The American Village in Montevallo has a full-scale replica that I assumed we would only be able to view from behind velvet ropes.
To my delight, we were allowed to walk right in like we owned the place.
The room felt strangely familiar to me, like I was in one of “The West Wing” episodes that I have watched so many times.
Since it seemed like we were on a movie set anyway, our little family took advantage of the opportunity to play the part.
We each sat at the Presidential desk, a reproduction of “The Resolute Desk” that Queen Victoria sent to the United States in 1880.
The first president to use it in the Oval Office was John F. Kennedy. One of the most famous images of Camelot is a young John Jr. playing under the desk while his daddy worked.
I was inspecting the little door seen in that photo while Zac and Wyatt were taking their turn behind the desk.
Wyatt, who happened to be in the floor anyway, started crawling toward me, stopped in almost the perfect spot and peered out just as John Jr. did 50 years ago.
Of course, I caught every second of this impromptu moment on camera. When I realized how closely my husband and son had recreated that iconic photo of JFK and John Jr., I nearly fell through the great seal on the floor.
Other interesting features of this version of “The Resolute Desk” were President Harry Truman’s famous desk plate “The Buck Stops Here,” President Ronald Reagan’s jelly bean jar and a copy of the handwritten note that Reagan left for George H.W. Bush in January 1989.
It is customary for outgoing presidents to leave a note behind on the desk for their successors.
This one was on stationery headlined, “Don’t let the turkeys get you down.” Reagan wrote, “You’ll have moments when you want to use this particular stationery. Well go to it,” followed by his personal best wishes.
I’ve always felt a special kinship with Reagan.
He was the president in office when I was born, and he died while I was in college. I was glued to the TV for hours in the days leading up to his funeral and will never forget the footage of Nancy leaning over to kiss his casket.
Other than my brief moment as the first female president of the United States, my favorite photo op in the Oval Office was standing cheek to cheek with a bust of Reagan.
Before anyone takes that as a sign of my political leanings, a visit to Jimmy Carter’s presidential library almost made my itinerary for our vacation as well.
My fascination with the executive branch of government, particularly with the changes it went through in the 20th century, has very little to do with politics.
I am more interested in the wide range of personalities that have been elected to that office and how each man adapted himself to the needs of the country at his time in history.
I may be naïve, but I think most wanted to leave the nation better off when their term was over. What other motives competed with that goal and how successful each was at executing his vision are debatable.
My brief time in the Oval Office gave me a newfound respect for the many complex decisions that are made in that room.
A plaque on the grounds of the American Village described the presidency as “The Glorious Burden.”
My hope is that our current president and all who follow after him remember each time they set foot in the real Oval Office what a privilege it is to bear it.