‘Wash-Ad-Jeff’

When my grandfather, C.R. Burgin, was in college, he pledged a fraternity, and one of the (now quaint) hazing rituals he was put through was to memorize the sequence of U.S. presidents up through Wilson.

For this he devised a shortcut, which was to only say the first syllable of their surnames. Sixty years later he could still rattle them all off, to the never-ending delight of his children and grandchildren: “WashAdJeff, MadMonAd, JackVanHar, TyPoTay...” and so on, till the penultimate “Eli Taft,”  and the ultimate, “Tiger Wilson, Sir!” (I’ll let you figure out the Eli and Tiger.)

In August of 1980, the summer I was fourteen, I spent a week or so with my grandparents alone in Maine, and one evening he wrote them all out for me, with an update through Carter.

I’m putting this up fully aware it will mean next to nothing to those family members who didn’t know him, and less than nothing to non-family who just happen by.

But sitting on the porch of the house in Maine, listening to him recite these while the ice in his bourbon softly clinked, and watching his face fill with mirth recalling it all, is one of my sweetest memories.

This piece of paper still puts me there.

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