Because one-third of U.S. currency at the time was counterfeit, the U.S. Secret Service was founded in 1865 as part of the Department of the Treasury. 

“Our protective mission dates back to 1901, after the assassination of President William McKinley,” the Secret Service writes on its website. “Following the tragedy, the Secret Service was authorized to protect the President of the United States. In 1906, Congress passed legislation and funds for the Secret Service to provide presidential protection.”

Some 20-plus years ago, our family met the Secret Service, up close and personal. The scene was the White House, and the players were my brother, Ed, my sister, Ev, our mother and I – not to mention a group of tourists and White House Security.

In 1998, we three kids decided to take Mom (R.I.P.) to our nation’s capital in celebration of her 70th birthday, and the first order of business was a visit to the White House. We had planned carefully by getting advance tickets for the tour from then-Senator Enzi’s office, and then leaving early enough in the day to catch the Metro (subway) downtown. We didn’t have to wait too long in the queue, and soon we were at the security station at the White House Visitors’ Entrance.

The line moved rather quickly, although I’m always amazed that some must go back and forth three or four times, emptying their pockets of all things metallic every time. My brother and sister went through without any problems. Then came Mom.

Off went the alarm, but it was not the ordinary change-in-your-pocket variety. No, this was something different, and the Secret Service descended on us like moths to a flame, flies to ointment, ants to syrup – you get the picture. Our 90 pound, white-haired mother had set off a more disturbing alarm at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. This was not good.

Those agents, each with the tell-tale coiled wire hanging from their ears, asked, “Are you folks with this ‘young lady?’” For something like two seconds, we thought about denying any knowledge of this would-be terrorist. But reason prevailed, and we admitted the truth: This tiny senior citizen belonged to us.

“What terrible secret was Mom hiding?” we wondered.

Ev accompanied Mom to an anteroom where they wrote down a bunch of information about all of us. Then, those Secret Service guys asked a most interesting question, “Have you recently been subjected to any radioactivity?” 

Yes, it was true. Mom was glowing, and the White House thought she might be hiding a nuclear device.

The short of it was this: A few days before the trip, Mom had some tests with radioactive dyes as a checkup to her recent angioplasty and was still “nuked.” That was the alarm she had activated – a veritable Geiger counter. After Mom gave particulars and her doctor’s name, we were allowed to rejoin the tour – to some pretty strange looks, I might add. We so enjoyed seeing the Red Room, the China Room, the Blue Room and the State Dining Room, among others.

However, we noticed that all those people we’d been so tight with in our pre-tour chitchat now were keeping their distance.

I guess Mom had given new meaning to the phrase “Hot Momma.”

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