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Chapter Two The Bank After graduating from high school, Harry Truman followed a remarkably indirect course in choosing a career, until he ran for public office in the early 1920s and finally discovered what he wanted to do. The youngster, setting out on life's journey in 1901 at the age of seventeen, was led by one thing after another. At the outset each job came along by chance, and he seized upon it for the moment, with nothing larger in mind. He was possessed of a good deal of the desire to "get ahead" that is evident in most youngsters-that is, he wanted to do well. But at least into the farm years, which began in 1906, he had none of the driving ambition that is evident in some young people and marks them off as very special. No one would have seen Harry Truman as ambitious, and years later, when he became famous, some people had a difficult time remembering that they had seen Harry Truman at all, even though he had been in close proximity. He was a slight youngster in 1901, thin and sharp-faced, with a shock of hair flopped across his forehead and the large Truman nose protruding, his eyes watching interestedly but languidly. He seems to have been addicted to bow ties and hats of a rakish sort; he was photographed in such. But that did not prove anything, for such was the dress of the day, together with the inevitable dark suits-dark because they did not show the dirt of the streets and thus did not have to be washed in those days before dry cleaning. The scene of his endeavors, Kansas City, was as nondescript as was Truman. Community leaders were making efforts to beautify the city, but they had not gotten far; at least, their efforts had not advanced to the places where Truman lived. The houses were boxlike affairs with porches across their fronts, not far from the street, perhaps so that sewer lines would not have to run far; a tree or two might stand out in front. They were new, put up in the nineties perhaps, but were drably alike; as the youth walked along he probably had trouble knowing where he was going. And then there were the sights of Kansas City's downtown, which in Truman's time-this long before 22 23 / The Bank the mall movement depopulated the centers of American cities-was filled with people and noise and must have been exciting to a young man, especially a young man just out of high school, who had spent his few years in semirural Independence or on farms to the south between Independence and Lamar. Still, it too, like the city's residential areas, was hardly memorable. Kansas City was no Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, or New York. The downtown area was perched on a series of rounded hills, some of which had been scooped out and the others not. The buildings had been erected without the slightest consideration of neighboring structures and usually without the slightest architectural merit, in whatever was the style of the time. One of them was as high as eleven stories, with arrays of windows all looking down with boredom, maybe, on the people who thronged the sidewalks. And yet there was a logic in Harry Truman's life over the years until he found himself-even though he did not see the logic until long afterward. He later said that if someone wanted to go into politics he needed preparation in three fields. One of them was finance, and in his first years after high school he learned finance of a sort: he worked in two large banks in Kansas City. The second was farming, and when he went out to the Grandview farm to help his father-his parents had moved back the preceding year-he remained eleven years, and, after his father's death in 1914, he managed the farm himself. The third requirement, he said, was experience in the U.S. Army: in 1905-1911 he served two three-year enlistments in the National Guard. In 1917 he enlisted again, and after the war remained in the army as a reserve officer. The preparation gained from these three experiences was general and often only vaguely pertinent; it had little to do with later requisites for a career in politics, especially when compared to attending a prestigious law school or a modern-day institution...


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