FLORENCE GILKESON: About First Ladies And Cookie Recipes
Surely by now, that cookie recipe inquiry is a joke and a thing of the past.
We'll soon find out as the presidential campaign moves into high gear. Already, I can imagine some idiot asking Michelle Obama or Cindy McCain for cookie recipes.
The American public, especially the media, has always fixated on women in politics. We had a field day with Hillary Clinton, a vigorous, hard-working woman who never had a chance because a huge chunk of the population simply does not like her. I'm talking about people who didn't like her long before she performed a series of gaffes along the campaign trail.
Before Hillary came along as first lady, then presidential candidate, though, we have had a series of first ladies or prospective first ladies who have been scrutinized in minutiae while being battered, bloodied and beaten by hostile media. Americans simply don't like women who are too assertive, too opinionated or likely to pursue a mission too aggressively.
We approved when Jackie Kennedy renovated the White House. She had style, we decided. We approved when Lady Bird Johnson launched a campaign to beautify our highways. We approved of Dolley Madison, even today regarded as a heroine of the War of 1812.
We did not approve of Eleanor Roosevelt and her outspoken views on racial equality and justice. I have vivid memories of my father's reaction to Eleanor Roosevelt, and they are not pretty.
However, I met the former first lady while I was a junior at UNC-Chapel Hill, when she spoke to a group of women students about their future opportunities and capabilities. I was pleasantly surprised at her gracious, caring personality and her obvious intelligence. In addition, I found that she was far more physically attractive than photographs portrayed her.
For the most part, Americans liked Bess Truman, Mamie Eisenhower, Pat Nixon, and Betty Ford, all of whom maintained a positive presence but more or less kept to the background. Rosalynn Carter fared less well. Although she was neither abrasive nor assertive, she did not project a sufficiently regal bearing. She was an attractive first lady but not stylish.
Nancy Reagan came across as less appealing. She doted on her handsome movie star husband a little too much, giving the impression she could crack the whip.
Then along came Barbara Bush with the beautiful white hair and gracious smile. We liked those qualities, for she exuded a grandmotherly air that made us feel comfortable and protected. I later heard rumors that she was less grandmotherly in her treatment of staff.
I have yet to hear a negative comment about Laura Bush. The former librarian enjoys many advantages, ranging from physical beauty to concern about literacy. Her beauty appears natural and simple. She doesn't rock the boat. If many of us had our way at this minute, we would elect her president and oust George W.
But now that the lines appear pretty well drawn between Sen. John McCain and Sen. Barack Obama, the women-bashers in the field must move reluctantly away from Hillary to concentrate on Cindy and Michelle. It's already begun -- the talk, that is, that Michelle is a bitter white-baiting racist and Cindy is a rich heiress slow to reveal her wealth and her tax records.
I have no idea how long we have been asking first ladies for cookie recipes. Why cookies? Why not cake and pie recipes, favorite salads, roast beef and fried chicken? A real doozy would be to ask instructions on the Thanksgiving turkey.
A friend once told me a hilarious tale about her mother and cookie-baking. Ruth had two sons, ages 11 and 13, and her mother, who lived in the Midwest, came to visit for a couple of weeks. Visiting mother was appalled when she saw that Ruth's hungry boys were being fed "store-boughten" cookies. The very idea, those sweet boys should be treated to home-baked cookies, opined the grandmother. Ruth was a very busy person, so she gladly offered her kitchen and invited her mother to bake away to heart's content.
This rocked along nicely. The boys were delighted with Grandma's cookies -- so delighted, in fact, that they ate each batch at one sitting. Flattered, she baked another batch, which disappeared just as quickly. After the third or fourth batch in less than a week, this woman, who had raised two dainty daughters, began to weary and was more understanding.
In the old days, the first ladies most likely just smiled when asked for cookie recipes. Then they asked the cook to supply a suitable recipe -- chocolate chip, please.
Florence Gilkeson can be reached at 947-4962 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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