My grandmother was big on manners. So much, they once put her in a letter writing exchange with the most powerful man on the planet.
Last week, while going through boxes of old photographs, I ran across a small picture frame with a letter addressed to my grandmother on the inside. The words, pressed into the now faded letterhead of the White House, were typewritten and thanked her for her graciousness and the opportunity to meet.
My grandmother, who only dreamt of one day reaching five-foot tall, never forgot to demonstrate the very best of manners to at every turn.
To know this lady, who immigrated to the United States from Scotland after the age of sixty, guests were to be warmly welcomed and treated as if they were the longest of lost friends. Never did a visit to her small apartment go by without the obligatory serving of hot tea alongside few small biscuits or cookies.
And so leads to the day she found herself in the arms of the president of the United States.
Gerald Ford, president at the time, was in town to visit my grandmother’s adopted hometown. And as happened in those days, he scheduled a stroll through the streets to meet and visit with people. My grandmother, who had never seen a president before, found it as good a time as any to go see what all the fuss was about.
The day of the event, President Ford, accompanied by a handful of Secret Service agents, began their stroll through the small town. My grandmother, being of very modest stature and mid-seventies at the time, somehow found her way to front of the crowd as the president strolled by.
As the president moved closer the crowd, people naturally jostled for a better chance to see a living president. And it was right then, as the crowd pushed forward, that my diminutive grandmother found herself being knocked forward and down onto the street – only to be caught by the arms of the president. Helping her regain her balance, the two exchanged a few words and he the graciously helped her back to the curb.
I’m sure my grandmother was bit embarrassed by the entire event – the unintended attention surely was not in her plans – but the kindness of the president stayed with her.
The next day my grandmother found a piece of small paper in her apartment and wrote a thank you note to the president – as she would have for anyone who’d demonstrated the least bit of kindness in her direction. And then, putting a stamp to the envelope, she mailed her words to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue – and thought nothing of it afterwards.
It was then, the unusual happened. Soon afterwards a rather unusual envelope arrived in my grandmother’s daily mail. Inside she found a personally signed note from President Gerald Ford thanking her for her kind letter and the pleasure to meet her – albeit – under such unusual circumstances.
We learn many lessons in life – but what my grandmother taught me is you never know where life will lead you when to make sure to do the right thing towards others. And for her, after finding herself in the arms of the most powerful man on the planet, her dedication to such a principle helped her develop a friendship with a most unusual pen pal.
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