Kyle Brennan meets President-elect William Jefferson Clinton
In January of 1993, newly elected President Bill Clinton started his journey to the White House from Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. There was a great deal of excitement in Charlottesville over this historic moment. President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, and their immediate family members arrived by airplane on the evening of the sixteenth.
I thought this event would be fun for my two youngest sons, Sean, and of course, Kyle, who was then just six years old. The evening air being chilly, I bundled the two boys in layers of wool before leaving for the airport. When we arrived and saw all the traffic, I questioned if I had made a wise decision. I was not alone in wanting to experience a historical event.
The three of us made our way through the large crowd, trying to find the spot that would offer us the best view of President Clinton and his entourage. But, unfortunately, we were disappointed to discover that a large chain link fence had been erected to separate the president from the throng of people.
Soon, a young man walking through the crowd started yelling out American history questions. If you were the first to answer correctly, you could then move to the other side of the fence. I told my two sons to get ready to make a move. When the young man yelled out the following question, “What do the colors of the American flag stand for?” I quickly shouted out the correct answer. We were then escorted through an opening in the fence and placed close to where the president’s plane would disembark. When our exclusive other-side-of-the-fence area filled up, I realized that I’d underestimated how much Charlottesvillians knew about their history.
Worried that the boys would get crushed by the crowd, I moved them off to the side, away from the people, knowing full well that we would lose our opportunity to see the president up close. However, Kyle and Sean did not mind the venue change because it allowed them to observe the Secret Service in action. They both exclaimed that they were really cool, like James Bond. They asked what they were looking for when scanning the crowd.
There was one Secret Service agent posted not far from where we were standing. Tall, slender, and serious looking, his eyes never left the crowd except when talking in a low voice on a walkie-talkie-type device. I decided I’d try to break his grim demeanor. When I asked if his serious expression was part of the job or had he been taught to look like that while in training?-a small smile broke his stoic countenance. He soon walked over to us and started a conversation. Kyle and Sean were enthralled. Then, in a moment, he told us that he wanted us to stay put-he had a big surprise.
When President Clinton finished his speech and walked down the steps of the podium, our agent friend greeted him and proceeded to lead the president, vice president, and their families in our direction. I became concerned about the boys’ safety as I noticed the large throng was also moving in our direction. When President Clinton saw my boys, the two youngest faces in the crowd, he immediately stopped. Before I even realized what was happening, we were surrounded by Secret Service agents. They held out their hands and told the onrushing citizens to stop and step back.
The gregarious and charismatic president decided to take a minute to have a chat with my children. Sean tried to shrink back from the attention. He seemed to want to disappear into my coat. Six-year-old Kyle, however, decided to seize the moment. When President Clinton dropped down on one knee to be at eye level with his young fan, Kyle asked him why his plane was late and complained that he’d gotten cold waiting for him. With this, both the president and vice president erupted into laughter. Continuing the conversation, President Clinton asked Kyle how old he was and some questions about his school. The president then stood up, lightly tousled Kyle’s hair as he thanked him for coming out to greet him, and said, “I’m sorry you got cold, little buddy.” Before they rushed away, Kyle had shaken hands with everyone in the Clinton and Gore families.
When we arrived back home, I told the boys to memorize the evening’s events so that one day, when they have children of their own, they could recount the story about their chance meeting with the president of the United States.