recess radio program

02/22/06
George Washington's Mother
    by John Cech

Today is George Washington's birthday, an appropriate time to remember that the father of our country also had a mother -- Mary Ball Washington. Her rather unconventional and, at times, eccentric character is the subject of a new video from Weston Woods Studios, George Washington's Mother. It's based on a 1992 book for young people by the well-known writer of historical non-fiction, Jean Fritz.

There isn't any mention of Parson Weems' famously fabricated cherry tree episode, and gone is the austere, mythic tone that is usually associated with Washington's youth and adult life. Instead, we are treated to a different, utterly human view of this first family, as we follow Mary Ball's life. She was orphaned in her teens, and was 21, almost an "old maid" by the standards of the time, when she met and soon married Augustine Washington, a prosperous Virginia land owner.

As Ms. Fritz puts it, Mary Washington had "a mind of her own" -- she liked the isolation of the family farm near Fredricksburg, hated getting dressed up, and preferred to spend her time fishing with her first and favorite son, George, or rocking on the porch, smoking her pipe, gardening, or baking batches of her famous gingerbread for George and his four siblings. She tried to keep George close to home, but he kept trying to leave -- to become a sailor, which she forbid, and later, when he came of age, a soldier, which she was powerless to stop. And while he was away during the French and Indian Wars, she wrote George to complain about how she was fresh out of butter (and could he please send some), and during the Revolution, she requested that the government of Virigina provide her with an allowance, since she was, after all, the mother of the Commander-in-Chief.

Even after George became President, little changed in the way Mary met the world:

Brief Sound Clip:

And young people have a nice visit with this unusual personage whom they will meet on this video. It's narrated by B. J. Ward, and its images are based on the lovely watercolors by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan. It's a slice of our history as tangy as Mary Ball Washington's gingerbread.

Copyright 2006 John Cech

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Wednesday, 01-Feb-2006 14:05:43 EST


"Recess!" is a co-production of the University of Florida's Center for Children's Literature and Culture and WUFT-FM, "Classic 89."