5.19.2008

A Thought About My Grandfather

I just finished watching the second part of American Experience's FDR. It was a wonderful show about a fascinating and complex president. It led me to ponder my grandfather.

My Grandfather, Clyde Brown, was a Hoosier farmer. He was an wonderful, honest and guileless man. He was humble, never put "on airs" and never spoke overly glowing of public figures. Everyone in his eyes, was an equal.

The decor of my grandparents home was simple and uncluttered. There weren't many pictures or paintings hanging on the walls. It just wasn't their way.

One photo they did have hanging, was in the hallway leading from a breeze-way to their living room. It was an old, badly faded black and white photo of a man with odd glasses, a pointy jaw, a long cigarette holder and a wide smile. One day, when I was about eight years old, I finally asked my grandfather who the man in the photo was, "Is he a relative?"

He looked at me then back at the photo. He fixed his gaze hard on it, as if he'd almost forgotten it was there. I remember looking at his reflection in the dusty glass covering it. Then, in a hoarse whisper he muttered, "That's the President ... that's the President." A visible tear rolled down his tanned and weathered face. Something he did not do.

He had a wonderful laugh, and a whimsical, almost mischievous smile, but he didn't cry. He was born a Mid-Western Baptist in 19th Century, stoicism and he were good pals. I'd only see him emotional again when he lost my grandmother, then later, when he was in his mid-90's, loosing his battle with age and reason.

For me, that moment was indelible. I remained forever fascinated with presidents and the presidency. I studied history, eventually becoming a Presidential historian. Knowing what I know about FDR, I consider him a great president, but I don't hold him or any president with the same esteem my grandfather had. I know too much, I've become too cynical. What I do retain from that moment, is a respect for the office. I may not always respect the person in office, but I have a great and profound respect for the Presidency; The idea and ideal of it.

I've seen first hand how FDR's programs allowed my family to stay afloat during the depression. Allowed them to keep their farm, and feed their family, neighbors and America. I witnessed a silent moment of gratitude to that man and those programs. I witnessed a "thank you" simultaneously sent across four decades in time and to heaven.

My interest in history was born from that moment, and that grateful tear.

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