I n 1956, I finally got a brother, and our family finally got a television set. My brother, Roger Cassidy Clinton, was born on July 25, his fathers birthday. I was so happy. Mother and Daddy had been trying to have a baby for some time (a couple of years earlier shed had a miscarriage). I think she, and probably he too, thought it might save their marriage. Daddys response was not auspicious. I was with Mammaw and Papaw when Mother delivered by caesarean section. Daddy picked me up and took me to see her, then brought me home and left. He had been drinking for the last few months, and instead of making him happy and responsible, the birth of his only son prompted him to run back to the bottle..cartier love bracelet replica.
Along with the excitement of a new baby in the house was the thrill of the new TV. There were lots of shows and entertainers for kids: cartoons, Captain Kangaroo and Howdy Doody, with Buffalo Bob Smith, whom I especially liked. And there was baseball: Mickey Mantle and the Yankees, Stan Musial and the Cardinals, and my all-time favorite, Willie Mays and the old New York Giants..Cartier Love Bracelet Replica.
But strange as it was for a kid of ten years old, what really dominated my TV viewing that summer were the Republican and Democratic conventions. I sat on the floor right in front of the TV and watched them both, transfixed. It sounds crazy, but I felt right at home in the world of politics and politicians. I liked President Eisenhower and enjoyed seeing him renominated, but we were Democrats, so I really got into their convention. Governor Frank Clement of Tennessee gave a rousing keynote address. There was an exciting contest for the vice-presidential nomination between young Senator John F. Kennedy and the eventual victor, Senator Estes Kefauver, who served Tennessee in the Senate with Al Gores father. When Adlai Stevenson, the nominee in 1952, accepted his partys call to run again, he said he had prayed this cup would pass from me. I admired Stevensons intelligence and eloquence, but even then I couldnt understand why anyone wouldnt want the chance to be President. Now I think what he didnt want was to lead another losing effort. I do understand that. Ive lost a couple of elections myself, though I never fought a battle I didnt first convince myself I could win..cartier love bracelet replica.
I didnt spend all my time watching TV. I still saw all the movies I could. Hot Springs had two old-fashioned movie houses, the Paramount and the Malco, with big stages on which touring western stars appeared on the weekends. I saw Lash LaRue, all decked out in cowboy black, do his tricks with a bullwhip, and Gail Davis, who played Annie Oakley on TV, give a shooting exhibition..cartier love bracelet replica.
Elvis Presley began to make movies in the late fifties. I loved Elvis. I could sing all his songs, as well as the Jordanaires backgrounds. I admired him for doing his military service and was fascinated when he married his beautiful young wife, Priscilla. Unlike most parents, who thought his gyrations obscene, Mother loved Elvis, too, maybe even more than I did. We watched his legendary performance on The Ed Sullivan Show together, and laughed when the cameras cut off his lower body movements to protect us from the indecency. Beyond his music, I identified with his small-town southern roots. And I thought he had a good heart. Steve Clark, a friend of mine who served as attorney general when I was governor, once took his little sister, who was dying of cancer, to see Elvis perform in Memphis. When Elvis heard about the little girl, he put her and her brother in the front row, and after the concert he brought her up onstage and talked to her for a good while. I never forgot that...
Elviss first movie, Love Me Tender, was my favorite and remains so, though I also liked Loving You, Jailhouse Rock, King Creole, and Blue Hawaii. After that, his movies got more saccharine and predictable. The interesting thing about Love Me Tender, a postCivil War western, is that Elvis, already a national sex symbol, got the girl, Debra Paget, but only because she thought his older brother, whom she really loved, had been killed in the war. At the end of the film, Elvis gets shot and dies, leaving his brother with his wife...
I never quite escaped Elvis. In the 92 campaign, some members of my staff nicknamed me Elvis. A few years later, when I appointed Kim Wardlaw of Los Angeles to a federal judgeship, she was thoughtful enough to send me a scarf Elvis had worn and signed for her at one of his concerts in the early seventies, when she was nineteen. I still have it in my music room. And I confess: I still love Elvis...
