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George Washington's Damp Wig

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It was in the springtime. The smell of water mixing with the world was all around. The trees held heavy, dripping leaves and the fields were dark and full and hard to walk through without losing a boot.

There was to be a parade that morning. Well not really a parade, but the fact was The President, George Washington, was on a celebratory tour of the territory, after having won the election, and would be crossing the Merrimac River on the ferry that day, and to get to the ferry he would have to go right past our home: Arrowhead Farm.

I, Polly, had risen early with excitement and anticipation. I ate a small breakfast, just bread and strawberry jam, being careful not to get any jam in my hair – another story. I tidied the house, as was my morning chore, careful to sweep the hard to get up dust between the floorboards. I turned the owl, stuffed, you understand, away from the wall where it always faced so as not to upset my weedy “the eyes give me nightmares” brother. I must admit the thing was a little creepy but I always told him to “stop being so silly.”

I went outside to sweep the walkway, which I had to do in a hurry, as Papa was calling from the field for me to fetch down his best boots and coat. He was exited also; he knew The President was on his way.

The previous evening I had been making tarts and pastries in case the President was hungry, Mother had cooked three chickens with the same thought in mind. I carried the food to the kitchen table, then brought some outside and laid it out on the garden table as Mother had described. I then rushed inside to wake Mother and help her dress. She wanted to look her very best, and always said she looked best after a good night's sleep.

The dress she had picked out was low-cut both back and front, with a waistline that required her to wear a corset. She had once fit the dress with room to spare, she told me, and should have no trouble today. I pulled the corset laces tight whilst Mother held her breath, and was told to leave the room. It was after some time that Mother appeared from her dressing room looking as I had never seen her before: a little red in the face and curls up on top with a more prominent bust than I thought to be fashionable. The bodice was clad in a diamond stitch of thick golden tread and the frock flared abruptly from the hips. Father peered over his eye-piece, taking it in, and then looked to me with a raised eyebrow. He grinned with only half his mouth and I had to leave the room so I could let out my giggle.

Michael, a young boy who lived close by, came running down the lane giving the message that The President would soon round the bend. He looked dirty and quite out of breath. I brought him inside the house, giving him a drink of water, and made him stand still while I gave his face a bit of a scrub with a wet dish towel. "Stop whining," I told him, “you don't want the President to see you all dirty, do you?"

Well it would not take long before we saw them, and the parade would not have been much to see at all if it were not for the fact that it was The President! There was a bunch of walking soldiers, probably a troop or something, and they were quite well dressed but with muddy boots. Also a few, including George Washington, were on horseback, and all looking pretty damp.

They had no doubt been tempted with food before now, having come through the town center of Newburyport, but they seemed ready for more. Certainly this would be their last chance to catch a bite to eat before they crossed the river. They dismounted. My fearless brother offered to take the horses for some hay, while I made a large pot of tea. The tea was well liked by the soldiers, who sat out on the porch, smoking. The President, and three other men, I took to be generals or captains, came inside to dry off and eat.

I had thought the president not to wear one, but he took off his wig. There was a wig stand, which stood unused in our house (though in truth my father could have found a use for it), and George Washington’s wig was rested upon it, near the hearth to dry. I offered my pastries and tarts, which made Mother frown, as she had not yet served her chicken dinner. My brother frowned also when he noticed the owl, but The President ate three of my tarts!

Mother’s dinner was a great success with lots of talk about the future of America and how “we” showed the British. And the President scared me at one point when he rose and waived his pistol.

The leftovers were given to the men outside, and their leftovers to the dogs. I cleared the table and swept the floor again, keeping everything just so, and moved the wig stand to the corner as The President’s wig was now dry and getting a bit crusty to the touch.

I offered The President my lucky rabbit’s foot but he looked at it and gave it back saying that it should stay where it had been, around my neck, as his luck seemed to be holding up quite well. I smiled and put it back on.

The fourth glass of brandy was refused, and then they were back on their way to the ferry with handshakes for Papa and a hug for Mother who was smiling and flushed.

As I watched the procession head down the road I saw them stop for a few seconds while The President lifted his hat and scratched his head, he then relocated his hat and they moved on without further ado.

It was not until later I noticed that George Washington’s wig was still on the wig stand. He had forgotten it, I presume, or maybe discarded it. Maybe he was to get a new wig or not wear one at all. I never saw him again so I do not really know, but his wig, The President’s wig; George Washington's wig has become a family heirloom which I shall pass down to my children along with this story.

 

End

 

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