Back When I Was a Child Prodigy

Last night I blogged about the State of the Union Address and how it has always intrigued me. I explained how I grew to appreciate the speech so much because of the reverence it was given in my household growing up. Well, I think I left a small piece of the equation out last night. I actually did it on purpose though because I wanted to elaborate on that small piece in tonight’s post. Believe it or not, my love for the State of the Union didn’t just start when I was nine years old, it actually started much earlier.

When I was a little kid, I had an obsession with the United States Presidents. A full blown obsession. When I turned three years old, I became fascinated with money, both coins and bills. While I could care less about the value of the money, I wanted to know everything about the faces who graced the bills and coins. It did not take long before I knew whose face was on every U.S. piece of currency from the penny all the way up to the rare $100,000 bill (Woodrow Wilson was on that note). After my parents explained to me that there were many more Presidents who existed but did not have their image on currency, my young brain felt the need to know about these “left out” leaders. My parents bought me a United States Presidents poster and a deck of U.S. Presidents flash cards. The flash cards had the image of the President along with their number and the years they held in office on the front side and then a pretty basic bio on the back. These cards held my attention better than any toy or game I had. Through my constant urging, my parents would continually quiz me on whose face was on each card. They also read and re-read the bios so often that I am sure they probably could recite them even today from memory. Pretty soon I did not even need the cards. By the time I turned four years old, I knew the name of every single United States President in order along with what number they were (I.e. George Washington = #1, James Monroe = #5, Ronald Reagan = #40, etc.).

I quickly became a hit amongst my relatives, especially when it came to my mom’s large extended Italian family. We would be at family get-togethers and great aunts and great uncles who seemed to me to be all at least 100 years old would get an absolute kick out of my little talent. “NUMBER 23!?” they would shout at me. “Benjamin Harrison,” I would confidently say immediately after the number came out of their mouth. “NUMBER 12!?” Zachary Taylor. “HOW ABOUT NUMBER 34!?” Dwight Eisenhower. They would then switch it up….”WHAT NUMBER WAS MILLIARD FILLMORE!?” Number 13. “OKAY, OKAY, HOW ABOUT WILLIAM MCKINLEY!?” Number 25. It was second nature to me…and yes, I liked the attention.

My parents started reading to me United States Presidents books from the adult section of the public library. As the books contained biographies of each President which were quite lengthy, my mom or dad would read one biography, or sometimes two if I was very lucky, each night to me. I collected more and more Presidential memorabilia. Our neighbor across the street who was a former high school history teacher and who also shared a love for the Presidents would come over with a mini quiz book on our favorite subject and ask me questions. At the age of four, I knew every random detail there was to know about the Presidents. Who was the only President not to marry (James Buchanan), which President held the first Easter egg hunt on the White House lawn (Rutherford Hayes), which President served in both world wars (Dwight Eisenhower)…all this stuff I had tucked into my brain.

When I was five years old and entered Kindergarten, I would stand in the middle of the circle and recite the Presidents to my classmates. When it was my day to be VIP, I would bring in my President books to show off. Teachers from all the different grades in the schools would come into my classroom and play the same game that my relatives would play with me (“TELL ME, WHO WAS THE #20 PRESIDENT!?” James Garfield).

When I entered the first grade, a strange thing started to happen. My interest for knowing everything about the Presidents started to wane a little. I became more interested in the WWF and sports. As the next couple years of elementary school went by, my knowledge started to deteriorate. I was no longer the “little genius” that I once was. I was pretty much just a regular kid.

I do feel a little bad because I think my parents had pretty high hopes for me when they saw what I was doing and retaining at the years of three, four, and five. I have talked to my mom and she said this to me, “Well Brent, at that age dad and I really thought you were going to go on and do great things… . (after a little bit of silence on the phone)…not that you aren’t doing great things right now!” Thanks Mom 🙂

I know she means well and I completely understand what she was trying to say. I think maybe when I was four years old she saw me working for NASA rather than in sports. But oh well, that’s how it goes. I can kind of see my parents watching me go through my schooling only as a slightly higher than average student and looking at each other when I was not around and asking “What happened to our Einstein??” Despite not winning that Nobel Peace Prize (well at least not yet anyway), I know they are proud of me for the person I have become. All three of us can live with that.

So I guess the point of this story is twofold. First of all, I told it so I could brag a little bit about the knowledge (or just great memory skills) that I had when I was a little guy. Come to think of it, I don’t really even know if I can toot my own horn too much about that because as I have lived my life I have heard of other cases where toddlers have mastered the Presidents of the United States as well. It is kind of weird, there is just something about our nation’s leaders that grips even the youngest of minds.

Okay, so I guess that leaves me with the second, and real, reason why I told this story, and that was to continue to explain my love for the State of the Union Address. When I was young, I developed a love for the Presidency. While a lot of my knowledge has left me, my passion has not. The State of the Union Address is the grand showcase of what it means to be President. It embodies the spirit, tradition, and pride of the office, something that took hold of me when I was three years old and has still not left me twenty-two years later. Don’t Blink.