Yesterday on New Years' Day, we got up early and traipsed on downtown to see a President lie in state.

It wasn't that big a hardship on me to get up that early on the day after New Years' Eve, mostly thanks to some heavy duty cough medicine which I took at 5:00 pm the afternoon before and then slept through until the next morning, missing the entire countdown to 2007. But I did force my husband and child out of bed and made them come with me as well. They were good sports about it.

President Ford is the first president I was aware of as a child. My memory of him doesn't go back to the Watergate stuff, but I do remember him being in office and running for [re]election. I was in second grade and we had a school-wide mock election to teach kids about the election process and democracy. We all went behind makeshift curtains and voted like 40% of us would really do when we were older. Ford won Hawthorne Elementary's election, but not the United States'.

I remember him falling down a lot... or rather the joke in the news that he fell down a lot; he probably didn't fall all that much, it was just highlighted by the Chevy Chase sketches on Saturday Night Live. I remember when there was an attempt on his life by Squeaky Fromme. What a weird time. (Like now is normal, right?)

As I got a couple of years older, my mother told me about the whole Watergate thing and showed me clippings she'd kept from the papers during the time period. I remember being incensed (like much of the rest of the country) that he pardoned Nixon. I felt Nixon got away with it and that it wasn't right or fair. But now I understand a little more about the whole period and I think he made an incredibly courageous decision. I feel badly for this basically good guy who didn't seek this office or any of the situations he found himself it, but simply took it on when it was thrust upon him. I am impressed by his attempt to heal the office of the president - even when he knew it would be unpopular.
In a televised broadcast to the nation, Ford explained that he felt the pardon was in the best interests of the country and that the Nixon family's situation "is an American tragedy in which we all have played a part. It could go on and on and on, or someone must write the end to it. I have concluded that only I can do that, and if I can, I must."
I still don't know if I'm completely over the childhood indignation around the fact that he pardoned Nixon, but I understand why he did it.

So for some reason, when I saw that he'd be lying in state on New Years' Day, I felt that I just should go.

It was an interesting experience. Since we got down there so early, there was no line at all. We walked (and walked and walked) to get to the only entrance to the capitol and passed a sign that said the estimated wait from that point was six hours. Thank heavens for partiers' need to sleep in, because we filed past that sign and another that said four hours and another that said two hours, right up to the front of the line and the metal detectors. The metal detectors that detected a forgotten pocketknife in the KingofHearts' pocket and kept him from going in (he was told he could go in if he gave up his knife, but he wouldn't get it back... apparently the knife holds more sentiment that President Ford for the KingofHearts). He waited outside for The Dormouse and me.

The whole thing was fairly anticlimactic, if you think about it. Once inside the capitol, we quickly filed past President Ford's casket in the rotunda. No stopping. Seriously don't even slow down, because a guard will yell at you, even if you are just bending down to talk to your child about what you're doing there - because you should have done that before you came, I guess. We separated into two lines and went past in a circle on each side. That’s it. Yet thousands of people came over the past two days to do exactly what we did: walk by in silence and exit out the other side.

Just before leaving the rotunda on the other side, a woman stood at the end of the line. She said, “Thank you for coming.” and shook my hand warmly. I did not recognize her and assumed she was perhaps a Senator or a representative of the capitol or something. I later learned she was President Ford's daughter, Susan Ford Bales. I wish I'd known at the time and thought to say something to her, but I have no idea what that would have been.

I'm not really even sure what I have to say about all this. I just wanted to be a witness to history for a minute. To make the point that this basically good guy who tried to help the country deserved my attention and recognition. To take a minute to remember why I love my country and how grateful I am that I live in a place where the goal is always to try and honor everyone's individual freedoms, even if we aren't always successful. That's all.