When I think of that time between the nomination and the first
inaugural, the memory
of flying through the night to the propellers’ drone, feeling
the vibration, hearing
the rumble of our passage, comes back to me most vividly.
We flew from Albany
to Chicago the day after the convention’s fourth ballot went
to Franklin: He and Missy LeHand,
Gus Gennerich, Grace Tully, and Earl and I, passengers through
a day and night in a Ford Tri-Motor.
Against the prospect of being a prisoner of the White House,
my every muscle stiffened.
I knew I would be required to stand hour upon hour, day
upon day, grinning an automaton’s grin,
mouthing words of welcome and flattery, my mind deadened
by small talk, my time
and spirit conceded to others. Dedications, teas, formal receptions,
ship christenings, official dinners:
I knew what that house had done to Aunt Edith and I had had
quite enough of the same
as a Governor’s wife: The cordial, solicitous, bedecked, cheerful,
ever cheerful Mrs. Roosevelt.
The feast of my private life, fought for so fiercely, and at great cost,
would, as First Lady, shrivel
to a biscuit of hardtack. I won’t do it! Won’t. Won’t. Won’t.
Visible from the small window of that plane, the farms and
villages of New York,
then, with nightfall, sparks or bracelets of light around a lake
or along a river, before
the vast dark of the Alleghanies. When Franklin first sought
the nomination, I was unhappy,
even though I knew it was, for him, a tremendous triumph
but Earl and I had been lovers for three years—I simply
could not go forward with
the public pretense a moment longer. The children were grown.
I was forty-seven, weary
of being dutiful and caring, never much appreciated. I believed
my soul was in peril.
Franklin would succeed in the election—almost anyone
would have opposing Hoover—
and divorce, occurring after he assumed office, well
the disgrace would blow over, certainly,
before he stood for re-election. Since I would marry Earl
as soon as possible—
Earl who loved and respected me as Franklin never had—
the President would be
viewed as the injured party. I wouldn’t have minded
the infamy on
my head alone, once I was free—so my thinking went.
But then, what kind of woman deserts a crippled man?
What citizen surrenders
the opportunity, through her proximity to a President,
of doing some real good?
I was a rabbit frozen in a rifle’s sight. Furthermore, Earl,
ever protective, and in
these matters, cunning—my Knight Errant, my chevalier—
to quell rumors running
through the barrooms, kitchens, and bedrooms of Albany,
had that spring proposed
to Ruth Bellinger. Against Mama’s objections, I was busy
arranging his autumn wedding
at Hyde Park! We both understood no one person could
ever fulfill another’s needs entirely.
My tapestried existence overwhelmed me, and those mischief-
making claims—good taste,
decorum, appearances—bred so deeply in me I do not know
them apart from myself, clamored
like children let out of school. Aunt Bye told me once
that I might do anything in life
I wanted to do, as long as I was always quite sure in my heart
of hearts that I was at peace
with myself. Conventional wisdom, but that’s the rub nonetheless.
Peace with myself: I have had some.
Crossing Lakes Erie and Michigan, I remember that, for comfort,
I kept repeating to myself
the words Christ spoke at Gethsemane: “My soul is exceeding
sorrowful, even unto death.”
Then I would lean into Earl and whisper, “Tarry ye here
and watch with me.”
He would squeeze my hand or raise it to his lips and kiss it,
and I would draw back and say quietly,
“O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me.”