In the Arms of a Politician

I received a gift that has me longing for political days of the past.

My mom is aware of the adoration I had for Hubert H. Humphrey, so for my birthday she gave me an HHH lapel pin from his 1968 U.S. presidential campaign, a mug from the first Hubert H. Humphrey dinner in 1978 that was held at the St. Paul Civic Center, and a frame with two photos of Humphrey.

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The photos were taken in August 1970 when he made an appearance at a ballpark two miles down the road from where I lived. After his Vice-Presidency from 1965 – 1969 and his defeat in the 1968 presidential election, Humphrey returned to teaching political science at Macalester College and the University of Minnesota and hadn’t planned to return to political life.  But, suddenly Senator McCarthy declined running for his Minnesota Senate seat so he could write poetry, and Humphrey decided to run for Senate again.  Humphrey hit the campaign trail and that’s where our paths crossed when I was two years old. A local DFLer arranged to have him come to the park in the tiny village we called our community. He was greeted by what I recall as being a huge reception of enthusiastic supporters.

Before we headed to the park, I waited for Mom and Dad to get ready. I stood in the kitchen absorbing the energy of the mood in the hot August air. I was looking down and noting how my clothes felt – stiff cotton and binding elastic around the leg holes constricting my sweaty skin – when I was picked up and put in the car. I didn’t know where we were going but I knew Mom and Dad were giddy with excitement.

The Sportsmen’s park was a sea of people. I was relieved to see my grandma’s familiar face in the overwhelming crowd. She carried me around as she visited with neighbors. Someone gave me a Grain Belt beer glass to play with (because that’s what kids’ toys were like in rural Minnesota in 1970). I held it and tried to soothe myself with the feeling of the smooth plastic in my hands as I teetered on the edge of sensory overload. I observed my grandma as she carried me around. She was a people person and I enjoyed watching her as she joyfully worked a crowd. Not afraid of doing things to get attention, she handed me over to Humphrey to have my photo taken with him.

In grade school I would bring that photo of Humphrey holding me whenever the opportunity arose: for Me Day at school, where I could decorate a little bulletin board with important things concerning me; for show and tell; for times when we had to bring a favorite photo to class . . . this was my favorite photo for a long time. I handled it so much that my mom had to have a reprint made. I was disappointed that it came back from the developer with the rounded mid-70s photo corners instead of the original square white border that held my favorite memory from 1970 like a treasure box. In the mid-70s I still had no real understanding of who Hubert H. Humphrey was. I just knew he was a guy who had been a Senator and Vice-President of the United States – and that I really liked him for who he was on the inside. I realized that when I shared the photo of him with me, it made me momentarily popular among my teachers and my classmates, who seemed not as impressed by the politician in the picture as they were by the fact that I was holding a beer glass. I gazed at the photo for countless hours, along with the five other photos on the album page that had been taken during Humphrey’s visit.

As Humphrey’s hands reached for me, I remember thinking, Whoa, this could be scary! Born extremely sensitive, I was shy around strangers, but because of my extreme sensitivity I also found myself tuning into the true character of people for as far back as I can remember. Warmth emanated from the large man that was holding me. I was sweaty and he was, too, but I recognized that he had a special kind of warmth coming from him. I was too young to know anything about his political past or his desire for our country’s future. But I remember trusting Humphrey because of what I felt radiating from him. I felt completely safe in his arms.

I wish I could feel that way about a political candidate today.

“Here we are, just as we ought to be, here we are, the people, here we are the spirit of dedication, here we are the way politics ought to be in America, the politics of happiness, politics of purpose, politics of joy; and that’s the way it’s going to be, all the way, too, from here on out. We seek an America able to preserve and nurture all the basic rights of free expression, yet able to reach across the divisions that too often separate race from race, region from region, young from old, worker from scholar, rich from poor. We seek an America able to do this in the higher knowledge that our goals and ideals are worthy of conciliation and personal sacrifice.”                                                              ~ Hubert H. Humphrey, in his 1968 speech declaring his presidential candidacy


1970 Humphrey


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© 2016 by Julie Ryan. All rights reserved
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