BETTY STEIN: Society has forgotten the true meaning of Presidents’ Day

Betty Stein for the News-Sentinel

Betty Stein for the News-Sentinel

Every year I look forward to February, which is so full of good things. There is usually a thaw; we watch Phil on Groundhog Day; love envelops our lives on Valentine’s Day; we learn in Black History Month; and I suffer on Presidents’ Day. Yes, every year I suffer.

Presidents’ Day was created by Congress, I believe, to give us a chance to say “Thank you” to those remarkable men who served as president of the United States. But it soon became a day for sales and an opportunity to ignore Feb. 12 and Feb. 22, dates every school kid should know and observe, along with us adults.

Feb. 12 was devoted to our Abraham Lincoln. Log cabins, pictures of the young Lincoln stretched out before the fire in the fireplace, reading whatever he could lay his hands on, copies of the Gettysburg Address and proclamations ending slavery and other immortal words, photographs showing the burdens he managed as the lines on his face grew deeper – and attention paid in the classroom while youngsters were once again reminded of this giant among men.

Feb. 22 was dedicated to our George Washington. Hatchets, pictures of crossing the Delaware, visits to Mount Vernon were among the annual manifestations of our love and respect for this man of privilege who spent much of his life serving the public — as surveyor, leader of troops and successful sorties, then leading to a victorious ending for the American Revolution, and then instead of peaceful retirement into old age, accepting the gavel as first president of the new United States, surrounding himself with the brightest and most capable people to aid and assist in getting this new nation off to its firm, successful government.

Instead, we have sales. We could be going to our library and seeing thrilling reminders of Abraham Lincoln and his lifetime of achievements. Have you visited the Lincoln Collection we are so lucky to have? I once had a story to write about Mary Todd Lincoln and had the thrill of reading an actual letter she wrote (and even through the gloves I was required to wear,) I felt a thrill and attached to American history. I read “Washington A Life,” by very capable biographer Ron Chernow, and saw the man turned into a living, breathing human being instead of the bewigged aristocrat sitting astride his beautiful horse. Our library, of course, has hundreds of books about both men – books for very young readers all the way up to readers like me.

Please, join me in celebrating the lives of these two men who were passionate about our country’s survival and development into the America we are blessed to call home. Join me in loving February. (And legislators, any time you want to rectify your mistake, I’ll happily help you erase it.)

Betty E. Stein is a resident of Fort Wayne.

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