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Pinback with words "President Clinton Designates the New River, Ashe County, NC, July 30, 1998"“Officials said it was the first time a president had come to [the West Jefferson] area, best known for Christmas trees, crafts and musicians like Doc Watson, who lives in nearby Deep Gap.

“Many of the people attending the event had fought a generation ago to stop a hydroelectric dam project that would have flooded 40,000 acres in northwest North Carolina. In the early 1960s, Appalachian Power Co. of Roanoke, Va., proposed damming the New River’s South Fork, flooding more than 40,000 acres. President Ford settled the dispute in 1976 when he named a 26-mile stretch of the South Fork a National Scenic River….”
— Associated Press

President Clinton, taking a break from the Monica Lewinsky tumult, went on at some length in designating the New as one of the first 14 American Heritage Rivers.

And of course Hugh Morton was there.

Welcome, Mr. President — how ’bout those ditches!

When the 44th president speaks at Bank of America Stadium, will he say something memorable? The record of his predecessors is an interestingly mixed bag.  Can you can identify the presidents or future presidents who made these comments on their visits to Charlotte?

1. “I have seen the denuding of your forests, I have seen the washing away of your topsoil, I have slid into the ditch from your red clay highways.”

2. “Every four years, the Republican candidate or his supporters comes down to North Carolina, Texas or some other Southern state and warns the Democrats in this section of the United States that they have been abandoned by the national party.”

3. “I regret that some people in this country have disparaged and demeaned the role of the homemaker. I say — and say it with emphasis and conviction — that homemaking is good for America.”

4. “Because of our young men and women in uniform, things really have changed around the world. You know, America used to wear a ‘Kick Me’ sign around its neck. Well, we threw that sign away. Now it reads, ‘Don’t Tread on Me.’ ”

5. “This will have a lot of subsidiary good benefits. For example, it’s doing those white folks up there a world of good to sing in a choir like that. That may be a racially insensitive, politically incorrect remark, but having spent countless hours of my life in Baptist church choirs, I do know what I am talking about… I can’t believe I said that.”

6. “The world today, although joined physically by a few hours of flight or by an instant in telecommunications, is further apart in idea, in political belief, in basic philosophy, than it ever was — even before the discovery of the Western World.”

I’ll append the answers tomorrow.

And here they are:

1. Franklin D. Roosevelt at “Green Pastures” rally (Sept. 10, 1936).

2. Sen. John F. Kennedy at campaign rally (Sept. 17, 1960).

3. Gerald Ford at state convention of Future Homemakers of America (March 20, 1976).

4. Ronald Reagan at campaign rally for Sen. Jim Broyhill (Oct. 28, 1986).

5. Bill Clinton at first joint meeting of Progressive National Baptist Convention and Alliance of Baptists (Aug. 9, 1995).

6. Dwight D. Eisenhower at Freedom Celebration Day (May 18, 1954).


Reynolds Price, Bill Clinton and Wesley Beavers

In 1998 Reynolds Price read from “Roxanna Slade,” his new novel, at a Borders in Charlotte.

Afterward, he recalled having visited the White House at the invitation of Bill Clinton. How big a fan was Clinton? Accompanying Price on the elevator, he shocked his guest by reciting the famous opening sentence of “A Long and Happy Life”:

“Just with his body and from inside like a snake, leaning that black motorcycle side to side, cutting in and out of the slow line of cars to get there first, staring due-north through goggles towards Mount Moriah and switching coon tails in everybody’s face was Wesley Beavers, and laid against his back like sleep, spraddle-legged on the sheepskin seat behind him was Rosacoke Mustian who was maybe his girl and who had given up looking into the wind and trying to nod at every sad car in the line, and when he even speeded up and passed the truck (lent for the afternoon my Mr. Isaac Alston and driven by Sammy his man, hauling one pine box and one black boy dressed in all he could borrow, set up in a ladder-back chair with flowers banked round him and a foot on the box to steady it) — when he even passed that, Rosacoke said once into his back ‘Don’t’ and rested in humiliation, not thinking but with her hands on his hips for dear life and her white blouse blown out behind her like a banner in defeat.”

First sentence, first novel.  How was that for starters?

Elvis, a waitress and Joyce Carol Oates

Waiting On Elvis, 1956

This place up in Charlotte called Chuck’s where I
used to waitress and who came in one night
but Elvis and some of his friends before his concert
at the Arena, I was twenty-six married but still
waiting tables and we got to joking around like you
do, and he was fingering the lace edge of my slip
where it showed below my hemline and I hadn’t even
seen it and I slapped at him a little saying, You
sure are the one aren’t you feeling my face burn but
he was the kind of boy even meanness turned sweet in
his mouth.

Smiled at me and said, Yeah honey I guess I sure am.

— Poem by Joyce Carol Oates (1987)

“Oates takes off from an incident described by Kays Gary in ‘Elvis Defends Low Down Style,’ Charlotte Observer, June 27, 1956: ‘The waitress brought his coffee. Elvis reached down and fingered the lace on her slip. “Aren’t you the one?” “I’m the one, baby!” ‘….

“Oates’s poem… suggests a more complete and convincing match than anything I know between Elvis Presley and Bill Clinton: one man who could, and one man who can, charm you almost to death.”

— From “Double Trouble: Bill Clinton and Elvis Presley in a Land of No Alternatives” by Greil Marcus (2000)