My favorite movies during this time were the biblical epics: The Robe, Demetrius and the Gladiators, Samson and Delilah, Ben-Hur, and especially The Ten Commandments, the first movie I recall paying more than a dime to see. I saw The Ten Commandments when Mother and Daddy were on a brief trip to Las Vegas. I took a sack lunch and sat through the whole thing twice for the price of one ticket. Years later, when I welcomed Charlton Heston to the White House as a Kennedy Center honoree, he was president of the National Rifle Association and a virulent critic of my legislative efforts to keep guns away from criminals and children. I joked to him and the audience that I liked him better as Moses than in his present role. To his credit, he took it in good humor...
In 1957, my grandfathers lungs finally gave out. He died in the relatively new Ouachita Hospital, where Mother worked. He was only fifty-six years old. Too much of his life had been occupied with economic woes, health problems, and marital strife, yet he always found things to enjoy in the face of his adversity. And he loved Mother and me more than life. His love, and the things he taught me, mostly by example, including appreciation for the gifts of daily life and the problems of other people, made me better than I could have been without him...
Nineteen fifty-seven was also the year of the Little Rock Central High crisis. In September, nine black kids, supported by Daisy Bates, the editor of the Arkansas State Press, Little Rocks black newspaper, integrated Little Rock Central High School. Governor Faubus, eager to break Arkansas tradition of governors serving only two terms, abandoned his familys progressive tradition (his father had voted for Eugene Debs, the perpetual Socialist candidate for President) and called out the National Guard to prevent the integration. Then President Dwight Eisenhower federalized the troops to protect the students, and they went to school through angry mobs shouting racist epithets. Most of my friends were either against integration or apparently unconcerned. I didnt say too much about it, probably because my family was not especially political, but I hated what Faubus did. Though Faubus had inflicted lasting damage to the states image, he had assured himself not only a third two-year term but another three terms beyond that. Later he tried comebacks against Dale Bumpers, David Pryor, and me, but the state had moved beyond reaction by then...
The Little Rock Nine became a symbol of courage in the quest for equality. In 1987, on the thirtieth anniversary of the crisis, as governor I invited the Little Rock Nine back. I held a reception for them at the Governors Mansion and took them to the room where Governor Faubus had orchestrated the campaign to keep them out of school. In 1997, we had a big ceremony on the lawn of Central High for the fortieth anniversary. After the program, Governor Mike Huckabee and I held open the doors of Central High as the nine walked through. Elizabeth Eckford, who at fifteen was deeply seared emotionally by vicious harassment as she walked alone through an angry mob, was reconciled with Hazel Massery, one of the girls who had taunted her forty years earlier. In 2000, at a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House, I presented the Little Rock Nine with the Congressional Gold Medal, an honor initiated by Senator Dale Bumpers. In that late summer of 1957, the nine helped to set all of us, white and black alike, free from the dark shackles of segregation and discrimination. In so doing, they did more for me than I could ever do for them. But I hope that what I did do for them, and for civil rights, in the years afterward honored the lessons I learned more than fifty years ago in my grandfathers store...
In the summer of 1957 and again after Christmas that year, I took my first trips out of Arkansas since going to New Orleans to see Mother. Both times I got on a Trailways bus bound for Dallas to visit Aunt Otie. It was a luxurious bus for the time, with an attendant who served little sandwiches. I ate a lot of them...
Dallas was the third real city I had been in. I visited Little Rock on a fifth-grade field trip to the state Capitol, the highlight of which was a visit to the governors office with the chance to sit in the absent governors chair. It made such an impression on me that years later I often took pictures with children sitting in my chair both in the governors office and in the Oval Office...
The trips to Dallas were remarkable to me for three reasons, beyond the great Mexican food, the zoo, and the most beautiful miniature golf course Id ever seen. First, I got to meet some of my fathers relatives. His younger brother, Glenn Blythe, was the constable of Irving, a suburb of Dallas. He was a big, handsome man, and being with him made me feel connected to my father. Sadly, he also died too young, at forty-eight, of a stroke. My fathers niece, Ann Grigsby, had been a friend of Mothers since she married my father. On those trips she became a lifetime friend, telling me stories about my father and about what Mother was like as a young bride. Ann remains my closest link to my Blythe family heritage...
