I can't imagine how George kept cool inside a house with no air conditioning, clapboard siding glazed with sand and bedroom ceilings a suffocating eight feet high. But I do know that the long back veranda seduces the sweetest of Potomac breezes, and that the lush, rolling acreage surrounding the estate is pure verdure, caressing the eye with a visual coolness that can't be coaxed from electricity.
It's fact and facsimile that make Washington's Virginia home interesting; it's your own imagination that makes it fun. Although a first-time visitor will want to hear every detail proffered by the friendly guides ("Washington was an aficionado of the card game loo, which he and his guests played on many occasions in this parlor"), a second trip ought to entail a more leisurely stroll through the vast grounds, laced with soft dusty paths among ancient trees.
On a recent visit, I escaped the sweltering, slow tourist line to rest under shade on a little bench midway between the house and the tomb. There, shaded by a sturdy oak, I could almost hear the echoes of the plantation workers as they bustled from the tiny outbuildings to the main house; I could almost see messengers, dignitaries, friends approaching on horseback from the main gates far below.
I wasn't the only one to succumb to such musings. As I sat dreamily staring across the pasture, a small couple made their way down the path, their conversation wafting delicately in my direction. "I shall be leaving tomorrow for Washington, Martha. The nation calls, and I must go."
"Oh, George, must you?" came the little girl's plaint. The boy stopped mid-path, took the girl by her shoulders and gave her a stern look. Perhaps he had Washington confused with Napoleon; perhaps he felt the gentle tug of history, but he placed one hand under his shirt, over his heart. "Martha, it is my duty as a President and forefather."
"Well, I shall have the cooks prepare a feast before your journey, then," sighed the young First Lady, and the two continued down the dusty lane, oblivious to all but their imaginings. MOUNT VERNON PLANTATION -- Take the George Washington Parkway 17 miles south from Washington. Open 9 to 5 every day of the year. Admission: adults, $3; senior citizens, $2.50; ages 6-11, $1.50; under 6, free.