Peanuts and Presidents

There was a soft knocking on the door before it opened. “Good morning ma’am,” Corazon said gently as she backed into Elaine’s room carrying a tray. The room was dark, but some light came through the sheer, lacy curtains revealing some paintings and clusters of photographs on the walls.

“I’m sorry you are not feeling well Miss Elaine, I have brought you some breakfast,” she almost sang in a tender low voice.

Elaine’s eyelids flittered open. She had been alternatively reading and dozing through the wee hours, and she discontinued the latter activity by lifting the book in her hand to her bedside table. It seemed heavy, and she pushed herself up with difficulty. She was surrounded by lacy pillows and covered with a plush satin blanket. Her long hair, normally worn up in an elegant bun, fell around her shoulders.

“Oooh, well, yes, good morning my dear. Sweet Corazon, what have you done?” Elaine said in a whispery voice, and she cleared her throat with a dainty cough.

Corazon set down the tray and came over to Elaine to help her sit up in bed. “Have you been sleeping ma’am?” She said as she adjusted the mattress with her hip, propping up pillows with one hand and bringing her into a somewhat more upright position with the other. She turned and moved across the room to pull back curtains from windows to let in some more light.

“Well, I must have been darling, because it seems I had a dream about my first husband, the politician…” Elaine paused, then turned to look out the window. “…he was the dreamer really. Nightmares of guilt I suppose, was that what I just had? Hmmm, in any case he always seems so kind through the mist. Maybe he was…” Elaine looked down, then through the window on the side of the room that was partly open revealing the autumn leaves. “You know he, that first husband, was much inspired by and somewhat acquainted actually with another dreamer, Henry Wallace, the man who would not be king, the hope lost to mystery. Every now and then, when I’m watching some ridiculous politician on the news, I think of him.”

“Didn’t he run for President?” said Corazon who had placed a cup of coffee from the tray next to the book on Elaine’s bedside table.

“Well yes, but he’s not be be confused with another Wallace from Alabama who came along a bit later. That heathen stood in the doorway of a university to prevent black students from entering, can you believe it? He was a disgrace to the name, to his state, to our country, but he did repent of his sins eventually, perhaps under some duress? Anyway, my Wallace, I mean our Wallace, I mean that dreamer Henry Wallace, he was FDR’s Vice-President, and if FDR had died three months earlier he would have been President. It was that fourth election, the convention I believe, that did him in, he and Roosevelt. Anyway, poor Henry was replaced by an unknown Truman who he then watched from the wings become President, and yet, and yet he carried on.” Elaine looked out the window.

“Here is some toast for you Miss Elaine. Would you like me to put something on it? Maybe some butter, some jam, or I could go fetch you some peanut butter?” Corazon leaned forward smiling with a hand on her capable hip.

Elaine turned and looked at Corazon. “Peanut butter? Peanut butter!” she exclaimed. “That’s it, that is the irony, even the meaning in the mystery of the history,” and she paused to take a sip of coffee. “Corazon dear, you don’t have to fetch me any peanut butter, but do you mind if I tell you a story? Please sit down my darling, and eat some of this lovely toast with me.”

The wrist connected to the hand on the hip had a watch, and it swung up to Corazon’s face as she contemplated the request. “Well, I suppose you need some listening to go with that coffee, eh, Miss Elaine?” With that, she looked at the door, then sat down on the chair near the bed and leaned back. “Tell me a story. But you’ve only got about seven minutes.”

Elaine took another sip of coffee, scooched herself up a bit more, and cleared her throat again. “Well, you’ve heard of the man they call ‘the peanut man, or the peanut butter guy’ haven’t you?”

“Perhaps,” said Corazon. “You speaking about George Washington Carver of Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee Institute, right? He was a famous botanist.”

“Oh Cory, you never cease to amaze me. You should be a teacher of the young, not a caretaker of the old.” said Elaine. “Yes, and he was the one who discovered many wonderful uses for the lowly peanut and helped many southern farmers recover from the problems wrought by cotton and tobacco.”

“Anyway, some people know the story of how, when he was a little boy, Wallace’s grandfather, who at the time was the Secretary of Agriculture, brought little Henry to Dr. Carver’s laboratory when visiting the Tuskegee Institute. Carver liked young Henry, they would take walks in the woods and Carver would tell Wallace about the spirits of the forest and that God was in everything.”

Corazon shifted in the chair and raised an eyebrow.

“It must have been fascinating, insightful, and weirdly inspiring for that boy. Little Henry heard from Carver himself about his ideas on communicating with plants, talking with flowers, mysticism of a Christian sort I believe, but it was not your basic scientific skepticism. It wasn’t about proof, it was about belief, it was about love. And Carver was wildly successful. He’d been born of slaves into poverty and rose up to become one of the greatest scientists of his time. He was world famous, and his work was not just scientific, it was practical, applicable, economically and commercially valuable – and it still is. But he was an odd one, and eventually Wallace became known as an odd one too. I even heard somewhere he was referred to as ‘the mystic of the New Deal.’ It cost him the presidency. And maybe, just maybe, cost the world something more.” Elaine paused, having worked herself up into a bit of a tiff.

“Well, I guess it wasn’t just peanuts was it, Miss Elaine?” Corazon shifted in her seat and seemed to be ready to stand up.

Elaine put her hand out as if to heighten the gravitas of what she was about to say, and to keep Corazon in her seat. “The story, the lesson here, is about how one person can influence another, over years, over a lifetime, and how even though that influence might be good, positive, helpful, it may not seem so to others, and how they can twist truth into something negative. Or maybe it’s about how a flaw can ruin the flow, I don’t know.”

With a breath, she continued. “You see, there’s another story about Wallace’s relationship with another mystic from Russia, a fellow named Roerich, an artist, a spiritualist, and also a kind of philosophical politician. Wallace wrote him letters, referred to him as his ‘guru,’ and that was used against him. In fact, Roosevelt might have been as intrigued by such mysticism as Wallace, but he was Roosevelt, and the champion, and well, if it had been Wallace who had inherited the Roosevelt’s presidency when he died, the world might be a different place today. We might not have had the cold war, a nuclear arms race, Korea, Vietnam, and so on. We might have had more international good will, global cooperation perhaps, peace even, I don’t know. Henry was not like Harry. Sometimes it’s exciting to consider, sometimes it’s just depressing.”

“Well ma’am, I need to consider doing my job, and maybe you should consider eating more breakfast?” Corazon rose to her feet, stepped to Elaine’s bedside, and took ahold of her hand.

“You should write that story down, about the peanut man and the Vice President. What he learned, what he could have taught, and what we should all do, or think, or be. Give your gifts Elaine, share some peanuts of wisdom.” And with that they both chuckled.

Elaine looked out the window at the autumn leaves now floating in the breeze. Corazon set the plate from the tray on the bedside table and walked out of the room. She turned to look back in as she closed the door.

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