You Never Know When Coincidence Will Strike

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It could not have been a more ordinary day. Just another quiet, sunny afternoon in New London, Connecticut in April of 1948. New London was like that. I was 16 at the time, and had been there since I was 11, but if anyone had asked me to describe the town, I suspect that “not much going on” would have been high up on the list of descriptors.

It was a cool day and I was wearing my favorite blue plaid wool shirt over my school clothes. School was out, and my buddy John and I had wandered downtown and were sitting in the bus terminal at the foot of State Street, the main street of town.

Nothing was happening. Unless you count two 16-year-old kids drinking coffee in the bus terminal as “something.”

All of a sudden, right out of the blue, the doors swung open and in came what looked like half of Connecticut. I saw state troopers, reporters, cameramen, and two or three people dressed in overcoats and wearing broad-brimmed hats. One of the men, the tallest one, sat down, turned to me and stuck out his hand.

“Bob Taft!” he said. “Pleased to meet you.”

As he shook my hand I realized that “Bob Taft” was Senator Robert Taft of Ohio, a man known at the time as Mister Republican.

Don’t ask me what I said. I haven’t got a clue.

Hey! What would you say if you were 16 years old and a presidential candidate sailed into a restaurant, sat down next to you, shook your hand, and said he was pleased to meet you?

I’m sure that there are people in this world who would have risen to the occasion and said something memorable, something they could tell their children and grandchildren.

Not me, Johnny! I no doubt said something like, “Huh?”

Anyway, before I knew it, the photographers were snapping pictures and a reporter was asking my name. I thought that was a bit odd because I more or less knew the reporter. I worked at the same newspaper he did. Of course, I don’t suppose he ever made it down to the press room. And I don’t blame him.

First of all, I have never figured out how they get a daily newspaper out, so he probably didn’t have time. And secondly, everybody in the press room — except me — was deaf, which made for lousy conversation.

Yes, deaf. Hearing aid deaf. Those huge, two story-high rotary presses were so loud that when I left the press room each day after the daily run — up to 28,000 papers — and went upstairs to the circulation department to help out, I was almost stone deaf. For a few minutes you could have fired off a Colt next to my ear and it would barely have gotten my attention. And it took 30 minutes for my ears to return to normal — sort of.

photo

Tom Garrett

Senator Taft with friends.

And no, I didn’t get smart and leave that job. I just got a better one up in circulation. No additional pay, but at least I could hear people when they talked. And it was a little closer to being a reporter, because I got to work as a gopher for all the offices in the building until after the press run.

My plan was to stay right there and work for the New London Day. No such luck. Korea. Know what I mean? Those %$#@! Commies screwed up a lot of stuff! But I’m not complaining. Had it not been for them I would not have stayed in the Air Force, met my beloved wife, Lolly, and had 51 happy years with her — so far.

I didn’t mention any of that to Senator Taft, of course. First of all, it was still in the future, and secondly it was hard to get a word in except for an occasional, “Oh?” or “Gee!” Or whatever dumb 16-year-old kids say.

Anyway, after an hour or so of being the center of attention for a crowd of people who jammed into the bus station, Senator Taft left. He went out the door, and I got a jab in the ribs.

“Hey!” John said. “Why didn’t you introduce me?”

Shoot! I wouldn’t have remembered his name.

Because of that crazy day, I had a faint interest in the presidential race that year. And what a year it was!

I’ll never forget it. First of all, Senator Taft did not get the Republican nomination, Thomas E. Dewey, the mustached governor of New York did. I didn’t like Dewey even when I lived in New York. He was the district attorney then, a round-faced guy with a brushy black mustache. He ran for governor after I left, which was OK, but then he had the nerve in 1944 to run against my hero — and every kid’s hero during the war — Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

I was in the eighth grade in 1945 when FDR died and Harry Truman took over. As far as I could tell over the next three years Truman was doing an OK job.

Later on, when he and Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson decided we didn’t need a Navy or Marines anymore because atomic weapons made them obsolete, I changed my mind. But that was still in the future during the election of 1948.

Who would say such a dumb thing during an election year?

In the meantime, summer 1948 rolled around and here came the two national party conventions, first the Republican convention, and then the Democratic one, both held in Philadelphia that year.

The Republican convention I missed. No matter. Senator Taft did not get the nomination. It went to Dewey, as I said.

But the Democratic Party convention I did hear. I say “hear” because I listened to it over the radio. I worked at Ocean Beach during the summers.

It was beyond a doubt the best teenage job on the planet. Know what I mean? A resort beach overflowing with cute girls? The ocean? The pool? Big bands? Big name singers like Frank Sinatra? Rides? All free for employees?

So one day in the middle of July, there I was paddling a canoe for Barbara LeBlanc, the cutest little blonde on the North American continent. They had put the Democratic convention on the public address system, and by a minor miracle I managed to split my attention between Barbara and the convention — no mean feat.

Everyone said Truman would not be nominated, and if he was he would lose the election. Well, he won the nomination that day. And the election! Tell you about it next week.

Along with some of the dumbest ideas you have ever heard.

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