Second, on New Years Day 1958, I went to the Cotton Bowl, my first college football game. Rice, led by quarterback King Hill, played Navy, whose great running back Joe Bellino won the Heisman Trophy two years later. I sat in the end zone but felt as if I were on a throne, as Navy won 207.
Third, just after Christmas I went to the movies by myself on an afternoon when Otie had to work. I think The Bridge on the River Kwai was showing. I loved the movie, but I didnt like the fact that I had to buy an adult ticket even though I wasnt yet twelve. I was so big for my age, the ticket seller didnt believe me. It was the first time in my life someone refused to take my word. This hurt, but I learned an important difference between big impersonal cities and small towns, and I began my long preparation for life in Washington, where no one takes your word for anything.
I started the 195859 school year at the junior high school. It was right across the street from Ouachita Hospital and adjacent to Hot Springs High School. Both school buildings were dark red brick. The high school was four stories high, with a great old auditorium and classic lines befitting its 1917 vintage. The junior high was smaller and more pedestrian but still represented an important new phase of my life. The biggest thing that happened to me that year, however, had nothing to do with school. One of the Sunday-school teachers offered to take a few of the boys in our church to Little Rock to hear Billy Graham preach in his crusade in War Memorial Stadium, where the Razorbacks played. Racial tensions were still high in 1958. Little Rocks schools were closed in a last-gasp effort to stop integration, its kids dispersed to schools in nearby towns. Segregationists from the White Citizens Council and other quarters suggested that, given the tense atmosphere, it would be better if the Reverend Graham restricted admission to the crusade to whites only. He replied that Jesus loved all sinners, that everyone needed a chance to hear the word, and therefore that he would cancel the crusade rather than preach to a segregated audience. Back then, Billy Graham was the living embodiment of Southern Baptist authority, the largest religious figure in the South, perhaps in the nation. I wanted to hear him preach even more after he took the stand he did. The segregationists backed down, and the Reverend Graham delivered a powerful message in his trademark twenty minutes. When he gave the invitation for people to come down onto the football field to become Christians or to rededicate their lives to Christ, hundreds of blacks and whites came down the stadium aisles together, stood together, and prayed together. It was a powerful counterpoint to the racist politics sweeping across the South. I loved Billy Graham for doing that. For months after that I regularly sent part of my small allowance to support his ministry.
Thirty years later, Billy came back to Little Rock for another crusade in War Memorial Stadium. As governor, I was honored to sit on the stage with him one night and even more to go with him and my friend Mike Coulson to visit my pastor and Billys old friend W. O. Vaught, who was dying of cancer. It was amazing to listen to these two men of God discussing death, their fears, and their faith. When Billy got up to leave, he held Dr. Vaughts hand in his and said, W.O., it wont be long now for both of us. Ill see you soon, just outside the Eastern Gate, the entrance to the Holy City.
When I became President, Billy and Ruth Graham visited Hillary and me in the White House residence. Billy prayed with me in the Oval Office, and wrote inspiring letters of instruction and encouragement in my times of trial. In all his dealings with me, just as in that crucial crusade in 1958, Billy Graham lived his faith.
Junior high school brought a whole new set of experiences and challenges, as I began to learn more about my mind, my body, my spirit, and my little world. I liked most of what I learned about myself but not all of it. And some of what came into my head and life scared the living hell out of me, including anger at Daddy, the first stirrings of sexual feelings toward girls, and doubts about my religious convictions, which I think developed because I couldnt understand why a God whose existence I couldnt prove would create a world in which so many bad things happened.
