What would Abe do?

I’ve always been fascinated by Abraham Lincoln.  He was one of the greatest if not the greatest American president.

In fifth grade there were two kinds of kids.  There were the kids who carried their lunch and the kids who went home for lunch.  I was a “carry your lunch kid”—a baloney, cheese or peanut butter sandwich, two cookies and an apple.  As I would sit there in the lunch room with the other “carry your lunch” kids who were eating their own baloney, cheese or peanut butter sandwiches, two cookies and an apple lunches I always imagined the “go home for lunch” kids eating chicken and dumplings or roast beef or fried chicken or spaghetti and meat balls and maybe a slice of homemade apple pie (I know what you’re thinking, what on earth does this have to do with Abraham Lincoln? Hold on).

One day my friend Bobby, a “go home for lunch” kid, invited me for lunch at his house.  I said yes but told him that I would have to ask my mom.  When I got home and asked her about going to Bobby’s house for lunch she said “Isn’t that nice” and “you be sure to tell Bobby’s mom, thank you” and then she said, “…and you eat everything you’re served.”

“But what if I don’t like…”

“Eat everything you’re served.”

“But what…”

“Ah, ah, ah”, and then she told me a story (back to Lincoln). “When he was a young man, Abraham Lincoln was invited to dinner at a neighbor’s home.  As he was eating he looked down at his plate and saw a worm in his food but rather than pushing it aside or removing it from his plate and embarrassing and humiliating his host young Abe ate that worm.  That selfless act built character and helped make him the man he would become”.  Mom smiled at me and I told her that I understood.

Two days later when I got on the school bus with no lunch I could feel the stares of the other lunch sack kids who knew I was going to have lunch with “them”. By 10 o’clock when we were working on our spelling words I could see Bobby’s mom taking an apple pie out of the oven.  By 11 o’clock I think I started to smell roast beef.  At noon when the lunch bell rang I joined Bobby and the “go home” kids as we watched our “carry your lunch” classmates being cast down into the basement lunch room to eat with the other barbarians.

When we walked in the door at Bobby’s house his mother called from the kitchen, “Hi, boys, go wash your hands, lunch is almost ready “, (I wondered why I didn’t smell apple pie and roast beef).  We sat down as she brought in two plates with a baloney sandwich, two cookies and an apple.  Apparently this was a test to see how I behaved going home for lunch and that they were saving the big meal for the next time I was invited.

I took my first bite of the baloney sandwich just as Bobby’s mom asked, “How was school this morning?”  Luckily she had turned to hear Bobby’s response as my mouth fell open and I started to gag.  I swallowed whatever it was that I was eating and then peeked between the slices of bread.  It wasn’t baloney at all, it was pickle & pimento loaf.  Pickle & pimento loaf sandwiches!  What kind of mother feeds her child pickle & pimento loaf? As I sat there forcing down that sandwich I could see my mother’s sweet smiling face in front of me beaming with pride and I’m pretty sure I felt the strong, firm hand of the 16th President of the United States of America on my shoulder.

I thanked Bobby’s mom for lunch and smiled when she said to come back again. When I got home, after telling my mom that I had thanked Bobby’s mom, I told her what had happened and she said how proud she was and then I think she called Bobby’s mom to thank her.

All of these decades later whenever I hear the name, Lincoln, or see an article about a Civil War commemoration or even look at a five dollar bill I think about Abraham Lincoln and I wonder how strong his character have would become, what kind of man he would have been and what kind of president the nation would have had to lead it during those dark days if at that long-ago meal when he looked down at his plate and instead of seeing just a worm he had found a pickle & pimento loaf sandwich.  It’s probably best for the nation that we will never know.

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