Thursday, January 04, 2007

Gerald R. Ford: What I Remember

38th President of the Unites States of America Gerald R. Ford and his dog, Liberty.

As kids we remember different things. Those who served with him and the pundits alike talked about Gerald Ford's ascent to the office that he never sought. They recalled his fairmindedness, his willingness to listen and respect those with a different opinion. They marveled at his willingness to put partisan showboating aside and work for a common good. All true. But I remembered a few other things that could only be captured by my then-teenage mind back in 1974.

I remember being at the seaside house we used to rent every summer and being called inside. To be called in from the beach signified something serious was going on. Dressed in a swimsuit and still scratching the sand from my legs, I found out that Richard M. Nixon had just resigned. It had been a crazy year. Watergate was still being unraveled, Rosemary Woods spoke of missing tapes and Spiro Agnew was gone. All of this came to a head that summer day. We watched on the small black and white TV as he, his wife Pat and the Fords walked to the helicopter awaiting them. The long slow sadness was over. Nixon, who after a long controversial career finally let his worst qualities rule him, could only watch as the guileless Ford ascended into an office usually reserved only for those who had run for it.

And though I was only a teen, even I knew this term was going to be different. First off, this man had a dog and kids. But they weren't like Tricia or Julie, whose patrician good looks made the White House seem on the verge of being a Breck commercial. No, the Ford kids were like us, they were common. You got the feeling that they probably were a loud lot, that they probably came home and had a good row now and then, rummaged for a bag of chips and jockeyed for space on the sofa to watch the tube. And over time, the photographs confirmed this impression: Susan washing her car at the White House, Jack's bedroom was even published in TIME. It was a mess. Clothes on the floor, things draped on chairs, a tennis racquet and an unmade bed. The next week people wrote in: "Clean up your room!"

So it was a pleasure to watch all the Ford kids come together this week to so gracefully endure what has been a marathon week of memorials. They showed love, dignity and solidarity. The Fords were the last normal bunch of kids to inhabit the White House. In many ways, they were a benchmark of all that was normal then and seems so extraordinary now.

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