle anxious, all waiting their breathing bated, greeted them on the front porch. They presented Mamie with a photograph of the stone and memorial plaque that had recently been placed on the lawn of her birthplace.

   Mamie was slightly unnerved by the God’s green acre look of it, like a memorial garden.

   Looking down at the plaque, after reading the inscription, Ike noticed a shiny penny in the freshly mowed grass. “See a penny, pick it up, all day long you’ll have good luck,” he thought. He picked it up.

   Adlai Stevenson was coming to nearby Newton tomorrow to give a speech about farm problems. “We’ve got the Truth Squad ready,” Joel Carlson said over breakfast. Ike rolled the penny between his fingers in his pocket. The truth was he didn’t care about the Truth Squad. He had Adlai Stevenson in his pocket.

   It was a few minutes before eleven when the Eisenhower’s arrived at the National Field Days and Plowing Matches near Colfax. In the past two days he had traveled hundreds of miles through central Iowa, made speeches, had impromptu informal talks, shook hands, shook more hands, waved and flashed his smile to more than 300,00 people, half of them on Walnut Street in Des Moines, eight and nine deep, on both sides of the street. 

   Gangs of schoolchildren ran alongside his limousine and kids on bicycles rode behind the police motorcycle escorts.

   “There’s never been anything like this here before,” said Governor Leo Hoegh, whistling through his gap teeth in awe and admiration.

   Eight years earlier, when Harry Truman campaigned in Iowa, he got sick and tired of hearing “We Like Ike!” from hecklers. “Why don’t you shut up and you might learn something,” he retorted at one stop, veering from his prepared speech. When he did, he became the target of eggs and tomatoes. But Ike didn’t run in 1948 and Harry Truman got the last laugh the morning after Thomas E. Dewey beat him.

   As they drove up the dirt road off Highway 6 to the entrance of the Field Days, Dwight Eisenhower glanced at the cardboard signs at the side of the road. He wasn’t the challenger anymore. He was the incumbent. He was the man in the Oval Office with a record to defend.

   “10-cent corn. The same as 1932.”

   1932 was the year 24 years ago when Franklin Roosevelt defeated Herbert Hoover in that year’s presidential race, more than three years into the Great Depression.

   “Ike Promised 100 Per Cent Parity 1952. Didn’t Happen. What Promise in 1956?”

   “Ike’s Peace Like Neville Chamberlain’s Peace.”

   At the entrance a short round man held up a loosely lettered sign stuck on the end of a broomstick. “Adlai and Estes, The Bestest.” 

   “Mr. President,” said Herb Plambeck. “I’d like to introduce our twenty-seven Champion Plowmen and our one and only Champion Plow Woman, Mrs. Pauline Blankenship.”

   Ike shook hands with them, taking Pauline Blankenship’s lightly, even though her hand was bigger and stronger than his. He shook hands with Frank Mendell, chairman of the National Contour Plowing Match, and Dale Hall, chairman of the National Level Land Plowing Match. In the lunch tent he met Kay Butler, Queen of the Furrow, and ate sitting between Mamie and Governor Hoegh. 

   Mrs. Jet Adams supervised the dozen ladies serving lunch. Mamie waved her over. “You’re doing a wonderful job,” she said.

   After lunch Senator B. B. Hickenlooper introduced President Eisenhower to the crowd after introducing himself.

   “Most of you know me, and I’m sure have voted for me often,” he said.

   There was a wave of good-natured laughter.

   “For those of you who don’t know me, and aren’t sure how to pronounce my name, my friends just call me Hick.”

   There was another wave of laughter, longer larger louder.

   “When I was child, my mother sent me to the drug store to get a nickel’s worth of asafetida for her asthma. The druggist just gave it me without writing it out, because he didn’t want to have to write out my full name, Bourke Blakemore Hickenlooper. “

   “Just take this home to your mother, Hick,” said the druggist. 

   Bourke Hickenlooper had been a senator since 1944. He wore black frame glasses beneath a pinkish bald pate and was one of the most conservative and isolationist members in the United States Senate. He hadn’t lost an election since as lieutenant governor of Iowa almost twenty years ago he made headlines by saving a Cedar Rapids woman from drowning in the Cedar River.

   She later told her friends she hadn’t needed saving, but that her savior had insisted. Hick knew a hick state like Iowa when he saw one.

   President Eisenhower’s speech was broadcast live on local TV and radio. He stayed local, steering away from anything controversial, the bland leading the bland. After the address he presented trophies and scrolls to the champion plowmen and champion plow woman.

   Henry Steenhock, the owner of the land where the Field Days was held, didn’t think much of the speech. 

   “I like Ike, but I don’t think I’ll vote for him, even though I’ve been a Republican all my life,” he said. “Flexible price supports have got to go. We’re not looking for a handout, but we deserve price protection. Other businesses are subsidized. Ezra Benson? He’s got to go. Vice-President Nixon? I don’t like his attitude, period. Estes Kefauver, he’s like I am, straight-forward.”

   Henry Steenbock always called corn a cash crop and a spade a spade. He was a small wound-up man urgent upright in his beliefs. He went to church on Sundays and went to work every day except Sundays.

    Dwight Eisenhower and his wife were at the Des Moines Municipal Airport by mid-afternoon for their flight back to Washington D. C. He greeted and answered questions from more than a hundred weekly state newspaper editors, met with two-dozen state Republican Party officials, and was escorted to the Columbine by sixteen Eagle Scouts formed as an Honor Guard.

   Once inside the plane an aide sat down across from him.

   “Mr. President we have a report that Anastasio Somoza, the president of Nicaragua, has been shot today.”

   “Is it serious?” 

   “The report isn’t entirely clear, but it said, yes, serious, shot in the chest, point-blank, and it might be life-threatening.”

   “Where have they taken him?” 

   “He’s been taken to the Panama Canal Zone hospital.”   

   “Good, best place for him. He may be a son-of-a-bitch, but Tacho’s our son-of-a-bitch, so tell them to do everything they can to save him.”

   “Yes, sir.”

   “Who shot him?”

   “A poet.”

   “Well, goddamn it. A poet, you say?”

   “A poet, yes, sir, a local writer and musician, played violin in a band. He was shot dead, riddled, on the spot.”

   “A poet with a popgun, mightier than the pen.”

   The plane touched down at 9:35, taxied to the MATS Terminal, and the Eisenhower’s were in bed by 10:45. The next day Ike stayed in the Mansion all day while it rained, only seeing the Secretary of State for a few minutes. Ike and Mamie attended the Sunday morning service at the National Presbyterian Church, and like the day before spent the rest of the day in the Mansion. Sunday night some of Ike’s Gang came to dinner at the White House, and over drinks planned their next stag trip to the Eisenhower Cabin at the Augusta National Golf Club.

   When he was there, which was as often as possible, Ike worked mornings in the three-story seven-bedroom cabin, played golf with his friends in the afternoon, and bridge after dinner. His friends weren’t his friends at the card table, however, except his partner, and then not always even him. Ike had cut his teeth playing poker while at West Point. While a cadet he learned to purposely lose sometimes, so as to not arouse envy and suspicion.

    “How was the Iowa trip?” one of them asked.

   “The same as all the others, except it didn’t rain, and the food was better,” he said. “I got an eyeful of field corn, shook a lot of hands, and gave speeches to the faithful. I got out the vote out.”

   “We heard you’re going to New York for the Series.”

   “You bet.”

   He was looking forward to going out to the old ballgame.


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