Tim York is 87 now, widowed and living in the shadow of Cheyenne Mountain. He deeply misses Patsy, his wife of 65 years. He tries to stay active and can be found each Sunday morning serving as head usher at the 10 AM service at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Colorado Springs, where he’s been for the last 30 years.
But like many who have suffered loss, life has its challenges.
“My house is so quiet I can hear a mosquito hiccup,” he quips, only half kidding.
Once upon a time life was very different for Tim. Back in 1954, he was launching his career with the F.W. Woolworth Company, the legendary pioneering five and dime retailer. Dating back to 1879, the brand became ubiquitous throughout the United States, with over one-thousand stores nationwide, including one in downtown Colorado Springs.
Tim’s first store was in Denver on East Colfax, where an occasional customer back in the 1950s was Mamie Eisenhower, wife of United States President Dwight Eisenhower. Mrs. Eisenhower grew up in Denver, and on trips west, both she and the war-hero- turned-president would stay at her childhood home, located at 750 Lafayette Street.
That the president and first lady would and could vacation on a tree-lined residential street with minimal security and frequent a five and dime store, no less, points to an enviable lost era of American life. We’d all be better off if that were still the case.
Tim recalls Mamie coming into the store one day in 1954 to buy a pair of reading glasses. Her presence always created a minor buzz, and this day was no different.
“The woman who collected the cash and receipts from each register was just tickled when she saw Mrs. Eisenhower,” he remembered. “So, she asked her for an autograph. But the only thing she had for the first lady to write on was a dollar bill.”
Mrs. Eisenhower happily obliged, writing a personal note to the woman across George Washington’s image, signing her name on the one-dollar bill. With her new glasses in hand, she then exited the building with her security detail, to her car idling alongside the curb.
But no sooner had Mamie Eisenhower climbed into the automobile than one of her Secret Service agents returned back into the store. He pulled the clerk aside and demanded she hand over the dollar bill.
It turns out it’s illegal to deface United States currency (Title 18, Section 333 of the United States Code).
The disappointed clerk surrendered the bill without argument. After all, you don’t usually argue with guys who have guns.
Tim wound up crossing paths with President and Mrs. Eisenhower several more times, including during his Army days while worshiping with the first family on Sundays at First Presbyterian Church in Augusta, Georgia. The president, known for golf, loved the celebrated course at Augusta National.
The young woman up in Denver may have missed out on a keepsake that day in 1954, but she was given something even more notable – the distinction of having incited the first lady of the United States to break the law.
But times were gentler back then and there would be no headlines nor nitpicking – just a dutybound agent doing his job, quietly and unobtrusively in order to spare the first family of explanation or embarrassment.
I wasn’t born until 1972, but as the world grows more chaotic and illogical, I find myself missing days and times I never lived. We need leaders with character and honor to shepherd us through our current storms – but it wouldn’t hurt to find someone with the good sense and the common touch to shop at a store like Woolworth’s either.
Photo from Twitter.