Thursday, August 1, 2013

Having a Grand Time in Grand Rapids

July 31, 2013
Day 4
We wake to a morning that is overcast and chilly (at least for us), with alternating misty and wind-blown rain.  It is a perfect day for a visit to the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum--which is, in fact, the reason for our pilgrimage from Savannah all the way to Michigan.  

But first, we must do a little further exploration of a few places that caught our eye last night on Eighth Street in Holland, when we were too intent on finding a dining destination to stop and shop. 

We pop in Moynihan’s Art Gallery and Gifts, where we buy a fluffy ottoman covered in hundreds of colorful shredded fabric strips from India.  We saw it in the store window last night and knew it was destined to live with us.  We come for the ottoman and stay for quite a while admiring the artwork, a huge dimensional wall hanging ingeniously constructed of lots of tubes made from old neckties, and lots of unique internationally sourced home goods.

We grab big lattes to take the chill off the day at JT’s Coffee, where they have a side room with a huge Barrista School counter.  A video playing where we are waiting for our lattes shows how we could learn to make fancy designs in the foam of our espresso drinks if we attended Barrista School.  (However, we know that our $29 Mr. Coffee Espresso machine is incapable of producing foam of the correct consistency to make these designs, so we don’t eat our hearts out that we are missing out on this educational experience.) 

Our final stop is Reader’s World, a very laid back independent book store, with a great selection of beach reads and more heady stuff.  With a quick restock of our reading material, we are on our way to Grand Rapids, just twenty miles away (no backroads today). 

The Vice Presidential Museum provided a bit of an introduction to Gerald Ford yesterday, so we know that he was the only President who had not been elected to either the Presidency or the Vice Presidency.  But, at his Presidential Museum, we are surprised to find that Ford chose to remind us that he was not elected two times before we even get to the ticket counter--once through words engraved on the base of a bronze statue of him in the plaza out front of the museum, and again slightly paraphrased and engraved in stone in the foyer.  

These words from his swearing in address appear on the base of the statue:  

“I am acutely aware that you have not elected me as your President by your ballots, and so I ask you to confirm me as your President with your prayers. 

I have not campaigned either for the Presidency or the Vice Presidency.  I am indebted to no man, and to only one woman--my dear wife--as I begin this very difficult job.”  

In case anyone missed these words as they approached the museum, they would surely see them as they left--this quote is also engraved on an obelisk at the entry to President Ford’s burial site on the grounds of the museum. 

Like all the Presidential Museums we have visited, this one is packed with information that leads us to admire and appreciate Gerald Ford more than we did before we stepped through the doors.  As a museum curation panel says, “It was a unique moment in American history--the inauguration of the country’s first unelected President, in an atmosphere combining elements of personal tragedy, public scandal and popular uncertainty.” 
His overarching accomplishment was being a decent and honest enough person to restore the American people’s trust and faith in the office after both his predecessor Vice President and President had acted unethically and dishonestly enough to be forced out of office.  He only had thirty months in office, after all.  It is amazing that he could get much of anything done, but as his congressional colleagues said, “he’s a workhorse, not a show horse.” 

Gerald Ford's Oval Office replication

But, beyond the politics, here are a few things from his life before the Presidency that were interesting to us: 

He was born Leslie Lynch King Jr., named after his mother’s abusive first husband, whom she divorced six months after his birth.  She remarried a man named Gerald Ford three years later and renamed her son to be his step-father’s Junior. 

He joined the Boy Scouts at age 12 and attained the rank of Eagle Scout in two years.  He claimed that the virtues and principles he learned in scouting were an inspiration to him for the rest of his life.

His Yale Law School classmates included Superior Court Justices Potter Stewart and Byron White, Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, Sargent Shriver, Pennsylvania Governors Raymond Shafer and William Scranton, and US Senator Peter Dominick. Wow. 

We had forgotten about the two attempts on his life in September 1975--Charles Manson follower Squeaky Fromme shot at him in Sacramento September 4 and Sara Jane Moore tried to shoot him in San Francisco September 22. 

We could go on and on, but suffice it to say this was a man with a strong moral compass at a time when our nation sorely needed someone to chart a path.   

The usual First Lady vignette--fashion and table setting--is also here
And, of all the presidential museums we have visited, it gives the most attention to, and respect for, the influence and impact of the First Lady.  It credits Betty Ford with being an outspoken advocate of women’s rights and a tireless campaigner for the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment. She was an advocate for early breast cancer detection after her breast cancer diagnosis and surgery, leading countless other women to get checked--including the Vice President’s wife Happy Rockefeller, who was diagnosed and treated less than a month after Betty Ford’s diagnosis. 

 Her openness about her chemical dependency problems was lightly touched upon, as well, but that was pretty much after the Fords left the White House, and this Presidential Museum does not cover those years, even though Gerald Ford was our longest lived president to date, and served longer as a former President than any other President besides Hoover. 

I love this quote from Betty concerning her strategy for influencing her husband’s views on issues she cared about, women’s causes in particular: “I used everything, including pillow talk at the end of the day, when I figured he was most tired and vulnerable.”  

Speaking of being tired . . .

We are at Peaches, a Bed and Breakfast Inn located in the historic Heritage Hill neighborhood of Grand Rapids, and it is time for the bedtime part of Bed and Breakfast.

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