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Chapter Six County Judge In the 1920s and early 1930s, Harry S. Truman was a slightly jowly man with a straight mouth and friendly eyes. His hands had lost the horned touch of the farmer; they were fleshy, almost soft-this was no farmer, so a handshaker might have thought, but a businessman, and if not that at least a city dweller or, since he lived in Independence, a town man. And how to appraise him otherwise? It was the era of George F. Babbitt, and Truman was a good deal like Babbitt. He was full of his American Legion activities and his Masonic initiations; he took friends and acquaintances to the Kansas City Club, dressed with care, and sported the flashy neckties of the time. He looked like a thousand other middle-aged denizens of downtown Kansas City, maybe several thousands of them. But there was something different about him. Inside this no-Iongeryoung -but-not-quite-old man (he turned forty in 1924) was a burning something or other, a desire to succeed that differed from that of other people. Everyone wanted to succeed, but in Truman's case there was an intricately balanced combination of the ideal and real, a kind of poise, that was almost bursting, if one can put it that way, seeking to emerge. The haberdashery could not hold it. The prosaic-as one easily can see-business of being a booster had limits, despite his susceptibilities. This was a man who, when he met the right opportunity, could do marvelous things. In the past he had not known what he wanted to do. He engaged in pursuits or enterprises he had begun by requirement or happenstance, and either they did not fascinate him or he did not succeed at them or both. In Independence in the 1890s he had enjoyed school but did not do exceedingly well: in the list of five honors graduates of Independence High School in 1901, among forty-one class members, his name did not appear. Nor did he like working in banks in Kansas City. He did what was necessary, and considerably more, and his supervisors believed him a valuable employee, but beyond that he spent no time thinking about banks, and instead of returning to 91 92 / Harry S. Truman Spalding's Commercial College he attended the theater. The farm had been a familial necessity-his father needed him. He was a good farmer; John Truman demanded it, and the son enjoyed farming anyway and tried to excel. But the farm never brought in a great deal of money, certainly not enough to support Bess in the way he or she wished, and in any event Bess would not have stayed on the farm. The lead and zinc mine held promise, but it required a great deal of work, and then he lost out. The oil business did no more than break even; he and Morgan had not gotten the pipe down deeply enough to tap the Teter Pool. The army took two years, and he enjoyed them, but essentially he was a civilian soldier. The haberdashery, which he entered with such bright prospects, was a financial disaster. His two early avocations he may have been forced into, and in any event he failed to take them very far. As a youth he displayed a bent for books about history, and he read far more than most youngsters, but the reason he did it may have been the inability to play childhood games because of his expensive glasses. Eventually he stopped reading history books. His interest in the piano, so much remarked, perhaps also arose because of the glasses. He found the piano interesting but gave it up. When he moved into Mrs. Wallace's house at 219 North Delaware, there was no piano in the house for thirteen years. All this was preliminary to a day in July or August 1921, when the haberdashery was failing. As he stood behind the cash register gazing at the empty store, he happened to look out the front door and see the Locomobile of Michael J. Pendergast, political boss of eastern Jackson County and brother of Thomas J. Pendergast, "big boss" of Kansas City. Mike was accompanied by his son Jim, who had been an officer in the 129th Field Artillery. Father and son came in and proposed that Captain Harry run for eastern judge of the county. Harry Truman had little else to do and agreed. It was...


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