My book, "More Than Presidents, the personal lives of the men who shaped a nation," began as a local project to support the local community's ten year project of presenting life-sized bronze statues of every United States president on the city street corners of our town.
Little did I know how this would spark an interest in the hearts of the readers far beyond our local community to a following of international scope. I have learned that my book is now given to ESL immigrants from other countries who are studying American history. Wow!
One of my greatest joys is the annual gathering of the blind and visually impaired for their conference in our city. In the culture and practices of the unseeing, public displays are off limits to them as they can only "see" exhibits by touch and this is not allowed in public surroundings.
Every year I have the honor of leading a guided tour of our presidential statues to these special people. We transport them throughout the town by a special trolley with a microphone to tell the visitors the stories of each of the presidents before we debark to "see" each statute. Without restrictions, they run their hands and fingers over the hard, bronze likenesses of their national leaders, often commenting on Lincoln's big ears, the eagle on the presidential seal on FDR's podium, and finding the hidden cane to support the weakened president's departure. I have often told visitors, "You haven't truly seen these statues until you look at them through the eyes of a blind person."
In our town we can suffer unbelievably cold weather and high winds, leaving those in need ill-prepared for the weather. Miraculously, as the temperatures drop, the presidential statues become covered in warm hats, hand-knitted neck scarves and mittens and jackets are draped on the shoulders of these cold, metal depictions of our national leaders. These garments carry the sign, "Take me," for anyone in need to bear the winter cold. Children's jackets are draped over the statue of John Kennedy Jr. Huge thanks to those haves who extend themselves to the have-nots.
My book, "More Than Presidents" was never intended to be a historic reference regarding the political positions of these men. As I began my research on each U.S. President, I wanted to focus on the human side of each leader; to delve into the personal events that created thees men who rose from stark poverty, dysfunctional families, psychological plights and fears. I also discovered the humor surrounding their everyday lives that kept them above the fray.
The chapters narrate stories such as the comment made by Abraham Lincoln when accused of being two-faced. Lincoln looked the accuser right to his face and said, "If I was really two-faced, do you think I would have chosen this one?"
Calvin Coolidge, known as Silent Cal for his brevity of speech, was once approached by a lady sitting near his table at a restaurant and said, "I made a bet with my friend over there that I could get you to say at least three words." Coolidge continued eating, looking up just to tell the woman, "You lose."
In my research to learn more about the real man, his early life influences, and the family dynamics that affected so many of them, I realized that there was a common thread that ran through all of their stories; the influence of their mothers, religion, perseverance and determination. There was also a common thread of dependencies; alcohol, depression, mental illness, and despair.
As an author I write about the human condition. Actually, I am a historian by any means, but the incredible stories were the real focus for me. I wanted to tell the reader more about the man than about the leader. Political history can be skewed to the point that three references will all have different facts about the political history of our presidents but earlier personal stories are generally proved out by literature.