My interest in music grew. I was now going to junior high band practices every day, looking forward to marching at football game halftimes and in the Christmas parade, to the concerts, and to the regional and state band festivals, at which judges graded the bands as well as solo and ensemble performances. I won a fair number of medals in junior high, and when I didnt do so well, it was invariably because I tried to perform a piece that was too difficult for me. I still have some of the judges rating sheets on my early solos, pointing out my poor control in the lower register, bad phrasing, and puffy cheeks. The ratings got better when I grew older, but I never quite cured the puffy cheeks. My favorite solo in this period was an arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue, which I loved to try to play and once performed for guests at the old Majestic Hotel. I was nervous as could be, but determined to make a good impression in my new white coat, with red plaid bow tie and cummerbund.
My junior high band directors encouraged me to improve and I decided to try. Arkansas had a number of summer band camps back then on university campuses and I wanted to go to one of them. I decided to attend the camp at the main University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville because it had a lot of good teachers and I wanted to spend a couple of weeks on the campus where I assumed Id go to college one day. I went there every summer for seven years, until the summer after high school graduation. It proved to be one of the most important experiences in my growing up. First, I played and played. And I got better. Some days I would play for twelve hours until my lips were so sore I could hardly move them. I also listened to and learned from older, better musicians.
Band camp also proved an ideal place for me to develop political and leadership skills. The whole time I was growing up, it was the only place being a band boy instead of a football player wasnt a political liability. It was also the only place being a band boy wasnt a disadvantage in the adolescent quest for pretty girls. We all had a grand time, from the minute we got up for breakfast at a university dining hall until we went to bed in one of the dorms, all the while feeling very important.
I also loved the campus. The university is the oldest land-grant college west of the Mississippi. As a high school junior I wrote a paper on it and as governor I supported an appropriation to restore Old Main, the oldest building on campus. Built in 1871, it is a unique reminder of the Civil War, marked by two towers, with the northern one higher than its southern counterpart.
The band also brought me my best friend in junior high, Joe Newman. He was a drummer, and a good one. His mother, Rae, was a teacher in our school, and she and her husband, Dub, always made me feel welcome in their big white wood-frame house on Ouachita Avenue, near where Uncle Roy and Aunt Janet lived. Joe was smart, skeptical, moody, funny, and loyal. I liked to play games or just talk with him. I still doweve stayed close over the years.
My main academic interest in junior high was math. I was lucky enough to be among the first group in our town to take algebra in the eighth, not the ninth, grade, which meant Id have a chance to take geometry, alge-bra II, trigonometry, and calculus by the time I finished high school. I loved math because it was problem-solving, which always got my juices flowing. Although I never took a math class in college, I always thought I was good at it until I had to give up helping Chelsea with her homework when she was in ninth grade. Another illusion bites the dust.
Mary Matassarin taught me algebra and geometry. Her sister, Verna Dokey, taught history, and Vernas husband, Vernon, a retired coach, taught eighth-grade science. I liked them all, but even though I was not particularly good at science, it was one of Mr. Dokeys lessons that stayed with me. Though his wife and her sister were attractive women, Vernon Dokey, to put it charitably, was not a handsome man. He was burly, a bit heavy around the waist, wore thick glasses, and smoked cheap cigars in a cigar holder with a small mouthpiece, which gave his face a peculiar pinched look when he sucked on it. He generally affected a brusque manner, but he had a great smile, a good sense of humor, and a keen understanding of human nature. One day he looked out at us and said, Kids, years from now you may not remember anything you learned about science in this class, so Im going to teach you something about human nature you should remember. Every morning when I wake up, I go into my bathroom, splash water on my face, shave, wipe the shaving cream off, then look in the mirror and say, Vernon, youre beautiful. You remember that, kids. Everybody wants to feel like theyre beautiful. And I have remembered, for more than forty years. Its helped me understand things I would have missed if Vernon Dokey hadnt told me he was beautiful, and I hadnt come to see that, in fact, he was.
I needed all the help I could get in understanding people in junior high school. It was there that I had to face the fact that I was not destined to be liked by everyone, usually for reasons I couldnt figure out. Once when I was walking to school and was about a block away, an older student, one of the town hoods, who was standing in the gap between two buildings smoking a cigarette, flicked the burning weed at me, hitting the bridge of my nose and nearly burning my eye. I never did figure out why he did it, but after all, I was a fat band boy who didnt wear cool jeans (Levis, preferably with the stitching on the back pockets removed).
