The three most popular toys for nine-year-old boys, according to an online site versed in such things, are an Anki Cosmo Robot, a Lego Tech Whack Building Kit and a Nerf Official N-strike Elite Strong-Arm Blaster.
I have only the vaguest idea of what any of those things are.
No surprise there; I have only a vague idea of how to use most of the things on my Smart Phone.
Nor do I have more than even a vague memory of what comprised my ninth-birthday loot. A baseball glove, perhaps; maybe some model-railroad accessories or the gift sure to disappoint all nine-year-old boys – school clothes.
Landon Palmer’s birthday gifts included books about American presidents, a presidential trivia card game and Christmas ornaments with paintings of presidents.
His birthday cake was decorated with American flags and busts of presidents.
The guests at his birthday party wore presidential masks.
“I just like history,” he explained. “Especially learning about the presidents.”
Landon recently finished third grade at Nampa’s Lake Ridge Elementary School. A video he saw there ignited his passion for presidential history.
“The video was about all the presidents,” he said. “It made me want to learn more about them.”
Landon’s mother, Lyndsay Soule, says he “knows all of the presidents in order. He likes being asked things like who the president was in 1895.”
Who was it?
“Grover Cleveland’s second term,” he proudly replied, glad I’d asked.
He also knows all the states and their capitals, but that’s another story.
His favorite president, without a close second, is Abraham Lincoln. He likes him so much that he asked for an Abraham Lincoln suit for his birthday.
And wore it to his birthday party.
“I like him best because he won the Civil war and made Idaho a state,” he said. “I like his second Inauguration address and his other speeches.”
“He’s working on memorizing the Gettysburg Address,” Soule added.
Expecting him to reel off names of the founding fathers, I asked him what presidents he liked besides Lincoln. Washington, perhaps? Jefferson? Madison?
“No, none of those guys.”
His favorites other than Lincoln: William Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Dwight Eisenhower and Millard Fillmore.
Millard Fillmore? The Whig who proposed sending the slaves back to Africa? He’s consistently ranked among the worst presidents. Landon had to be joking.
“I like him because he was president when California became a state. And I like California because of Disneyland.”
A perfectly good reason for a nine-year-old boy.
He likes Eisenhower because he was “a general who helped win World War II.” Wilson because he was “the last president to ride a horse to his inauguration.” Taft because he “had to get his own bathtub installed in the White House because he was so big. He was as big as a baby elephant.”
“He wasn’t that big,” his mother interjected.
“Well … almost.”
Landon is a youthful encyclopedia of presidential trivia. He loves telling the story of Lincoln responding to a charge that he was two faced by asking whether he’d “be wearing this face if I had another one.” He smiles when recounting the tale of the president who got a speeding ticket.
The president was Ulysses S. Grant. A cop named William West pulled him over for driving his favorite team of horses too fast, forced him to go to the police station and booked him for speeding. Grant, of course, was a towering figure at the time, not just as president but as the former commander of the Union Army. West may have been the bravest man in Washington.
Credit Landon’s mom for nurturing his interest in history. When she learned during spring break that there was an A. Lincoln Exhibit at the Idaho State Archives in Boise, she took him there the very next day. When a staff member took a picture of Landon in his Lincoln suit and posted it on the archives’ website, it caught the eye of a household name in Idaho politics.
The A. Lincoln Exhibit is comprised of Lincoln artifacts donated by Dave Leroy, former Idaho attorney general, lieutenant governor, congressional and gubernatorial candidate, and a lifelong Lincoln buff. When Leroy saw the picture of Landon online, he arranged to meet with him.
And the nurturing reached a new level.
Leroy gave Landon a coffee table book, “The Age of Lincoln,” and took him on a tour of the Statehouse.
Landon, his mother recalled, was “thrilled to meet Mr. Leroy and talk about their admiration and knowledge of ‘Abe.’ … It was such a gift to listen to the two of them swap stories about why they love our 16th president.”
It was a two-way street. Landon learned things he didn’t know about Lincoln, and for Leroy spending time with Landon “reinforced my enthusiasm for those who have enthusiasm for history.”
Being a lawyer and an admirer of Lincoln’s way with words, it didn’t take him long to come up with just the right nickname for Landon, “ the Little Lincoln.” He even invited him to appear with him at a seminar next fall, where Landon will deliver the Gettysburg Address.
“When somebody does a presentation contemporary to Lincoln’s period, it can still send chills through people when you talk about the importance of his work,” Leroy said. “Landon would be well tailored in a Lincoln uniform and top hat to do that even at nine years old.”
With this being one of the more divisive periods in our history since Lincoln’s time, I asked the Little Lincoln what his hero would do if he could return and be president again.
“I think his advice would be to do the good things and not the bad things.”
“An acute analysis,” Leroy said. “Acute, and cute.”
You might think a boy with a flair for history would want to teach it when he grows up.
You’d be wrong.
“No, I wouldn’t want to be a history professor. I want to go to Washington, D.C. and run for president.”
A long shot?
Of course. But somehow, just knowing that a boy that smart and passionate about history wants to be president makes me feel better about our future.
Tim Woodward’s column appears every other Sunday in The Idaho Press and is posted on woodwardblog.com the following Mondays. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.