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WOSTER: Lincoln, Washington deserve their own presidential holidays

Terry Woster

Sometimes I think it would be grand to be back in grade school and just learning why we (used to) observe Feb. 12 and Feb. 22 as special days on the calendar.

We don't do that so much today. We observe a Monday in late February as Presidents Day. This year, it was last Monday.

But when I was a kid, Feb. 12 (just last week) was the date set aside for President Abraham Lincoln, and Feb. 22 (coming up Friday) was set aside for President George Washington. What a simple time it was to talk about presidents and associate them with cherry trees and stove-pipe hats.

Even good schoolboys tell a fib now and then. The ones who say they never did are probably fibbing, although maybe a perfect man-child exists out there somewhere.

But when I was a youngster in elementary school, I was in awe of the first president and his inability to tell a lie, even if it meant being punished by his father for chopping down the cherry tree.

(It did not occur to me, for some reason, to wonder why the kid chopped down a cherry tree. I mean, I did a lot of goofy stuff as a boy, but I didn't go around cutting down trees -- except for that foray with a couple of pals into the woods around Chamberlain in search of the perfect Christmas tree, and that was in an area filled with trees. What's up with chopping down the family cherry tree, anyway?)

I've mentioned before how crushed I was back in May of 1960 when President Dwight Eisenhower admitted to the world that he had lied about American involvement with the U-2 spy plane and Gary Francis Powers, the pilot who was shot down while taking high-altitude photographs over the Soviet Union.

A quick reading of that incident tells how other surface-to-air missiles hit a Soviet MiG-19 fighter jet that was attempting to intercept Powers.

Weird tale all around and when President Eisenhower first denied our involvement, I believed him. Of course I did. He was our president.

Later, the truth came out, and it was like finding out your grandpa had lied to you. I never felt quite the same about the presidency again and, yes, I know I was incredibly naïve. It was a naïve age, for me and for the country.

As a kid, I figured President Lincoln would no more tell a lie than President Washington would. Presidents didn't do that sort of thing. They were larger than life, born to be leaders, whether they were born in a colonial homestead or in a log cabin somewhere in the middle of Illinois.

The story of Lincoln as a schoolboy was pretty believable to me as a schoolboy. He walked wherever he went, he worked hard and knew how to split wood, and he did his ciphers on the back of a shovel using pieces of coal and the light from a fireplace or lantern.

I was about a century behind him, but in my very early years, we didn't have electricity on the farm except for that produced by our wind charger.

When that was dead, we had lanterns. Now, REA came through the area while I was still pretty young, but I didn't have too much trouble imagining the whole Lincoln childhood thing.

Those guys -- Washington and Lincoln -- were presidential presidents. According to a recent movie, Lincoln also may have been a vampire hunter, but I'm not sure how much stock I place in that story.

Here's another great thing about celebrating Washington and Lincoln separately in February: Each of those guys had a really striking profile (not a biographical profile, a physical profile).

When the teacher assigned us to trace their profiles onto black construction paper and then paste the profile onto red construction paper, the resulting silhouettes were pretty impressive -- well, they were to a second-grader, anyway. Mine were less impressive than some because of my lack of skill with scissors, but they were second-grade impressive.

I'm not saying those were the days, my friends, but, gee, those were the days.