Around that same time, I got into an argument about something or other with Clifton Bryant, a boy who was a year or so older, but smaller than I was. One day my friends and I decided to walk home from school, about three miles. Clifton lived in the same end of town, and he followed us home, taunting me and hitting me on the back and shoulders over and over. We walked like that all the way up Central Avenue to the fountain and the right turn to Park Avenue. For more than a mile I tried to ignore him. Finally I couldnt take it anymore. I turned, took a big swing, and hit him. It was a good blow, but by the time it landed he had already turned to run away, so it caught him only in the back. As I said, I was slow. When Clifton ran away home, I yelled at him to come back and fight like a man. He kept on going. By the time I got home, I had calmed down and the atta boys I got from my buddies had worn off. I was afraid I might have hurt him, so I made Mother call his house to make sure he was okay. We never had any trouble after that. I had learned I could defend myself, but I hadnt enjoyed hurting him and I was a little disturbed by my anger, the currents of which would prove deeper and stronger in the years ahead. I now know that my anger on that day was a normal and healthy response to the way Id been treated. But because of the way Daddy behaved when he was angry and drunk, I associated anger with being out of control and I was determined not to lose control. Doing so could unleash the deeper, constant anger I kept locked away because I didnt know where it came from.
Even when I was mad I had sense enough not to take on every challenge. Twice in those years, I took a pass, or, if youre inclined to be critical, a dive. Once I went swimming with the Crane kids in the Caddo River, west of Hot Springs, near a little town called Caddo Gap. One of the local country boys came up to the riverbank near where I was swimming and shouted some insult at me. So I mouthed off back at him. Then he picked up a rock and threw it at me. He was twenty yards or so away, but he hit me right in the head, near the temple, and drew blood. I wanted to get out and fight, but I could see he was bigger, stronger, and tougher than I, so I swam away. Given my experiences with the ram, Tavia Perrys BB gun, and similar mistakes I still had ahead of me, I guess I did the right thing.
The second time I took a pass in junior high I know I did the right thing. On Friday nights there was always a dance in the gym of the local YMCA. I loved rock-and-roll music and dancing and went frequently, starting in eighth or ninth grade, even though I was fat, uncool, and hardly popular with the girls. Besides, I still wore the wrong jeans.
One night at the Y, I strolled into the poolroom next to the gym, where the Coke machine was, to get something to drink. Some older high school boys were shooting pool or standing around watching. One of them was Henry Hill, whose family owned the old bowling alley downtown, the Lucky Strike Lanes. Henry started in on me about my jeans, which, that night, were especially raunchy. They were carpenters jeans, with a right side loop to hang a hammer in. I was insecure enough without Henry grinding on me, so I sassed him back. He slugged me in the jaw as hard as he could. Now, I was big for my age, about five nine, 185 pounds. But Henry Hill was six foot six with an enormous reach. No way was I going to hit back. Besides, to my amazement, it didnt hurt too badly. So I just stood my ground and stared at him. I think Henry was surprised I didnt go down or run off, because he laughed, slapped me on the back, and said I was okay. We were always friendly after that. I had learned again that I could take a hit and that theres more than one way to stand against aggression.
By the time I started ninth grade, in September 1960, the presidential campaign was in full swing. My homeroom and English teacher, Ruth Atkins, was also from Hope and, like me, a stomp-down Democrat. She had us read and discuss Dickenss Great Expectations, but left lots of time for political debate. Hot Springs had more Republicans than most of the rest of Arkansas back then, but their roots were far less conservative than the current crop. Some of the older families had been there since the Civil War and became Republicans because they were against secession and slavery. Some families had Republican roots in Teddy Roosevelts progressivism. Others supported Eisenhowers moderate conservatism.
