HOPE -- Former President Bill Clinton said he was "stupid" to wear cowboy boots to kindergarten on a day when they would be jumping rope.
The 5-year-old future president ended up with a broken leg.
Clinton's buddy Joe Purvis went to see him in the hospital. Purvis has the photo to prove it. The picture flashed on a screen behind the men as they spoke Saturday night at Hempstead Hall.
"Thank God the picture doesn't show the little bundle of pansies I picked for you," said Purvis, who is now a Little Rock lawyer.
Clinton and Purvis spoke for about an hour at an event that was part of the Hope-Hempstead County Chamber of Commerce annual meeting and banquet.
Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty served as a moderator of sorts. He was also in that kindergarten class with Clinton and later served as chief of staff in the Clinton White House.
Much of the conversation involved the idyllic small-town childhoods the three men had. Clinton's family moved to Hot Springs shortly after that kindergarten accident, but he went back to Hope often to visit relatives.
"I tell everybody who will listen, I'm the luckiest person in the world because I was born at the end of World War II before television culture," Clinton said. "I was born in a small town where people told stories. ... You know, what we had here was gospel singing, square dancing, the county fair and storytelling."
Listening to people's stories humanizes them, Clinton said. No longer are we only Democrats or Republicans, "two-dimensional cartoons," he said.
Clinton, who was a Democrat, spoke fondly of his friendship with former President George H.W. Bush, a Republican who died Nov. 30 at age 94.
Clinton said he remembers introducing his daughter Chelsea, then 3 years old, to Bush when he was vice president under President Ronald Reagan.
"He shook her hand," Clinton said. "She said, 'Hi, where's the bathroom?'"
The vice president took her by the hand and walked her to the bathroom.
"I said, 'That's a good man,'" Clinton said.
The two men became friends.
But then Clinton beat Bush in the presidential race in 1992 and their friendship waned. But Bush's son, George W. Bush, helped fix that.
Clinton said he initially had a strained relationship with former President George W. Bush.
"I said, 'Mr. President, I know you don't like me. It's OK. That means you love your father. You're still mad at me for winning, but whether you believe it or not, I love him, too. And if I can ever help you I will,'" Clinton said.
Then, after a tsunami hit Southeast Asia in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, President George W. Bush asked his father and Clinton to work together on relief efforts.
"So our 20-year friendship was rekindled," said Clinton.
McLarty said he vividly remembers Jan. 14, 1994. He and Clinton were at the Kremlin in Russia waiting to meet with Boris Yeltsin, president of the Russian Federation.
McLarty said Clinton passed him a note.
It read: "Mack, a long way from Hope. Thanks, Bill."
"That was eight days after my mother died," Clinton said. "I was in Hope, Ark., at the cemetery just a couple of days before."
Clinton said he got along well with Yeltsin because the Russian leader was a farmer from a small village, so they had things in common.
Purvis said McLarty is the most organized person he knows.
"Every time I'm around Mack, I can feel his body tense, like a dog trying to pass a peach seed," Purvis said.
"The big thing was we grew up in an era when there was no TV," said Purvis. "I can remember evenings were spent talking to your family. You talked to people. You found out what was going on."
Referring to the era from the late 1940s to mid-1960s, Purvis said, "As much as that was a golden age, I think it was a different time when we weren't bombarded with 24/7 news and headlines and cellphones."
People talked instead, and word got around pretty fast.
"If I got in trouble in school or anywhere else, I guaran-damn-tee you my mother knew about it by the time I got home," Purvis said. "And I wasn't going to be able to stand for very long other than to hold my ankles and take the punishment and apologize to whoever I insulted."
But you can't live in the past. You have to live in the present, said Purvis.
When he was a kid, women didn't have the roles they have now.
"I was married to a very strong woman, and my mother-in-law was strong as cat food. Bless her heart," Purvis said. "But women are such a vibrant part of today's economy and everything else. That's something that's changed for the good."
He said Hempstead County is sitting on a "gold mine," citing its historical and transportation assets. Purvis said he thinks Hempstead County could be a tourist destination.
"In my viewpoint, you're sitting on a unique gold mine that none of these places around here have," he said. "But guess what, inertia is a horrible thing. Somebody's going to have to pick up the ball and run with it."
At the end of the program, the Chamber of Commerce presented Clinton with a Bowie knife made in Hope. It included the inscription, "I still believe in a place called Hope," which is a quote from Clinton's 1992 acceptance speech to be the Democratic nominee for president.
Metro on 04/07/2019
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