The Time-Traveling
Transgender First Lady


This is me when out in the field tired and sweaty. This was one of the only close-up pictures I had handy.

There is an implicit intimacy to our relationship, you and me. When you pen a lifestyle column like this one, personal stuff invariably serves as fodder for our weekly adventures together. If you have followed this Friday afternoon lunacy for more than a little while, you end up knowing more about me than perhaps you might wish to. That can be a two-edged sword.

Dave Barry is kind of my hero. Second only to perhaps the Apostle Paul, that guy is my hands-down favorite writer. He wrote a regular column for The Miami Herald that would often just leave me in stitches. Dave’s humor column was syndicated in newspapers across the country. I looked forward to each and every one. I own an embarrassing collection of his books.

Even today, whenever I refer someone for a colonoscopy, I encourage them to Google “Dave Barry Colonoscopy” a couple of weeks before. That will put them in the right mindset to have someone ram a giant snake-like medical instrument up their backside. If you have a free moment, check it out. You’ll thank me later.

Dave Barry was a very successful writer. His work was adored by millions. He won the Pulitzer Prize. By contrast, I pretty much write for ammo money. However, a guy can always dream …

Along the way, however, I felt like I kind of got to know Dave. I enjoyed the adventures he had raising his two kids. I knew each of his dogs by name. I followed along through his three marriages via details he shared in his regular columns. Tidbits of his style sneak into my work with some regularity. One of my favorites of Dave’s many inspired references was his use of letters from “Alert Readers” as column fodder. I do that myself from time to time as well.

Most of your letters and emails are kind and supportive. A few are deranged. One guy, and you know who you are, absolutely despises me because I maintained my dog Dog (both her name and her species) outside while living in the Deep South. Dog and I enjoyed each other’s company for 15 years before she died of natural causes. However, this gent has repeatedly called me a “heartless bastard” for not letting my smelly outside dog sleep inside with the humans. He’s clearly not from the Deep South, where it is so warm and temperate. Alas, we eventually just agreed to disagree.

I recently received a most fascinating email from an alert reader. Paraphrased, it read, “Have an observation for Dr. Will Dabbs: You, sir, bear a strong resemblance to President Grover Cleveland’s wife, Frances … Keep up the great writing and thanks.”

My editor forwarded it on with this addendum, “Not sure if that was meant to be a compliment, an insult, or merely an observation …” As you might imagine, I immediately Googled Grover Cleveland’s wife Frances.

Frances Clara Folsom was born in Buffalo, New York, in 1864. Her dad and Grover Cleveland were law partners. Mr. Cleveland was 27 when she was born. Grover bought Frances her first baby carriage. The girl’s father was killed in an accident when she was seven.

Cleveland wasn’t yet married when he was first elected President at age 48. While rumors swirled concerning his love life — he was, after all, arguably the most eligible bachelor in the country — most enlightened observers expected him to propose to Frances’ mom, Emma. Imagine everyone’s surprise when old Grover proposed to the mere child whose first baby carriage he had purchased many years before.

This is Frances Cleveland. She supposedly died in 1947,
some 19 years before I was born. Or did she?

When they wed, Grover was 49 and Frances was 21. She was the youngest presidential spouse in American history. Yeah, that’s kind of creepy. However, by all accounts, they got along swimmingly. They ultimately had six children, though not all survived into adulthood. Frances was the only First Lady to deliver a baby in the White House.

Grover Cleveland was the only U.S. president to serve as chief executive, be defeated, and then win the same office again later. Frances, therefore, served as first lady of the United States from 1886 to 1889 and then again from 1893 to 1897. Frances was, likewise, the only first lady to serve two non-consecutive terms.

According to Wikipedia, the country adored the president’s radiant child bride. She read all of her letters personally and actually suffered orthopedic injuries from all the repeated handshaking. She maintained a close personal relationship with the White House staff, something that was, at that time, without precedent. When she left the executive mansion for the last time, she wept openly. After Grover’s death in 1908, Frances remarried five years later. By all accounts, she was a fine, upstanding woman who did credit to both her husband and her office.

So, I have now been accused of being a time-traveling transgender first lady. That’s a first for me. My people all hail from Virginia, Alabama and Mississippi. To my knowledge, I could not have been related to Mrs. Frances Cleveland. However, I included pictures of both of us. I think she favors my mom, herself an objectively beautiful woman. Draw your own conclusions …

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