With Margaret Truman's Departure
Margaret Truman was 83. That startled me. I thought of her as being a contemporary, and I didn't realize that she had reached such an age. It meant that the same sort of thing had happened to me -- as if I didn't already know.
I remember Margaret Truman for two things.
One was her bearing, the few times that I saw her on TV. She had the most studied, haughty-looking way of arranging her being that I have ever seen. I doubt that even the highest, most privileged French or English monarch of centuries past ever managed to outdo her in that respect, and the modern English royalty certainly doesn't and can't.
I wonder how she accomplished that. She must have worn out her mirrors. Her hauteur was astonishing, considering that she came from plain-spoken parents and from the rough-hewn "Show Me" state of Missouri. Was it because she was an only child, and the daughter of the most powerful man in the country and the world? Would she have been the same if her parents had never left Missouri, the state that, besides her father, had also produced characters like Mark Twain and Jesse James?
That kind of bearing was all the most surprising when I found out, just now, that for a long time she was a distinguished writer of detective novels. That's a genre of writing that I would never have associated with a person who affected so much queenly presence.
The main event with which I associate Margaret Truman happened at the outset of her shorter career as a concert singer.
For her debut she gave a recital in D.C., for which she was panned by Paul Hume, who was then the highly regarded music critic of the Washington Post. This was in 1950, when the Post was a great newspaper and still decades from passing into less enlightened hands and its subsequent degeneration into the uncharitable, right wing-leaning rag that it is today.
It was also only nine years after the appearance of Orson Welles' masterpiece film, "Citizen Kane," which detailed the life of a newspaper magnate whose power approached that of a President. In that movie Kane's young wife is also a singer, and he pushes her opera career so much that he stoops to rewrite an unfavorable review of her performance, written by his best friend.
Harry S. Truman went Citizen Kane one better. Totally incensed by Hume's review, he sat down and dashed off and quickly mailed off a brief but scathing note to Hume, in which he threatened, if he ever saw him, to kick the critic in an especially sensitive and vital part of his anatomy.
This, mind you, is the most powerful man in the world, the commander-in-chief of a huge array of military and police forces. In other countries he would have been tempted and advised to leave the matter to his gendarmes or other individuals, who could have brought down the hammer hard on Hume and his employers, for such a transgression on his daughter's dignity.
But no, Harry S. was going to take care of this entirely on his own, and he responded not as the all-powerful U.S. President, victor in the most ferocious and large-scale war the world has ever seen. Instead, he reacted as any normal, proud, outraged father might have. And as a result, no approbrium was heaped on him for having acted in a way that some might have seen as too undignified for a Chief Executive, and after that to my observation Hume and the Post continued to operate as they always had.
There have been so many matters that have come and zipped past me that now most are hanging from the ceiling of my mind only by one memory each, and in Margaret Truman's case this is it. I thought that what Harry S. did on her behalf was a true demonstration of what the American Ideal of democracy is all about. Yet this incident that spoke so loudly to me and maybe to others as well is not mentioned in the memorial statement about her that appears on the website of her father's library. I can understand why. I can concede that, among other reasons, it said much more about her father than it did about her. But we can be grateful at least that her efforts furnished the occasion.
Candidates for the Presidency traditionally try to show how they are part of the "Common Man." But with that one little incident, and with the exception perhaps only of A. Lincoln, Margaret Truman's father showed, as no other President that I am aware of has quite managed to do, that he was indeed, for all his high trappings of office, still, in spirit, one with all the ordinary citizens of the country.