Almost anything goes, by George

Honor: The father of our country would probably be more than a little surprised by the way we celebrate his birthday.

February 20, 2002|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Happy birthday, George.

I'm talking, of course, about George Washington, the late great Father of Our Country, who would be 270 years old this Friday if he were alive.

We don't honor him like we used to. We used to build huge monuments like the ones on the Mall in Washington and in Mount Vernon in Baltimore. We used to name national forests after him. Maryland even named a county after him.

These days, there are George Washington soccer tournaments, George Washington road races, George Washington sailing regattas, George Washington "sales events." George (or a reasonable facsimile) has even been asked to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange Friday morning.

Laredo, Texas, of all places, boasts of having the country's largest and oldest festival celebrating the first U.S. president - it dates to 1898. This year's extravaganza, which runs through Sunday, lasts 15 days and features 33 events, including a jalapeno-eating contest (the record is 141 jalapenos in 15 minutes) and a "Jam for George," which showcased live performances by the bands Blue Oyster Cult and Jefferson Starship.

How ... American.

A Web site devoted to jokes for all occasions, scatty.com, offers these witticisms - and more - for the president's birthday:

What do you call George Washington's false teeth? Presidentures!

Why did George Washington have trouble sleeping? Because he couldn't lie!

Was General Washington a handsome man? Yes - he was Georgeous!

You can find all sorts of Washington memorabilia on eBay, the online auction site. Among the offerings: a set of George and Martha salt and pepper shakers. George is holding a copy of the Bill of Rights, while Martha is sewing an American flag.

Also up for sale is something billed as a limited-edition FAO Schwarz exclusive from 1996: Barbie as George Washington. (Maybe Ken wasn't available.) Instead of the sort of regal blue jacket the stately commander of the Continental Army would have worn, Barbie is adorned in pink.

California pianist and composer Vern Pat Nelson - I'd never heard of him, either - wrote the alarmingly awful but nevertheless kind of catchy "Song for George Washington's Birthday" in early 1998. The 41-year-old musician calls it "just a silly song," but quickly points out that it's one of his favorites, as silly songs go.

Oh, my name is George Washington I wear a powdered wig I like to swing my sword about And dance this charming jig I slapped around Ben Franklin 'Cause he called my wife a pig And I chopped down Daddy's cherry tree 'Cause I - uh - thought it was a fig. Hey!

The second verse is even worse.

"I may have been drunk," Nelson admits.

A few years ago, the American Institute for Cancer Research sent out a news release titled "Remember George Washington's Birthday with Delicious, Cancer-Fighting Cherries."

"Making a cherry pie on George Washington's birthday may be a time-honored way to celebrate the Father of Our Country, but ongoing research is revealing that fresh, frozen and canned cherries offer surprising health benefits as well," the advisory declared.

Mount Vernon, Va., George and Martha's home, does a serious program for Washington's birthday, laying a wreath at his tomb each year. On his actual birthday, though, visitors to the estate who are named George, or who were also born on Feb. 22, get in free.

Last weekend, the Dr. Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry here in Baltimore - which displays year-round an original set of the president's artificial teeth - had its annual George Washington birthday party, complete with cherry soda and "I Cannot Tell A Lie" cherry pie.

In a living history presentation, a Martha Washington impersonator warned visitors not to call her husband "George." He much preferred "General," she told the crowd. You know, out of respect.

Sure thing, Martha. But for a man immortalized by Barbie dolls, salt and pepper shakers and a jalapeno-eating contest, calling him "George" doesn't seem so bad.

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