Is it just me, or is Presidents Day easily the least emotionally inspiring of our holidays? Oh, sure, I always choke up a little whenever I or my wife get paid for not going to work. That’s a beautiful, even inspiring thing. But beyond that, I’m not even sure what Presidents Day is. I know that when I was a kid, the point of Presidents Day was to sit in class, stare at a colorful cut-out head of George Washington’s profile, and try not to make fun of his hair. Why, I wondered, did men in those days wear old lady wigs? Did all the men do it, or just the presidents? Did we used to elect presidents who dressed like women? We only had his head to stare at, but I assumed George Washington also wore a dress. What else could I think? It’s not like he was gonna wear that hair with a suit. And this was in the late sixties, so I always had to picture our first president in a mini-skirt. With a kicky little hand purse.
Later, we had to stare at the head of George Washington and Abe Lincoln, and think about how great it was that they were born. But that always brought to mind a baby with Abe Lincoln’s face, and forget that. So then I would wonder when white wigs for men went out of fashion, and top hats and crazy Amish beards became the rage. What a weird switch. I knew it was better than the lady hair with the beard, though. No question there.
Anyway, to this day I don’t really get Presidents Day. I don’t know if it’s for George Washington’s birthday, or Abe Lincoln’s birthday, or for the birthday of all Presidents, or what. So what I do, is make a point of at least thinking about how cool it is that George Washington didn’t lie about cutting down that cherry tree.“Yeah, I did it,” I imagine him boldly proclaiming. “Now can you help me with my mascara?”
No. But then I think about Abe Lincoln, living in a log cabin, reading at night by firelight. When I was a kid, I learned that Abe Lincoln learned to write by writing with burned sticks on the back of a shovel. And I used to think, “I can’t believe they kept a shovel in their living room. Were they digging holes right there in their house? How cool! I wish we could keep a shovel in our living room.” Then I used to think how there was no way a teacher could object if I turned in a homework assignment on the back of a shovel. “But Lincoln did it,” I’d say. “Don’t you want me to be a great as Abe Lincoln?”
Anyway, I think the main thing about Presidents Day is to remember that on this day, we should all take a one or five dollar bill, stare at George Washington or Abe Lincoln’s face, and reflect upon how great it is to live in a country where you can get paid for not going to work. If getting paid without working doesn’t say “President,” I just don’t know what does.