Most of my childhood, FDR was my president. He initiated his first fireside chat in the midst of the Great Depression in March,1933. Since I was under a year, I can only imagine my Yankee, entrepreneur father’s dismay as Roosevelt thanked the American people, his “friends,” as he spelled out his rational to close the banks and stop the bleeding of currency. With that intention, he certainly had my frugal father’s attention.
My most salient memory is the broadcast on December 7, 1941. Nine years old, I was visiting my Great Aunt Becky, a woman at least my current age, but infirmed and bed-ridden. My memory flashes on two images: her gaunt face and wan smile, lying in bed in the late afternoon, the first sickly elder in my life, and the rush to the radio, my president’s voice, The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor. We are at War.
For the next four years, after supper, during every fireside chat, I sat on the floor listening at the foot of the console in our living room alongside my parents, sister and brother. As we leaned into FDR’s eloquent and soothing words, I understood their import from the look on my parent’s faces, their nodding heads as FDR spelled out the latest war news—my dad and mom intent, yet calm.
FDR spoke to me all during the war. His melodic voice rang with the appeal of a friend. I liked how he suggested we follow along on a map of the world as he set forth the war’s course and his expectations of effort and sacrifice. There was no suggestion of shopping to boost the economy, but the opposite—not only the abandonment of luxuries but of many other creature comforts.
We saved empty cans; the metal was needed for the war effort, as was the cooking fat we stored in an empty tin on the counter. War stamps and bonds were essential. I organized a talent show, charged ten cents admission, for the Red Cross during sixth grade. War ration books were issued to each family member. Red stamps were currency for meats, butter, fat, oils, some cheeses; blue stamps, for canned, bottled and frozen vegetables and fruits, plus dry beans and some processed foods. Long lines at the grocery store, at the gas station, were a given.
As I participate in the frenetic pace of another presidential race, I am struck by how FDR set a template, how his mindful presence and apt words held such meaning. I trusted him and was saddened and bewildered when he died just before my thirteenth birthday. “He was my president all my life,” I remarked to a friend.
I mourned the sense of certainty and loss of guidance that comes from faith in a leader’s wisdom. But the lessons learned — to seek out and support a wise and pragmatic thinker for president—never left me. All these years later, in the fervor of campaign 2016, I am grateful.