Sunday, July 14, 2013

July 14

This was Gerald R."Jerry" Ford's high school graduation picture,
taken in Grand Rapids, Michigan,  43 years before he'd become
U.S. President No. 38.  Wasn't he dreamy? 

"The Constitution is the bedrock of all our freedoms; guard and cherish it; keep honor and order in your own house; and the republic will endure." Gerald R. Ford (July 14, 1913 ~ Dec. 26, 2006)

  So, it happens that a decent man and one of our nation's presidents came into the world one hundred years ago today. Baby Leslie Lynch King Jr. was born in Omaha, Nebraska, little knowing that he'd later be named after Gerald R. Ford, the man baby Leslie's mom married a few years later, having escaped her abusive husband, bless her heart and courage.   Much less that a disgraced president would peg him for the vacated VP spot after Spiro Agnew's downfall. Or that he'd have to step into the Big Job himself, after Richard Nixon's own disgrace and downfall?  

Or did baby Jerry know, as all babies do ever so much more than they can articulate by way of their fresh, immature mechanisms? Earlier this evening I read a short story by Muriel Spark that got me to thinking. In it she writes, "...babies, in their waking hours, know everything that is going on everywhere in the world...."   I had considered that babies come into the world, still perfectly aware of the language spoken in Heaven or whatever realm they've just left. Unable to speak it. Forgotten it by the time they can form words.  

Anyway, the day poor, valiant Mrs. King's baby was born, I'd be willing to bet that grand parades were going on in Paris, being as it was Bastille Day. 

  Being as it was the 124th anniversary of the day when crowds of outraged Parisians, fed up with the sordid chasm between haves and have nots and their heedless, corrupt government, launched the uncivil uprising that sparked the French Revolution.  The 28th U.S. President was newly inaugurated and things were tough and rowdy in the Balkans.  And of course the troubles there and many an elsewhere were laying the groundwork for the assassination in Sarajevo less than a year later that'd spark the great and terrible war, thanks to gaggles of bullheaded diplomats and jealous, pissy monarchs, unwilling to compromise their nationalistic, i.e. partisan views. That'd lead to another war even worse, even more deadly. In 1942, young Jerry Ford of Michigan signed up to serve in it, in the U.S. Navy. 

Gerald Ford didn't run for the presidency. Scandalous twists of fate and a Constitutional crisis plopped him into it, but he stood up the job with decency, even going so far as to get himself in some serious soup by pardoning his tormented, resentful predecessor, wiping out the legal trouble Nixon had gotten himself into with all his conniving. And why? For the sake of national healing, as Ford saw it. For the common good - what a concept. 


Thursday, July 4, 2013

Long Live the Republic

So, here we are, Citizens, our experiment in self-governance has made it 237 years. That's how long it has been since those warm, tense gents, all properly clad in natural fibers, signed off on the earnestly edited wording of their Declaration of Independence.  More than once over the years I've written - and illustrated - done my best to capture this critical, pivotal time/space intersection at July 4, 1776/ Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
What wouldn't I give for a time machine - if only to witness
this room, those delegates, in that nervous summer of 1776
Most memorably, in The Revolutionary John Adams. 

But too, in my first book about the Adamses of Braintree, Young John QuincyThomas Jefferson,  George Washington, and The Remarkable Benjamin Franklin. All of these, but for my regrettably out-of-print book about young JQA,  were done in a very happy, industrious season of work with the National Geographic. Currently, I'm yet again envisioning the stormy birth of our revolutionary republic. More specifically, how our national flag came about, in a book, tentatively titled A New Constellation: FLAGS and the Star Spangled Banner. It will be set in a history of flags, ending with Francis Scott Key's heartfelt poem, written after he'd witnessed the British bombardment of Baltimore's Fort McHenryHow does this book differ from my earlier works? For one thing, it will be published by Albert Whitman. They published my most recent book, that being about a most stubborn, idealistic patriot, trouser-wearing dress reformer,and Medal of Honor, Dr. Mary Edwards Walker.  Really, I generally do historical books because such subjects suit my realistic way of drawing and painting AND I love the research. The Finding Out. Which has involved traveling to such places as the Adamses' homes, to Mount Vernon, Monticello, and Independence hall. The hardest part about doing these books has been distilling down all of the informations to the limited word count required for a proper picture book. Gotta leave room for the pictures, right? 

I write this in honor of the Day, this Glorious Fourth, but also in answer to questions posed by my author friend, Leslie J. Wyatt. Such as What would I like to try as a writer that I haven't yet? As a matter of fact, I've been doing just that lately: revising and revising a contemporary, middle-grade fantasy novel. I'll keep you posted. I would like to write a bestseller!  God knows I've tried that more than once, but, as has been said, many are called. Few are chosen.  And What scares me? What scares all too many of us in this here 'land of the free, this home of the brave: That the grand legislative machine conceived by those long-gone founders will fail in its ability to govern the nation, thanks to our all too partisan and divided land. In the weeks to come, do be watching for other writers, the gifted Sharon Mayhew, for instance, as they ponder Leslie's questions.

Long live the Republic! 
"I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will triumph in that Days Transaction, even although We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not."  John Adams, July 3, 1776