The Arkansas Democrats were an even more diverse group. Those in the Civil War tradition were Democrats because their forebears had supported secession and slavery. A larger group swelled the ranks of the party in the Depression, when so many unemployed workers and poor farmers saw FDR as a savior and later loved our neighbor from Missouri, Harry Truman. A smaller group were immigrant Democrats, mostly from Europe. Most blacks were Democrats because of Roosevelt, and Trumans stand for civil rights, and their sense that Kennedy would be more aggressive than Nixon on the issue. A small group of whites felt that way too. I was one of them.
In Miss Atkinss class most of the kids were for Nixon. I remember David Leopoulos defending him on the grounds that he had far more experience than Kennedy, especially in foreign affairs, and that his civil rights record was pretty good, which was true. I didnt really have anything against Nixon at this point. I didnt know then about his Red-baiting campaigns for the House and Senate in California against Jerry Voorhis and Helen Gahagan Douglas, respectively. I liked the way he stood up to Nikita Khrushchev. In 1956, I had admired both Eisenhower and Stevenson, but by 1960, I was a partisan. I had been for LBJ in the primaries because of his Senate leadership, especially in passing a civil rights bill in 1957, and his poor southern roots. I also liked Hubert Humphrey, because he was the most passionate advocate for civil rights, and Kennedy, because of his youth, strength, and commitment to getting the country moving again. With Kennedy the nominee, I made the best case I could to my classmates.
I badly wanted him to win, especially after he called Coretta King to express his concern when her husband was jailed, and after he spoke to the Southern Baptists in Houston, defending his faith and the right of Catholic Americans to run for President. Most of my classmates, and their parents, disagreed. I was getting used to it. A few months earlier, I had lost the student council presidents race to Mike Thomas, a good guy, who would be one of four classmates to be killed in Vietnam. Nixon carried our county, but Kennedy squeaked by in Arkansas with 50.2 percent of the vote, despite the best efforts of Protestant fundamentalists to convince Baptist Democrats that he would be taking orders from the pope.
Of course, the fact that he was a Catholic was one of the reasons I wanted Kennedy to be President. From my own experiences at St. Johns School and my encounters with the nuns who worked with Mother at St. Josephs Hospital, I liked and admired Catholicstheir values, devotion, and social conscience. I was also proud that the only Arkansan ever to run for national office, Senator Joe T. Robinson, was the running mate of the first Catholic candidate for President, Governor Al Smith of New York, in 1928. Like Kennedy, Smith carried Arkansas, thanks to Robinson.
Given my affinity for Catholics, its ironic that, besides music, my major extracurricular interest from ninth grade on was the Order of DeMolay, a boys organization sponsored by the Masons. I always thought the Masons and DeMolays were anti-Catholic, though I didnt understand why. DeMolay was, after all, a pre-Reformation martyr who died a believer at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition. It was not until I was doing research for this book that I learned that the Catholic Church had condemned Masons going back to the early eighteenth century as a dangerous authority-threatening institution, while the Masons dont ban people of any faith and, in fact, have had a few Catholic members.
The purpose of DeMolay was to foster personal and civic virtues and friendship among its members. I enjoyed the camaraderie, memorizing all the parts of the rituals, moving up the offices to be master counselor of my local chapter, and going to the state conventions, with their vigorous politics and parties with the Rainbow Girls, DeMolays sister organization. I learned more about politics by participating in the state DeMolay election, though I never ran myself. The cleverest man I supported for state master counselor was Bill Ebbert of Jonesboro. Ebbert would have made a great mayor or congressional committee chairman in the old days when seniority ruled. He was funny, smart, tough, and as good at deal making as LBJ. Once he was barreling down an Arkansas highway at ninety-five miles per hour when a state police car, with siren screaming, gave chase. Ebbert had a shortwave radio, so he called the police to report a serious car wreck three miles behind. The police car got the message and quickly changed direction, leaving the speeding Ebbert home free. I wonder if the policeman ever figured it out.
