David Letterman used to have a little routine he would do on his show called “Brush with Greatness” in which he would pick a person from his audience who had encountered a luminary at some point in his/her life in some totally casual manner. That person would tell of that chance encounter and then David would hand him/her the “writer’s embellishment” to read which would be a fantasy account in which that encounter made a monumental impact on the life of that luminary. Well, in 1980 on Good Friday I had an encounter with a true luminary, an eventual earth shaker indeed, and here I will share about that encounter and then provide a “writer’s embellishment.”
The year was 1980 and I was teaching social studies at a rural school in Northwest Arkansas. The young governor of our state was dropping by on a campaign swing, recently having started the campaign against Frank White. It was early in the campaign and it was a given that the governor would win re-election in this traditional democratic state against an unheard of opponent.
The handsome young Bill Clinton entered the packed gymnasium with a full entourage. The atmosphere was electric. Governors did not often stop by little rube communities like this and I’m sure this visit was because of some local small-fry dignitary that had pulled in a favor with someone. A question-and-answer session with the student body was to be the main part of the event and so we teachers had prepared our students to ask appropriate and thoughtful questions about the political issues of the day. Mr. Clinton made a few preliminary remarks and then opened the floor to questions from the student body.
Immediately, a gangly young early-teen female already well known as not being the sharpest knife in the drawer stood up and with a shrill, loud voice, shrieked out, “WHY DID THE JEWS KILL JESUS?” Well, the first thing I thought was, “Well, at least she is not a student of mine!” There was a pause, briefly, as everyone was stunned, realizing that the question had nothing to do with the moment even if it was Easter. But the governor did not miss a beat, being the skilled politician that he was. He did not smile, or chuckle in the least, taking the question with complete sincerity and responded with the standard-issue Baptist answer, that Jesus had died, was buried, and rose again for our sins. Please note that he did not answer the question at all, demonstrating that he already had the political skills to advance to higher office.
As he and his entourage left the gymnasium I happened to be in his path and got to shake his hand, making eye contact in the process. At this point I will begin the “Literarylew” writer’s embellishment:
I knew immediately that he and I were friends for life, BFF even before the concept emerged on Facebook. I could just tell that he could “feel my pain.” The encounter lasted only a half second but I knew that I would hear from him soon. Sure enough, that night he called me and said that he really wanted to be friends, to “pal around” from time to time as he could tell that I was really a special guy, even if I was just a scmuck school teacher in a rube Arkansas high school.
So, to make a long story short, beginning then we would get together every now and then and just “hang out.” And when he became President, he secretly used campaign funds to build a heli-port in my backyard and would just drop in a couple of times a year for a visit. As soon as he landed, we would head to my ’69 Chevy pick-up. While I was trying to start the engine, he would use a bungee cord to strap down the hood and then remove the plywood from the window that had been knocked out. We would then head to the local monster truck show, knocking down a six-pack of pbr on the war, tossing the empties out the window with impunity. He explained, with a wink, “Hell, Louie, if they stop us, I can fix it!”
(NOTE: Btw, Clinton lost that gubernatorial election in 1980!)