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WEST TISBURY, Mass. President Barack Obama spent his last day on a Martha's Vineyard vacation buying ice cream for his daughters at a general store and an oatmeal-raisin cookie for himself at a deli.
Wearing a White Sox cap, jeans and a black fleece jacket, the president made an unscheduled stop at the small village just up the street from his rented Chilmark farm. The jaunt was one of the few times journalists have seen the president in public without golf clubs.
Obama made small talk with patrons before buying candy and ice cream at Alley's General Store.
"Hope you guys are having a good time," Obama told one customer as cameras clicked and the floor underfoot creaked.
The 12-minute expedition was one of the few public ones for the Obamas, who scheduled his first vacation as president for just a scant week amid the intense pressures of his office.
It was hardly the long week of quiet time to catch his breath that Obama had sought. The break began with a delayed departure last Sunday because of a hurricane, was briefly interrupted when he announced he would nominate Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to a second term, and then took a dramatic turn of tone when Sen. Edward M. Kennedy died.
Rather than relaxing, Obama ended up delivering remarks about the economy in a high school gymnasium full of the White House press corps and a eulogy to his former Senate colleague in a Boston basilica.
Even the return trip to Washington required attending to a presidential duty. At Otis Air National Guard Base in Massachusetts, where the Obamas boarded Air Force One, the president met with the family of Marine Cpl. Nicholas Xiarhos, who was killed in Afghanistan on July 23.
"I think that when I said that the president wanted you guys to take long walks on the beach and relax and just enjoy yourselves and that there would be no news, maybe it was a little bit of wishful thinking," a slightly sheepish spokesman Bill Burton told reporters. In fact, Burton had brought his own wife to Martha's Vineyard, expecting a light week.
It's practically written into the presidential job description that no commander in chief can take a true turn-it-all-off vacation. He gets briefings from aides almost every day. World events invariably intrude.
Obama found time to go to the beach and to the golf course several times. He's played tennis with his wife, gone out to dinner and grabbed deep-fried takeout for a private lunch at senior adviser and friend Valerie Jarrett's home in Oak Bluffs. Other quick trips away from the compound meant climbing a historic lighthouse and taking a fast bike ride around the idyllic island off the coast of Massachusetts.
During the final hours of his vacation, he and his family made a quick trip to buy souvenirs and snacks under gray, rainy skies. He walked from the country store, where he suggested earrings for his daughters but lost out to Nerds candies. He handed a clerk a $20 note for a $4.99 bill and declined change.
He then walked across the parking lot to a deli. There, a clerk suggested he try a fresh cookie.
"You know, I think a cookie sounds about right," said Obama, who was accompanied by daughters Sasha and Malia and his niece, Suhaila Ng.
At that store, Garcia's Bakery and Deli, he made pleasantries with the staff and posed for a picture.
"You're going to be a freshman this year?" Obama asked the clerk who charged him for his baked goods. "That's exciting."
The Obamas returned to the White House Sunday evening. But the family is going to give vacationing another try, with a five-day visit to the presidential retreat at Camp David, Md., over the Labor Day weekend.
"The agenda is to try to get a little rest and relaxation," Burton said. "He's looking to get a break from his vacation."