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Chapter Eighteen Retirement 1 Coming back to Independence offered the first reward of retirement. Truman vastly enjoyed the small town, where he could take morning walks and see people, tipping his hat to ladies, replying in kind to gentlemen, or look upon the houses with their well-kept front yards-grass mowed in summer, leaves raked during leaf time, yards kept free of swirling trash yearround . The town's history reached into the past, but, unlike Kansas City, Independence had not developed: its population approached 20,000, not much larger than when he was presiding judge. Another attraction of coming home was that he and his wife at last could own the house. In the spring of 1953 they bought out the three Wallace sons; Mrs. Wallace had died intestate, and the family agreed to fix the house's worth at $25,000. The Trumans already had made a few changes, such as painting it white, with green trim, and replacing rotted millwork and broken roof slates. In 1950 a carpenter extended the back porch six feet so the president could read the morning papers in privacy or Bess hold sessions of the bridge club in summers-the house had no air-conditioning. Curiously, after the Trumans bought the house they put very little money into it. They spent so little on it that, when they passed on, someone said that only the paint held it together. The National Park Service, which took it over, had to spend several hundred thousand dollars shoring it up. Return to the house after the presidency also meant that the secret service was gone. In 1945 the service had moved into a booth at the rear of the "summer White House." Neither the president nor his wife admired the booth, especially its proximity to the kitchen and back porch; they soon relegated its inhabitants to the barn that had become a garage. In 1947 the secret service put up an iron fence. Former president Hoover had urged Truman to put up the fence because of the tourists. "If you don't," he advised, 384 385 / Retirement "they'll tear the place down." The decision to do so may have come after Bess, as she sat one day in one of the side rooms of the house, heard people talking in the vestibule; when she went to investigate she found two women who had walked in the front door. But in January 1953 it was possible to think that any need to separate the Trumans from the American people had come to an end, for the American people would pay no attention to an ex-president. According to the law at the time, the agents had to go. The agents departed. After the Kennedy assassination in 1963, the secret service came back. The Trumans welcomed them with distaste. This time the "guards" unostentatiously established their headquarters not in a booth or in the barn but in a bungalow across the street on the corner of Truman Road and Delaware. They placed a television camera on top of the RLDS building at the end of the block to the south. Another of their measures was what became known as the talking gate, whereby tourists could come up to the front gate and ask something , such as if the house was open, and the gate would tell them it was not. Gradually the convenience of protection-and the helpfulness of the agents, who did small chores around the house-endeared the secret service to the occupants) In the years when the secret service was absent the retired president relied on Detective Mike Westwood as a bodyguard and occasional driver. When the service returned, the agents were unhappy with Mike, who was one of the world's worst drivers, but Truman would not allow his dismissal. The service and the president arrived at a modus vivendi whereby Mike acted mainly as a bodyguard. After settling into the house and arranging an office in the Federal Reserve Building in Kansas City, Truman set about writing his memoirs, which took much of his time until 1955. Published in two volumes, they had several purposes, all easily understandable. The most important was to record the author's life. He had set down some of his experiences during the leisure of the vice presidency-as presiding officer of the Senate in early 1945 he produced several dozen handwritten pages of description, twelve thousand words. A second purpose was to prevent other writers...


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