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Obama and the Little Snowflake

Obama and the Little Snowflake
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Those of us who live in New Hampshire saw the just-concluded primary season unfold like nowhere else. Everyone came here — candidates, eager campaign staffers, press — and we soaked it up. We didn’t catch newsbites; we had conversations. Our flesh touched their flesh. Our eyes met theirs. No wonder the state holds onto its first-in-the-nation status with a fierceness that the rest of the country resents. But we got to know candidates more personally than anywhere else — for instance, Barack Obama.

Long before the world knew much about the way Barack Obama could capture and hold a crowd with his message of hope, empowerment, and change, he arrived in the town of Peterborough, just a few miles east of our Yankee offices in Dublin. There was no fanfare, no entourage. It was cold and spitting snow, one of those bleak early February days in 2007, a year before the New Hampshire primary.

He stepped down from his bus in Depot Square, alongside the local diner. He had one aide, who held an umbrella over Obama’s head. His audience numbered, at best, 80. He could have given a cursory talk and hustled back into the warmth of the bus before heading to more promising territory, somewhere inside, with more listeners. Instead, he gave a speech that stirred his listeners. I wasn’t there, but I wish I had been. I heard this story from my friend, Annie, who stood in the snow with her 82-year-old mother, Mary.

Obama spoke for 30 minutes. When it was over, Annie phoned me. Before that day she hadn’t known very much about Obama. She has no television, rarely listens to the news. But his words riveted her, and she left convinced that this was a politician unlike any we’ve known: a man of character who won’t be blown this way and that by the prevailing political winds. She said as Obama spoke, her mother pressed closer to the front. Mary reads deeply and widely; she also owns no television, but her constant home companion is National Public Radio and she can speak with depth about any issue.

Obama took Mary’s hand. She stands about five feet tall. Her hair is white. She was wearing her trademark white cloak against the chill. “I never thought I’d live to see this day,” she said, moved to tears by Obama’s speech and by the notion that just maybe, maybe, America would embrace the son of a white woman and a black African. He held her hand for a moment and said, “Thank you so much. That means a lot to me. You look like a little snowflake.”

There’s a photo of Obama bending down to say those words to a little lady in white in a small New Hampshire town. It hangs in her house, and in her daughter’s house. If you look at the photo, you’ll know that Obama’s improbable journey from obscurity to the Democratic nominee for president of the United States is not a fluke of history. It’s not a mystery. On a dank New Hampshire day, he lit a fire in everyone who saw him. Then he just never stopped.


Yankee editor Mel Allen is the author of A Coach’s Letter to His Son.

Updated Monday, June 9th, 2008

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