Hillary Clinton was trying to reach Eleanor Roosevelt the other day when she got a wrong number.
"Eleanor?""Hello? Who's calling, please? This is Mary speaking."
"Mary Todd Lincoln. Were you calling me, dear?"
"I was hoping to talk to Eleanor Roosevelt."
"Eleanor is not here. May I be of service?"
"This is Hillary Clinton. I need some advice. The press found out I've been having imaginary conversations with Eleanor. Now they think I'm weird."
There was a sigh on the other end of the line.
"Weird? If you want weird, darlin', you've come to the right place. When my husband Abe was in office, the country believed me demented. How they took on when they discovered I was holding seances in the Red Room. Southerners hated me for marrying a Yankee. Yankees hated me because I was a Southerner. And they all thought I was a few bolls short of a cotton bale."
"How did you ever survive?"
"I played along. It saved me from having to attend many of the functions at which a first lady's presence is required but not always stimulating. I took to my parlor with my needlepoint and spent many productive hours there. Are you clever with a needle, my dear?"
"I'm afraid not. I don't have much time for hobbies, what with trying to raise Chelsea and reform health care and get my husband re-elected. And every day there's a new rumor about Bill and me."
"Oh, will the burdens of a first lady never end! You have my utmost sympathy. I worried night and day over my brood in the White House. And we were suffering all that nasty war nonsense as well."
"That must have been difficult."
"If it wasn't one thing it was another. General Sherman burnin' the South. General Grant tippin' the whiskey bottle. I did not approve of his indulgences, and I told Abe so. My husband couldn't trust anyone. Of course, we didn't have what you people today call `spin doctors.' We were quite at the mercy of the press, and those men were oftentimes downright ignoble. Abe suffered frequently from the melancholia."
"We've had a few restless nights ourselves."
"Try sleeping in Abe's bed, darlin'. You might take comfort from it."
"Thank you. We'll try that."
"You know, my dear, first ladies have never had an easy time. Abigail Adams was called `Mrs. President' for her fervent anti-Federalist views. Dolley Madison had a way of cajoling information from members of Congress and giving government jobs to her friends. That did not enhance her popularity."
"Yes, but now there's a snack cake named after her."
"A snack cake? How cunning. She always did have a sweet tooth. Julia Tyler had her particular troubles. Folks said she took her role as first lady too seriously. She wanted to bring Texas into the union in the most sincere way. Sarah Polk set up a desk right outside her husband's office. Didn't the country raise a ruckus over that! And Edith Wilson kept this great nation together when her husband was felled by a stroke. She was a strong woman in the world of men. But hers was a thankless job."
"I guess you can understand such persecution."
"No one was more vexed than I, I'm afraid, while Abe and I served our country. I persuaded my husband to pass the Emancipation Proclamation, but I was vilified for purchasing 300 pairs of gloves. A lady's hands get so cold in Washington!"
"Yes, it is a cold, cold town."
"Well, I must run, my dear. Nellie Taft has organized a quilting bee, and I am to anchor the corner. I hope I have provided some solace."
"Yes, you've been a great help, Mrs. Lincoln. Now if only I could get rid of this splitting headache."
"Headache? Let me see. I believe Dr. Freud just passed this way. I'll put him on."