Harry’s Walks

After he left the White House, locals saw Harry almost every day during his morning walks from his house. What a house. The fourteen-room Victorian home sits in an old neighborhood not far from the town square. Today it’s preserved as a national monument. But in his retirement years, it was simply home.

Most of the Trumans’ belongings still sit where Harry and Bess left them. Harry’s hat, cane and overcoat adorn the hat tree in an alcove. In the parlor, Bess’s official First Lady portrait watches over the Steinway baby grand piano. It’s the only official first lady portrait missing from the White House. The story sheds light on Bess’s backbone. When federal officials asked for the portrait to return to the White House, they promised a copy for the Truman home. Bess had another idea: She kept the original.The copy hangs in Washington.

Harry and Bess Truman’s kitchen is farmhouse functional, opening onto a screened-in porch where two common aluminum lawn chairs with webbed seats sit lonely for their owners. It’s only twenty paces to the garage, where Truman’s last car sits, a lime green 1972 Chrysler Newport with the license number 5745. I wondered how the former leader of the free world could only get a four-digit license plate. Then I realized the significance of 5745: VE Day.

The warmest room in the house is the library, where Harry surrounded his recliner with piles of books, themselves surrounded by shelves of books. Harry read them all.

He was famous for his daily walks through the neighborhood, cane in hand. A friend who used to deliver newspapers in the neighborhood recalls seeing Truman on one of his walks, as a Volkswagen beetle pulled up beside him. “Hello, Mr. Truman!” four high school students in the car greeted in unison. Truman walked to the curb, smacked his cane on the car’s German fender and said, “You’re not good Americans.”

Local Truman stories abound. Dave Lineberry tells a gem: “I was born in Independence, and as a child, we took our evening walks a few blocks away and past Truman’s home, where we saw him on many occasions.

“Between his home and the few blocks to downtown, there was then and remains now a gas station that at that time was a full-service mechanics shop as well.

“Several years ago, I was visiting with a professional acquaintance, Bob Watkins, retired longtime superintendent of schools in Independence. He patronized the mechanics at that station, and one day while having his car serviced, happened to ask if they had ever known or seen Truman.

“One mechanic responded brightly, and told him about how, after Truman’s service as president, he would walk into the shop with a book under his arm, and say, ‘Lift me up, boys!’ And they would bring down the hydraulic hoist of whatever car they were working on. Truman would get in the car, close the door, and they would raise it back up again, where he would read for as long as they could justify keeping the car under work. Then, they’d lower him back down and he’d leave with a grin, claiming it was the only place he could get away with no one being the wiser.” –from Souls Along the Road

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3 Comments on “Harry’s Walks”

  1. The way you write is humbling, the fact that I have had the pleasure of meeting you in person means that whenever I read anything you do, your actual voice is how they enter my mind.

  2. If you were lucky you could have been in Mr. Allmon’s civics class when he was notified that Harry Truman was on one of his walks. The school year was 1966-1967 at Palmer Junior High just two blocks east of the Truman home. You could be abruptly but gleefully led outside to see the President for the remaining portion of the hour. I think Keith Allmon was a Republican at heart though. He would joyfully proclaim in class: “I like Tricky Dick!” Whatever, that didn’t mean anything to many of us, we just wanted to get out of that classroom to see Harry! I never did though, I just heard about those in first or second hour gettin’ lucky……think I was in fourth or fifth hour. By the way, the auto business was a Skelly Oil Service Station.

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