Imagine driving down the road during the 1970s and chatting with a talkative CB radio user calling herself "First Mama". Then imagine discovering that you were talking to the First Lady of the United States, Betty Ford!
Truckers and other frequent car travelers favored citizens' band radio in those days before the Internet, portable cell phones, and sophisticated GPS systems to get traffic information and to break the monotony of yet another long trip by chatting with other motorists along the way. CB users had a license but usually went by a nickname or "handle" when talking on the radio (for the curious, I was "Highway Star", named for a song by the proto-metal band Deep Purple).
I got a kick out of this mini-time capsule display I saw when we recently visited the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library and Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and an exhibit featuring Betty Ford's dresses and other memorabilia called "Berry Ford: An Extraordinary Life".
The purse, a gift for the "First Mama", is a quintessentially 1970s artifact from its laced and tooled leather construction, the bold Bicentennial design, to the cheeky CB handle emblazoned across the front of it.
Betty Ford was a distinct breath of fresh air at the White House during the mid-1970s. The nation loved her for her outspokenness and fearlessness when it came to speaking about issues like equality for women, her own cancer diagnosis, and her later struggles with substance abuse, along with her support for others facing those same issues.
Betty Ford was a dancer and worked at Grand Rapids' big department store, Herpolsheimer's, as a model and fashion coordinator before her marriage to Jerry Ford in the 1940s. She retained her flair for fashion throughout her life, and the museum exhibit also features dozens of dresses worn by Betty Ford as a presidential spouse.
Her favorite designers, according to a brochure I picked up at the exhibit, included Albert Capraro, Luis Estevez, and Frankie Welch. I loved seeing the dresses, many with the sherbet-like colors popular during the 1970s, and remembering some of the other things that made Betty Ford such a trendsetter in fashion, as well as in culture and thought, during the 1970s.
You'll need to hurry if you want to see this exhibit, which opened in October, as it closes February 28, 2011.
Be sure to check out my story Paying Tribute to President Gerald R. Ford in Grand Rapids, Michigan and come back next week as I write about our visit to Ford's presidential museum.
Want to learn more about Betty Ford? Check out Betty Ford: Candor and Courage in the White House by John Robert Greene.
© Dominique King 2011 All rights reserved