A President's Winsome Smile

I must have been three or four years old the first time I saw that Norman Rockwell picture of Dwight D. Eisenhower. It must have been then, because my brother was a babe in arms, and I was becoming fast friends with Mark Rode, who lived up the street.

The picture was taped up in his mother's kitchen above the counter to the right of the doorway leading to the stairs. Mrs. Rode ran the entire family from that kitchen, with Eisenhower and the radio tuned to 610 WIP to keep her company when we kids were not using her kitchen as a launching pad for our adventures.

I was recently reminded of that picture of Eisenhower after reading a short essay by John Marks Templeton, in his new book, ``Discovering the Laws of Life.'' The essay is titled ``A Smile Breeds a Smile.'' It's about the importance of a smile and how it improves our quality of life.

Templeton writes, ``The smile you bring to a difficult life challenge infuses it with the light of understanding and with love, which attracts harmonious solutions. It also inspires those around you to respond in a similar manner. Your smile makes a difference wherever you are!''

I once asked Mark's mother who the man in the picture was.

``That's the president of the United States, President Eisenhower,'' she said.

``Why do you have a picture of the president here?'' I asked, pointing to it.

``Because when I look at him and see his smile, I know everything is all right.''

I asked her another time, shortly after John F. Kennedy became president, why she still had the picture up.

``Oh, because he makes me smile when I look at him, and sometimes he's the only one around who is smiling.''

I would go over to the picture and stare at it for a while. And she was right, I'd turn away smiling. The picture had the same effect on Mark, too, and on almost everyone I saw looking at that picture.

Maybe it was Norman Rockwell's intention in his portrait of Eisenhower, but no matter what angle you look at him, he seems to be looking right at you with a kind, understanding look.

Mark and I once played a game by standing directly in front of the picture, about five feet away. He would take a step to the left and I would take one to the right until we were nearly at right angles with the picture. After each step we would say, ``He's still looking at me!''

Indeed, by the time we were at either end of the kitchen, we would be grinning because that smile and those eyes seemed to follow us. And the president's smile seemed to get bigger and bigger as ours did, too.

Ike's picture in Mrs. Rode's kitchen didn't always have the same effect on all who saw it, though. Mark's aunt, Bobo, was one exception. She was in a wheelchair and had a leaf-crumpling, gravelly voice. She was nice enough to us kids, but her attitude was sometimes what I would later define as pessimistic.

One afternoon, I walked home with Mark from school and came into his mother's kitchen. We were greeted with the sound of Bobo's raspy voice bellowing out like a bad Ford starter solenoid about something she and Mark's mother had heard on the radio. But Mark's mother was laughing. She was laughing so hard, she had to sit down and take her glasses off to wipe the tears from her eyes.

Mark and I didn't know if we should do an about-face and go to my house or stay and find out what was going on. His mother motioned us in and between breaths of laughter she said, ``Look what Bobo did,'' pointing in the direction of Ike's picture.

We started to laugh, too.

It seems that when Bobo was halfway through her speech, she looked at Eisenhower's picture smiling back at her. She stopped dead in mid-sentence and looked at the picture. Because she had not finished saying what she had on her mind and was determined to say it all, no matter what, she grabbed a dish towel, wheeled over to a drawer where she found some thumbtacks, wheeled over to the counter where the picture of the president was, grabbed hold of the counter, pulled herself out of her wheelchair, and tacked the dish towel over the picture of Eisenhower!

Then, as if nothing had happened, she finished the sentence she had started and continued for another five minutes. That's when Mark and I came in.

The dish towel stayed over the picture until Bobo went home two days later.

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