When I was a child 80 years ago, I looked forward to February at school. We celebrated Abraham Lincoln with construction paper silhouettes on windows and stories of his honesty and integrity. We made paper and clay log cabins and learned to love education just as Abe did when he was a boy reading by the light from the fireplace.
I miss that learning; it’s not enough to celebrate Presidents Day. George Washington and Lincoln each had a day. One of my treasures is a little green book, "Lincoln Stories," which was in a huge stack of books I bought at an auction years ago. Lincoln’s tales are about his first paying job, wild greens, his boyhood friends, earthy things like that - 137 stories in all.
In 1879, a Yale professor complimented one of Lincoln’s speeches, and Lincoln asked what it was that especially interested the man. "The clearness of your statements, the style of your reasoning and especially your illustrations, which were romance and pathos and fun and logic, all welded together," he said.
Lincoln replied, as usual, "That reminds me of a story." It was his illustrative stories that made Lincoln famous. Author J.B. McClure said, "All the world knows" Lincoln’s stories were "pointed, pungent, pithy and practical - and readily available on every occasion."
A man visiting the White House was carrying a cane. Lincoln said that, as a boy, he always carried a cane. "My favorite one was a knotted beech stick, and I carved the head myself. There’s a mighty amount of character in sticks. You have seen those fishing poles that fit into a cane? Well, that was an old idea of mine. Dogwood clubs were favorite ones with the boys. I suppose they use them. Hickory is too heavy unless you get it from a young sapling. Have you noticed how a stick in one’s hand will change his appearance? Old women and witches wouldn’t look so without sticks." He was a storyteller!
On common sense: Once a man called on Lincoln in reference to a newly invented gun; a committee had been appointed to make a report. The report was found to be a most voluminous description. "I should want a new lease on life to read this through," he said, throwing it down on the table. "Why can’t a committee of this kind occasionally exhibit a grain of common sense? If I send a man to buy a horse for me, I expect him to tell me of its points - not how many hairs there are in its tail."
On people applying for jobs: The applicant was a buxom Irish woman wishing to sell apples on the railroad. She said, "I must have a pass or the soldiers will not let me." Lincoln wrote a few lines and handed it to her.
Then a father, a staunch Republican, asked for a position for his son. Lincoln asked if they had seen the secretary of war. They said the appointment was refused. Lincoln, tired and near the end of a long day, said, "I cannot interfere with his business." Then he relied on an earthy comparison to get the point across: "Gentlemen, I have thousands of applications like this every day. ... There are just too many pigs for the tits." The women present covered their faces and turned away, and the father said, "We then left the presence of the greatest and most just man who ever lived to fill the presidential chair."