Because my family took very few vacations, our trip to Washington D.C. when I was around 5 is one of my most vivid memories. It included all of the tourist must-sees, including a side excursion to Monticello. In D.C. I recall being terrified of “big Lincoln” staring down at me. I remember marveling at the concept of our hotel’s rooftop pool. How did the rooms below not get wet? When I asked my brother, he told me those rooms were discounted. Seemed like a good answer at the time.
The voyage to Washington was not uneventful. We had borrowed my grandmother’s Oldsmobile for the journey—I suppose because our own car was not road worthy. I remember begging to move from my place between my parents in the front seat; I wanted to be wedged between my two big brothers in the back. After all, is there any better spot as a little girl—or so I thought. The Blue Ridge Parkway was breathtaking in its Springtime beauty—at least until the twisty turns brought out my brother David’s car sickness, and all of a sudden my favorite gingham checked dress was covered in vomit. To this day, I do not know why David turned to the middle to up-chuck on me when he could just have easily turned to his left and soaked the door. I have never understood his decision—or forgiven it.
Days later I was still grieving my damaged dress when we toured the Capitol. I fully expected LBJ to welcome me. Every time President Johnson spoke on TV I thought he was my grandfather; there was a certain resemblance. I knew just enough about American history to recognize the portrait of George Washington. I couldn’t quite grasp the concept of the Capitol or its purpose, but once we reached the Capitol rotunda, I was awe-struck.
“Look up,” said my brothers.
“Look up,” said my parents.
“Look up,” said the tour guide, bending over to me and pointing upward.
Casting my eyes skyward, the world fell away, and I wondered if anything in my life could ever match its magnificence.
Fifty years later, I still feel shivers when I glimpse photos or videos of the Capitol rotunda. A week ago, when the insurrection occurred, I took it personally. Had those terrorists looked up? Would they instruct their children to do so? Images of broken benches and shattered glass are affronts to the patriotism of little kids everywhere.
Of all the images, one stood out to me: the photo of a rioter next to the Gerald Ford statue, a Trump flag protruding from President Ford’s hand and a MAGA hat on his head.
I was 11 years old when President Ford took office. Watergate had stolen my summer, as everyone in my family was enthralled by the proceedings on TV, and I felt like no one had time for me. Because of my age, Ford was the first President to capture my attention. Too young to fully grasp any policy nuances, I related to the fact that Ford’s daughter was a little sister to older brothers and to the the Fords’ beautiful Golden Retriever.
Perhaps because I took some personal interest in Ford and have such distinct memories of his summer ascension to power, I always felt like he got a bum rap. Not only was he a one-term president, undoubtedly due in part to the Nixon taint, but he was inaugurated with little pomp and circumstance in the East Room of the White House. His legacy often seems a mere footnote in our nation’s history.
Somehow, it seems all the more insulting, then, that the intruding thug would choose Ford’s statue to dishonor. The former president served our country in the Congress, in the Navy, as Vice President and then President. We will never know the extent of pain he suffered from his wife’s alcoholism—or the depth of their love, as their open displays of affection were well documented during their almost 60 year marriage.
So let Ford have his statue and place in history. Let him reign for posterity in a place of honor. How dare someone defame him; what utter disrespect. As images of the insurrection reduced me to tears, I was once again a little girl, gazing around, in awe of the concept of nationhood. I wonder if the protestors’ parents ever took them to tour Washington and what they taught about patriotism. I wonder if they themselves have children and, if so, what values they instill in them. I hope something moves their hearts to “look up.”
As we commence on Inauguration week, I join Gerald Ford in his prayer for our country, as relevant today as 47 years ago:
“Let us restore the golden rule to our political process, and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and hate.”
One thought on “Jerry’s Bum Rap”
Melissa, reading “In The Middle” is one of the highlights of each week for me. At just a few years your senior in age, a 3rd of 4 kids and dealing with an aging mother-in-law and adult children, nearly everything you write resonates deeply. And you are so gifted with phrasing and how you put feelings in words. Thanks, and I hope to be a reader for many years!