It took me a moment or two to spot the X. I looked in the obvious places I thought Dad would have placed it — Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, It’s a Small World.
I found it on The Hall of Presidents.
He remembered our joke.
Was there ever any doubt?
I was in elementary school and invited to a classmate’s birthday party. It was supposed to be a princess party, but back then, the only celebrated princesses were Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella. I wasn’t impressed with any of them. I thought the movies were boring and didn’t like the music. And I thought the characters were weak and far too passive, waiting for someone else to come and solve their problems.
I had taken a class in the local gifted program evaluating movie heroes and couldn’t believe anyone would see these characters as exemplary. Fairy tales are exhausting to try and evaluate with real-life standards.
“I don’t wanna be a princess!” I shouted at Dad. “I wanna be the President!”
“But it’s not your birthday party.”
“I don’t care!”
“Angela is your friend. Celebrate her and her birthday the way she wants, and I’ll address you as President for the rest of the month.”
It was a stupid idea, I thought, yet I knew Dad was completely serious. I called his bluff.
Only Dad didn’t bluff.
When he had to write a permission note for school, he called me “President Gordon.”
When he made a dentist’s appointment for me, I was “President Gordon.”
When he received an award from the school district and had to give a speech in front of a couple hundred people, he said, “I just need to say a special thank you to President Gordon, for I know that I’m not a typical father, and can only hope, when the time comes, she puts me in a nice nursing home. One with air conditioning and cable and a view of the White House.”
Dad was 10 years old when he met the President.
He just wasn’t President yet.
In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower was jet-setting across the country on his re-election campaign. Dad’s parents were 299% Republican and excited to learn that his running mate, Richard Nixon, was coming to town as part of the campaign tour. The paper held an essay contest for any grade-school student, “Write 500 words with the following theme: If I were the President of the United States…” The winner of the contest would receive the opportunity to read his or her essay at the campaign stop, sitting on the same podium as the potential vice president. Dad’s teacher made every student in his class enter the contest.
Dad won with the following essay.
“If I were the President of the United States” is such a ridiculous theme. I do not ever want to be President of the United States. I cannot think of any job more boring than being the President of the United States.
The President must always wear a suit. Suits are for church, weddings, and funerals. You can’t do anything fun while wearing a suit. I would much rather spend my days wearing my birthday suit than formal, un-fun funeral fabric.
The President always has to go to meetings. Meetings are boring. When was the last time you heard someone say, “I have been looking forward to going to this meeting my entire life!” I think meetings are a waste of time trying to make too many people who don’t really care happy. Think hard. Make a decision. Stick with it. Own up to the outcome.
The President gives speeches that put people to sleep. Whenever Mom and Dad are watching the President on TV, even though they like him a lot, Dad will fall asleep within minutes. The President could learn a thing or two from my pastor. Dad never falls asleep during his sermons.
Instead of being the President of the United States, I would much rather be the President of the Mickey Mouse Club. Or the President of the Ice Cream for Dinner Club. Or the President of the Batman Fan Club.
But if the worst case situation came true and I had to be President of the United States, there are three things I would do.
I would replace suits with jeans and a t-shirt. If your favorite pair of jeans has a hole in the knee, or better yet, holes in both knees, you’ve been living right. T-shirts are perfect whether you’re playing ball or climbing trees. Jeans and t-shirts are the uniforms for people who do things and aren’t afraid to get dirty.
If a meeting had to take place, it would happen some place cool and fun. Like at the beach or on a baseball field or at the Grand Canyon. People who had to go to the meeting would be reminded to keep it short so they could do fun things afterwards.
And if I were President, I would require all the adults in the Senate and in the House of Representatives to be a pen-pal with a child from another country. Because, I think adults forget what it’s like to be a kid, and if adults would make friends with kids from other countries, then, maybe, we would learn the most important race is the one we are all part of — the human race.
Dad did, in fact, read the essay before Richard Nixon spoke. His mother made him wear a suit to read it, which Dad said defeated the whole point of the essay. When he finished, Nixon shook his hand and gave Dad an “I Like Ike” campaign pin.
“When all this is done, I’d like to talk with you about a job as a speech writer. I might need some help in a couple years.”
I could have called Randall and flown to Orlando. But then I’d have to mess with a rental car, and just thinking about that kind of hassle gave me anxiety. Orlando was only two driving days away, and if I could plan ahead and navigate Atlanta when it’s not rush hour, it really should be an easy drive.
“That will take a miracle,” I whispered to myself.
I even had time to make it for the 4th of July celebration.
Along with everyone else and 142 of their favorite cousins.
Even though it would be 100 degrees with 100% humidity.
“You just can’t pass up a good fireworks show,” Dad used to say.
This time last year, I would have said it would have taken a miracle to get me to even consider going to Disney World on one of the busiest days of the year.
Maybe a silver lining of Dad’s death is helping me expand my comfort zones.
I found an Airbnb not too far outside of Orlando, loaded up the car with a new bag full of snacks, and witnessed miracle after miracle.