An OK Story

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The abbreviation “OK” is one we use again and again. “You OK?” we ask our children when they take a tumble, our husbands when they are late getting home, and our friends when they look down in the dumps. With texting, it’s gotten even shorter. “K,” our friend texts when we let her know we are running a little late. As we made our way home from our great Quebec adventure in August, we took a planned detour to Kinderhook, New York, the origin of that “OK” we use so often.

When people nicknamed Ronald Reagan “The Great Communicator” and George W. Bush “The Dubya,” they were continuing a long tradition. How many of these presidential nicknames can you identify?

a. Father of Our Country

b. Old Hickory

c. Tippecanoe

d. Young Hickory

e. The Great Emancipator

f. The Trust Buster

g. Silent Cal

h. Ike

The purpose of our visit to Kinderhook, New York, was to see the home of our eighth president, Martin Van Buren, who was also known by his nickname, Old Kinderhook, simply because he was from Kinderhook, New York. Folks shortened Old Kinderhook to OK and a wildly popular expression was born. And saying “OK” is not only an American habit. While we were in Quebec, I occasionally heard an “OK” popping out of a French conversation.

We drove into Kinderhook on a sunny Thursday afternoon and stopped downtown . . .

Welcome to Kinderhook

Village of Kinderhook, New York

Village of Kinderhook, New York

Village of Kinderhook, New York

. . . and posed with President Van Buren’s statue in the center of the village. This sign beside the statue reminds visitors that President Van Buren was “born, raised, and buried in the village of Kinderhook.”


Statue of President Martin Van Buren

Village of Kinderhook, New York

For some reason, I had a wild hair to kiss his bald head.

Village of Kinderhook, New York

President Van Buren’s home of Lindenhall is near the village center. Our first stop there was the visitor center. Among the books for sale was one on the history of why people say OK!

President Martin Van Buren was one of our wealthiest presidents. Though he did not grow up wealthy, he worked hard to become a successful attorney and was also a wise manager of the estate he purchased. He kept sheep in the front yard and raised potatoes and apples. In addition to his home, the National Park Service owns most of that estate. Today they rent it out to an organic farmer.


Van Buren Estate

Let’s go inside. The home has ornate architecture, such as this doorway . . .

P1010342 a

. . . and this staircase.


This wallpaper detail is from the central hall, which also served as a dining room.


While young Martin Van Buren was serving as an apprentice, his employer criticized his clothing and appearance. The future president missed the next two days of work. When he returned, he was dressed just like his employer. Clothing became important to Van Buren. When he became successful, he became a snappy dresser and changed clothes two or three times a day. He also bought fine furniture and accessories for his home.


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Lindenhall had portraits of two presidents whom Van Buren admired in particular.

President Thomas Jefferson
President Thomas Jefferson
President Andrew Jackson
President Andrew Jackson

I enjoyed seeing the service areas in the basement where Van Buren’s Irish Catholic servants lived and ran the household. The typical salary for domestic workers was $5.00 per month, but President Van Buren paid $8.00 per month, plus room and board.

Servants Dining Room
Servant Dining Room
Bell System
Bell system for calling servants to certain rooms.
Food Preparation Area
Food Preparation Area
Laundry Room
Laundry Room
Servant Bedroom
Servant Bedroom

We sometimes use the saying “OK” for a state of being that is just, well, OK — a state where we believe that things are not really bad but they aren’t all that wonderful either. Things are just, as we say, OK. A conversation may go something like this:

“How is homeschool going for you this year?”

“Oh, I guess it’s going OK.”

It is my prayer that your homeschool and your life will be not just OK, but that they will abound.

Now may the God of hope
fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that you will abound in hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13

Answers: a. Father of Our Country, George Washington; b. Old Hickory, Andrew Jackson; c. Tippecanoe, William Henry Harrison; d. Young Hickory, James K. Polk; e. The Great Emancipator, Abraham Lincoln; f. The Trust Buster, Theodore Roosevelt; g. Silent Cal, Calvin Coolidge; h. Ike, Dwight D. Eisenhower

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