I have a sweet spot for Abe Lincoln, and it's not just because I was born and raised in Illinois. It's also not because I learned at an early age that he read his schoolbooks by candlelight, walked miles to return a few cents, and did all those other admirable feats that fuel our Lincoln lore.
I'm sweet on Abe because he split a lot of logs and because Mrs. Seibold's Bake Shop, a venerable bakery in my hometown of East Alton, Ill., didn't let that pass unnoticed. Every year around Abe's birthday, Feb. 12, the bakery produced a popular edible tribute to our state's most famous son: Lincoln logs.
It would be hard to mix history and sugar more happily. Lincoln logs, announced in the display case with a placard, were little cylindrically shaped cakes filled with chocolate cream and covered with thick chocolate frosting piped on so that it looked - with a little imagination - like the bark of a tree. A tiny cardboard ax was embedded in the goo in case customers needed an additional clue.
No other president, and no other person for that matter, merited such honor at the bake shop. George Washington had his pies, of course, but they were cherry, not chocolate. Lincoln had edible Lincoln logs. Here, to my young mind, was greatness.
I had plenty of other opportunities to be impressed with Lincoln. My father, whose schooling ended in eighth grade, put my sister and me in the car one day and drove us to the site of the Lincoln-Douglas debate in neighboring Alton, where he managed to convey to us the importance of the place. The first train I ever rode was on a school trip to Lincoln's home in Springfield, Ill. My grandmother always carried a Lincoln penny. My great-grandfather, I was told, had seen Lincoln: This fact, stated so solemnly, seemed to connect me to something profound.
As I grew up, additional knowledge deepened my regard for Lincoln from childish hero worship to respect. I studied his vision, his wisdom, his wit, and compassion, and I came to believe what I had been taught: He was one of the finest leaders this country has ever had.
But when I was a little girl, what I liked most about the 16th president was less presidential than delectable. I can still remember the once-a-year fun, buying two luscious Lincoln logs, one for me and one for my sister. That was one of the many ways we Illinoisans remembered, sweetly, a great man.