Sunday, March 20: Today, I fly from Washington to Dallas, Texas, arriving around 2:30 in the afternoon. My friend Martha picks me up from the airport. We’ve been friends since 6th grade, when we used to ride pretend horses in her backyard, trotting, making clucking sounds and jumping obstacles that we erected. We also held competitive Virginia Derbies on a marble racetrack with our extensive marble collections, all named after horses. We fancied ourselves equestrians, riding a neighborhood pony named Maybe (maybe he’d buck us, maybe he wouldn’t…). We dreamed constantly of horses; I even wrote horse stories. I guess it’s appropriate that, during my 11-day visit, we’ll find ourselves at The National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City.
I have a lot of activities planned for my time out west, including a 2+day visit with Martha, who lives in Plano just outside of Dallas; a half-day driving to Oklahoma City where we have 4 days of pre-wedding activities and the wedding of our mutual friend Rosie (our friends Charlene and Louise join us here); a day driving back to Dallas; a 3-day visit to Early, TX to see my mom’s sister, Aunt Judy; and finally, my return to Dallas. From there, I return home on March 31.
When I arrive in Dallas, Martha and I take a leisurely walk around her beautiful neighborhood in Plano. She has a fabulous house with a special guest room and bathroom set off the center of the house. Best of all she has a pool and spa in her backyard; we enjoy the spa this evening, accompanied by wine, before a delicious chicken salad for dinner. It’s a wonderful treat. 🙂
Monday, March 21: We have multiple choices of things we can do while in Dallas, but with only two full days to explore, we narrow our choices down to three. Tomorrow, we want to visit Martha’s mom in a nursing home. I haven’t seen her in years, so I look forward to the visit.
The first place we visit is the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.
In Freedom Hall, we watch a 20-foot-tall, 360-degree, high-definition video wall that orients visitors and depicts a montage of the 44 U.S. Presidents. It’s dizzying and neck-craning, but very well done.
A special exhibit at the museum, “Path to the Presidency,” is a fun, interactive exhibit that brings historic campaigns to life with artifacts, documents, photos, videos, and many other interesting components. We make campaign posters. Martha chooses the slogan: “An American Dreamer.”
On my campaign poster is the slogan “The Leader America Needs.”
Another thing I do is deliver an acceptance speech, using John F. Kennedy’s words from a teleprompter. I always enjoy the chance to be on stage! 🙂
In one especially interesting interactive exhibit, we get to weigh in on key issues from past campaigns and then build a platform in which we discover which parties have most closely aligned with our views in the past. We discover we are both mostly in the middle between the Republican and Democrat platforms. We’re also able to sit in a living room from the 1960s and watch some iconic campaign TV ads and historic debate moments, mostly with John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson.
Out in the courtyard, I stand with the giant statues of the two Bush presidents.
We then head into the regular exhibit about George W. Bush’s presidency. In creating the museum, President Bush emphasized guiding principles that were important to him and that formed the basis for major decisions during his years in the White House (from the Gallery Map):
Opportunity: Every child can learn. Free enterprise is the engine of prosperity. You can spend your money better than the government can.
Freedom: Freedom is universal. Free people will set the course of history. The best hope for peace is the expansion of freedom.
Responsibility: To whom much is given, much is required. Results matter. Serve a purpose larger than yourself.
Compassion: We have a moral obligation to relieve suffering. Fighting disease abroad makes us safer at home. Every life is precious.
The most moving display in the museum is the September 11 Remembrance Display. It’s quite powerful, with the 22-foot pulverized steel beam from the World Trade Center surrounded by multiple TV screens showing replays of each event that took place on that fateful day in 2001. One screen shows the first plane hitting the first tower, the next one shows the second plane hitting, another shows the towers falling. Still another shows the Pentagon after it was hit and the Pennsylvania plane debris. You can walk around the perimeter and watch the events unfold just as they did on that horrible day in our history.
Of course most of us can remember vividly where we were on September 11, 2001. I was in my car on my way to a book group at my church, Saint Anne’s Episcopal Church in Reston. On the way there, driving down Reston Parkway, I heard the news that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. The newscaster seemed baffled and believed it had been a small plane. As I continued driving, a second plane hit the second tower. I suddenly felt panicked and sick; I knew something horrible was happening. I had some time to spare before my book group, so I stopped at Starbucks for a coffee. I looked around at the people around me and everyone seemed subdued and shocked; the atmosphere was surreal. Dazed, I wandered absently into the adjoining Barnes and Noble. While there, I called my Dad to see if he’d heard from my brother who lived in New York at that time. I then called my brother. Luckily he was nowhere near the tragedy.
Horribly shaken by that time, but still not sure what was going on, I went ahead to the church. Our female priest told us of the plane hitting the Pentagon. She was beyond distraught as her husband worked at the Pentagon and she was unable to reach him. She decided she couldn’t lead the book group in the state she was in. While I was there, both of the towers collapsed. I drove back home and sat in front of the television the rest of the day, in tears. When my sons, 10 and 8, came home from school, I told them what had happened and we sat in front of the TV, holding each other. I reassured them everything would be all right when I wasn’t at all certain that was the case.
George W. Bush is much maligned for how he handled the aftermath of the September 11 attacks and the following Global War on Terror, but I daresay that any president faced with consoling and uniting our nation and taking action against an unseen enemy would have met with criticism no matter what he did. As Billy Wilder said, “Hindsight is always twenty-twenty.” Maybe people could have predicted that ISIS would rise up as a result of our failed wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it seemed hopeful at the time to try to get rid of failed regimes and install democracy in the Middle East (Granted, we supported these failed regimes in the earlier Cold War, from which we’ve experienced a huge amount of blowback). Most people have come to realize that democracy cannot be imposed and must come from within. In hindsight, our goals were too hopeful and unrealistic. Mixed with the desire of big corporations to control oil in a limited resource world, the repercussions have been devastating. It’s a complicated world, and actions often have complex and contradictory results.
News pundits latched on to our shared story of terrorism and, as Americans, we sat glued to our televisions, trying to make sense of it all. As for me, I read every news article I could get my hands on. I was so impacted by the events that I wrote a novel about fictional characters surviving in the aftermath a year later, when snipers were randomly shooting people in the Washington metro area and we were gearing up to go to war with Iraq. Later, still impacted immeasurably by what had happened, I took course in international relations at Northern Virginia Community College. Eventually, I got my Master’s in International Commerce & Policy; I was idealistic in my hopes to do democracy-building in the Middle East. That career path was not to be for me, but I still wanted it and still hope for it. Maybe it will happen after my lifetime.
The rest of the museum focuses on building a hopeful world, the search for liberty for all humanity, Hurricane Katrina, the Bush ranch and family life, Laura Bush’s initiatives.
The Oval Office at the museum is set up just as it was during the Bush presidency.
I enjoy the visit to the museum more than I thought I would, and actually I’m quite moved by it. After our visit, Martha and I have a nice lunch in Cafe 43, attached to the museum. I enjoy a delicious meal of chicken and ricotta dumplings with carrots, parsnip and parmesan.
After lunch, we head to the Dallas Arboretum. It’s a beautiful day for a visit. 🙂