In Washington, D.C., there is--or was--a place where Rock Creek crosses the main road and makes a ford which horses and, later, cars could cross if the creek was not in flood. Half a hundred years ago, I lived with my grandparents on a wooded hill not far from the ford. On summer days, my grandmother and I would walk down to the creek, careful to avoid the poison ivy that grew so luxuriously amid the crowded laurel. We would then walk beside the creek, looking out for crayfish and salamanders. When we came to the ford, I would ask her to tell me, yet again, what happened when the old President Roosevelt-- not the current President Roosevelt--had come riding out of the woods on a huge horse just as two ladies on slow nags had begun a slow crossing of the ford.
"Well, suddenly, Mr. Roosevelt screamed at them, 'Out of my way!'" My grandmother imitated the president's harsh falsetto.
"Stand to one side, women. I am the President." What happened next? I'd ask, delighted "Oh, they were both soaked to the skin by his horse's splashing all over them. But then, the very next year," she would say with some satisfaction, "nice Mr. Taft was the president." Plainly, there was a link in her mind between the Event at the Ford and the change in the presidency. Perhaps there was. In those stately pre-personal days you did not call ladies women.
The attic of the Rock Creek house was filled with thousands of books on undusted shelves while newspapers, clippings, copies of the Congressional Record were strewn about the floor. My grandmother was not a zealous housekeeper. There was never a time when rolled-up Persian rugs did not lie at the edge of the drawing room, like crocodiles...