Until the presidential election of 1988, Daddy, who always cherished his right to vote, had never cast a ballot for a non-Democrat. He was, as was most mountain kin of ours, what folks in the South call “a yellow dog Democrat.” In other words, they would vote for a yellow dog as long as he was a Democrat.
It was Franklin D. Roosevelt who inspired these backwoods folks to believe that a powerful man in Washington, D.C., really cared for farmers in Turner’s Corner, near where the Appalachian Trail begins.
Those of Daddy’s generation have mostly gone to their graves but with them, they took long-held admiration for and loyalty to President Roosevelt. He had saved them from despair and starvation during the Great Depression. Roosevelt’s programs like WPA paid men a dollar a day to construct public buildings and roads while also putting to work artists, musicians and writers.
A few years back, Gov. Nathan Deal appointed me to the board of the Little White House in Warm Springs, which is where Roosevelt enjoyed his happiest days as well as where he took his final breath while lying on a small, low-flung cot. I revere history, especially that of Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and all those involved in World War II. It’s meaningful to help preserve the important legacy of President Roosevelt. If Daddy were still alive, he’d proudly feel that he was doing something for his hero through his daughter.
For the swearing-in at the Capitol, I wanted a dress that represented my people and paid homage to those humble days when 50 cents buried in the backyard was a fortune. On eBay for the price of seven dollars — a week’s work on the WPA — I found the perfect dress. A leftover from the 1960s, it was a short-sleeved shift, cut from off-white crushed velvet. The inside of the dress was yellowed from age and a bit stiff but when I put it on, I smiled with satisfaction. Although it was vintage and inexpensive, it was definitely the kind of Sunday dress, paired with heels and earrings, that showed respect.
I handed Daddy’s worn King James Bible to the governor and, as my voice cracked a bit, asked him to give me the oath with my hand on Daddy’s most precious possession. At that moment, I felt that I stood not just for Daddy or Mama or Uncle Oscar or Aunt Fairy but for all the Appalachian people who felt such pride and gratitude for President Roosevelt.
As I left the Capitol, stepping across the tree-shaded street, a woman glanced as she passed then stopped and turned around. “Oh my! That’s the prettiest dress. So simple and elegant.”
And I, being the Scotch-Irish person I am, replied, “Thank you! It only cost seven dollars!”
Last summer, I bought another old dress from the 1960s from an online store that specializes in vintage clothes. It is a sleeveless bright orange, gore paneled dress with a cowl neck smothered in pearls and lined in orange satin. It is elegant and pretty. I wrote the seller and asked about the dress’ history.
“I bought it from an estate sale in an upper scale community in Williamsburg, Virginia,” she replied. “The woman had taken extraordinary care of the nice clothes she had from the 1960s and 1970s. John Hinckley, who tried to assassinate President Reagan, now lives with his mother in that gated community. They were neighbors with the woman who owned this dress.”
One Sunday, I put the dress on for church and stood at the mirror, wondering what stories this orange dress knows. My eye caught the off-white crush velvet that cost seven dollars.
“That dress had stories before it was mine,” I thought.
Now, I’ve added a chapter to its history. In memory of Daddy, our poor mountain kin and President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of several books, including “Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama.” Sign up for her newsletter at www.rondarich.com. Her column appears Tuesdays and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.