Even though I enjoyed DeMolay, I didnt buy the idea that its secret rituals were a big deal that somehow made our lives more important. After I graduated out of DeMolay, I didnt follow a long line of distinguished Americans going back to George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and Paul Revere into Masonry, probably because in my twenties I was in an anti-joining phase, and I didnt like what I mistakenly thought was Masonrys latent anti-Catholicism, or the segregation of blacks and whites into different branches (though when I was exposed to black Prince Hall Masonic conventions as governor, the members seemed to be having more fun on their own than the Masons I had known).
Besides, I didnt need to be in a secret fraternity to have secrets. I had real secrets of my own, rooted in Daddys alcoholism and abuse. They got worse when I was fourteen and in the ninth grade and my brother was only four. One night Daddy closed the door to his bedroom, started screaming at Mother, then began to hit her. Little Roger was scared, just as I had been nine years earlier on the night of the gunshot. Finally, I couldnt bear the thought of Mother being hurt and Roger being frightened anymore. I grabbed a golf club out of my bag and threw open their door. Mother was on the floor and Daddy was standing over her, beating on her. I told him to stop and said that if he didnt I was going to beat the hell out of him with the golf club. He just caved, sitting down in a chair next to the bed and hanging his head. It made me sick. In her book, Mother says she called the police and had Daddy taken to jail for the night. I dont remember that, but I do know we didnt have any more trouble for a good while. I suppose I was proud of myself for standing up for Mother, but afterward I was sad about it, too. I just couldnt accept the fact that a basically good person would try to make his own pain go away by hurting someone else. I wish Id had someone to talk with about all this, but I didnt, so I had to figure it out for myself.
I came to accept the secrets of our house as a normal part of my life. I never talked to anyone about themnot a friend, a neighbor, a teacher, a pastor. Many years later when I ran for President, several of my friends told reporters they never knew. Of course, as with most secrets, some people did know. Daddy couldnt be on good behavior with everyone but us, though he tried. Whoever else knewfamily members, Mothers close friends, a couple of policemendidnt mention it to me, so I thought I had a real secret and kept quiet about it. Our family policy was dont ask, dont tell.
The only other secret I had in grade school and junior high was sending part of my allowance to Billy Graham after his Little Rock crusade. I never told my parents or friends about that, either. Once when I was on my way to the mailbox near our driveway off Circle Drive with my money for Billy, I saw Daddy working in the backyard. To avoid being seen, I went out the front down to Park Avenue, turned right, and cut back through the driveway of the Perry Plaza Motel next door. Our house was on a hill. Perry Plaza was on flat land below. When I got about halfway through the drive, Daddy looked down and saw me anyway with the letter in my hand. I proceeded to the mailbox, put the letter in, and came home. He must have wondered what I was doing, but he didnt ask. He never did. I guess he had enough secrets of his own to carry.
The question of secrets is one Ive thought about a lot over the years. We all have them and I think were entitled to them. They make our lives more interesting, and when we decide to share them, our relationships become more meaningful. The place where secrets are kept can also provide a haven, a retreat from the rest of the world, where ones identity can be shaped and reaffirmed, where being alone can bring security and peace. Still, secrets can be an awful burden to bear, especially if some sense of shame is attached to them, even if the source of the shame is not the secret holder. Or the allure of our secrets can be too strong, strong enough to make us feel we cant live without them, that we wouldnt even be who we are without them.
Of course, I didnt begin to understand all this back when I became a secret-keeper. I didnt even give it much thought then. I have a good memory of so much of my childhood, but I dont trust my memory to tell me exactly what I knew about all this and when I knew it. I know only that it became a struggle for me to find the right balance between secrets of internal richness and those of hidden fears and shame, and that I was always reluctant to discuss with anyone the most difficult parts of my personal life, including a major spiritual crisis I had at the age of thirteen, when my faith was too weak to sustain a certain belief in God in the face of what I was witnessing and going through. I now know this struggle is at least partly the result of growing up in an alcoholic home and the mechanisms I developed to cope with it. It took me a long time just to figure that out. It was even harder to learn which secrets to keep, which to let go of, which to avoid in the first place. I am still not sure I understand that completely. It looks as if its going to be a lifetime project.