In 1958, Mrs. Thomas’ second grade class at Seagoville (TX) Elementary School made a field trip to the capitol of the State of Texas. About thirty students, the teacher and a few parents made the two hundred mile trip south to Austin in a chartered motor coach. I sat on the right aisle, five seats back from the front of the bus, with my buddy Leon.
The purpose of our trip was to tour the state capitol building, buy souvenir trinkets at a gift shop across the street from “the people’s house,” gobble down burgers and fries at a fast food stand called The Heart of Texas and to meet the governor, Price Daniel, Sr. We accomplished all of those objectives in a single day, returning to our point of departure around seven o’clock that evening.
I remember two things about that trip very clearly—the burgers at The Heart of Texas and meeting the governor. Food has always been dear to my heart. Politicians, not so much.
Before we stepped off the bus at the state capitol Mrs. Thomas inspected each of us. For the boys it was shirt tails in, belt buckle at the gig line, and hair neatly combed. For the girls… I don’t know. It was whatever was required of girls to make a good impression in 1958. It wasn’t important to me at the time. After exiting the bus we proceeded in an orderly manner, single file, into the capitol rotunda for our meeting with the Governor.
I don’t recall just what time of year it was, but I remember that it was hot. Mrs. Thomas had insisted that the boys secure the top button on our shirts, a practice which universally results in extreme discomfort for second grade boys. Boys of any age. The discomfort was aggravated by the requirement that we form a line and stand in place while awaiting the Governor’s arrival. Predictably, he was late.
My first impression of the Governor was that he was stern looking man. He wore a wide smile across his face as he made his way along our receiving line, stopping to chat very briefly with each student. He didn’t fool me. He was a stern man, and he lacked authenticity. I didn’t trust him.
Mrs. Thomas had instructed us to extend our hand and speak our name clearly as the Governor reached us. I was a shy kid, but I was determined to do Mrs. Thomas proud. When the Governor reached me, I grabbed his hand firmly and announced my name. I did better than that. I even announced where I was from. “I’m Prentice, and I’m from Seagoville,” I said.
“Seagoville?” the Governor repeated. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of Seagoville.”
“That’s okay,” I responded. “I’ve never heard of you either.”
It was the truth. He was, clearly, not Fats Domino, and I’d never seen his picture on a football or baseball card. I wasn’t terribly impressed.
Judging from that exchange, I wouldn’t have thought either of us to have been much of a politician. Yet, Price Daniel was among the most successful Texas politicians of all time, elected to posts in the state legislature, U.S. House of Representatives, U.S. Senate and two terms as governor. I have never received a single vote for public office except in 1982 when I wrote in my own name for governor of Georgia. Mary Ann said she voted for me too, but I’ve had no way to confirm that.
So, what’s the point of this story? The story just came into my mind as I was thinking about the way our elected officials exercise such tremendous power over our lives, yet seem to know so little about us. Quite often, it seems, they are even unaware that we exist, and they don’t mind telling us how little we count.