A Widow, a Chihuahua, and Harry Truman: A Story of Love, Loss, and Love Again

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9780062516725: A Widow, a Chihuahua, and Harry Truman: A Story of Love, Loss, and Love Again

A Different Kind of Love Story

When Mary Beth Crain lost her husband of only three years to cancer, she though she would never again know the meaning of the word happiness. Inconsolable, she couldn't imagine anything with the power to draw her out of the seemingly bottomless pit of grief.

But there was a savior - or two - on the horizon, in the form of President Harry S. Truman, Mary Beth's idol, from whose practical wisdom she had always drawn strength, and his namesake, Truman, a three-pound Chihuahua. Drawing upon Harry Truman's wise words, and the small but powerful furry presence that brightened her world, Crain shares her experience of overcoming loss by finding inspiration and joy in both her dog and a former president who was the embodiment of common sense, integrity, and optimism.

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About the Author:

Mary Beth Crain is a journalist and coauthor of Angel Wisdom, Angel Courage, andThe Tao of Negotiation. She shares her home and her heart with Truman the Chihuahua and three very large cats.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Harry Truman and MeI was sworn in one night and the next morning I had to get right on the job at hand. I was plenty scared, but, of course, I didn't let anybody see it, and I knew I wouldn't be called on to do anything that I wasn't capable of doing.

From as far back as I can remember, I've felt a closeness to Harry Truman. This can undoubtedly be explained, on one level, by the fact that he and my favorite grandfather, Lou Bretstein, looked so much alike that they could have been candidates for that separated-at-birth thing.

This is a bit of an irony considering that Papa Louie was the only rabid Republican in a family crawling with liberal Jewish Democrats. In fact, as the story goes, he got so excited on election eve, 1948, that he forsook his usual temperance to get stinking drunk and slide down the banister yelling, "Hooray for Dewey!" at the top of his lungs.

But the grandfather fixation really takes up only a small amount of space in a heart full of reverence for Harry. His great fortitude, coupled with a level of integrity unheard of in politics and rare enough outside of it, impressed me so much that during the tough times in my life I somehow found myself turning to him for courage and inspiration.

I remember one time a few years back, when things were really bad. My mother was undergoing surgery and I had to travel three thousand miles to be with her, leaving Adam, who was inexplicably under the weather with what turned out to be terminal cancer, on his own. No sooner had I arrived than my brother, who was supposed to come from Michigan to help out with my mother, ended up in a hospital emergency room in Grand Rapids after nearly severing part of his hand. To make matters worse, I'd just had a book deal fall through. Ali, the timing of the universe.

I spent ten hours a day in the hospital with my mom, after which I'd go back to her house and collapse. "Do something nice for yourself," my aunt advised me one evening over the phone from Florida. "Go out to dinner at a nice restaurant. Treat yourself."

Hmm. I thought about what would make me feel really good. Then I made myself a hot dog and sat down with Plain Speaking, Merle Miller's book of conversations with Harry Truman, which just happened to be staring at me from one of my mother's overloaded bookshelves.

I was soon reminded that Harry Truman was no stranger to adversity. Nothing ever seemed to come easily to him. He toughed it out when his father died, putting his own dreams on hold to take over the family farm. He weathered the First World War as Captain Truman, heroic leader of men in battle. He endured the terror of financial ruin when a failed business enterprise plunged him into debt with a wife and child to support. And his political life was one long, arduous climb up an endless mountain of scorn and contempt-attitudes that metamorphosed into reverence only years after he left the White House and people finally recognized the remarkable qualities that had made him one of our greatest presidents.

Yet all Harry had to say, when asked about the tough times, was, "What I did was what I had to do.... And I always went ahead and did it as best I could without taking time out to worry about how it would have been if it had worked out another way. Or to complain about what happened. You'll notice, if you read your history, that the work of the world gets done by people who aren't bellyachers."

Oh, brother. I could sense Harry's finger pointing right at me. I'd been feeling pretty sorry for myself this past week, I had to admit. Why? Because I wanted things to be different. I wanted my mother and brother and husband to be okay. I wanted that book deal to go through. I wanted life to be permanent-press. But life, like people, gets wrinkles. That's what it's all about. And I realized in that moment that Harry Truman's great strength came from the fact that he never expected life to be easy. So he was never disappointed or thrown for a loop when the sea got rough. You could say that he came into this world with his philosophical life preserver on, and it kept him afloat for eighty-eight years.

"You can't always do what you'd like to do," Harry reminded me, from another page. "And the sooner you learn that, the better off everybody is."

Those words instantly made me feel better, calmer, asthough I'd taken a couple of Extra-Strength Excedrin. Extra-Strength Truman, that' s what it was. And so, for the rest of theweek, I consumed hot dogs and the wisdom of Harry Truman every night, and I must say I couldn't have done anything nicer for myself.

When Adam died, though, even Harry couldn't make me feel better. Maybe it was because the one tough thing he'd never had to face was losing Bess. Considering how much he loved her, he might not have been able to make it without her, although my instinct tells me that he would eventually have gotten up and dusted himself off and gone on just as he always had, a little emptier inside, perhaps, but still in the ring till God himself took him out.

But I needed something stronger than Extra-Strength Truman to get me through this one. Something that would either numb me forever or bring me back to life. Something that would make me remember what joy felt like. Something miraculous, something magical, something I couldn't believe existed. Something like ... a chihuahua?

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