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Friday, July 23

Founding Fathers at Work and Play

"Founding Fathers at Work and Play"
by Rod Drake

Storm clouds gather around the edges of Philadelphia. The humidity in the air makes this hot day even more miserable.

Benjamin Franklin dozes in the front row of the hall. He dreams of kites, electricity and lightning storms. John Adams’ loud oration rouses him. Adams is a windbag, Franklin grouses.

Franklin glances out the window. Carriages glide past and foot traffic bustles despite the heat. He wishes he were outside. Anything for a cool breeze and a cold drink.

Now Thomas Jefferson speaks. He is impatient. He is impassioned. The bane of youth. Franklin admires his full head of thick red hair. No powdered white wig for him. Franklin absently smoothes the few imaginary hairs on top of his head.

Sam Adams smiles across at him. Sam knows what Franklin is thinking. Sam always knows.

Franklin dozes again. He dreams of a flying machine, like in Da Vinci’s sketches. In the dream, Franklin pilots the ungainly craft over Philadelphia, waving to surprised citizens so far below. He is naked and much younger as he soars through the heavens like a giant bird, and he laughs uproariously at the panic in the streets beneath him.

Jefferson is ready to draft the document, this declaration of American independence. Now. But John Adams wants more discussion about its content. John Hancock, sitting at the table facing the congregation, feigning interest, playing idly with his gavel.

Thunder crackles in the distance. Franklin rouses and smiles. Perhaps blessed rain is coming. And maybe violent lightning. Franklin becomes the scientist again.

Another thunderclap rocks the sky, closer this time. John Adams continues talking above the excited murmuring of the delegates. Rain is more important than freedom today.

Hancock raps his gavel without enthusiasm. Jefferson laughs quietly at a joke Sam Adams has just whispered to him. Adams winks over at Franklin. Mischief is at play. A sudden cooling breeze whips through the open windows. All of the delegates feel it and sign relief.

Franklin’s daughter, Sally, slips into the back of the hall quietly. She waves mail that she has for her father. A thick stack of it. All sizes, colors and textures.

A second, more powerful blast of cool air comes. Papers are blown, maps and charts flutter. Hancock gestures to close the windows. No one moves to do it.

Francis Lightfoot Lee sticks his head out one of the windows and breathes deeply. Little gusts of wind whirl about outside. The air is charged. Shoppers and sellers hurry to find shelter.

A sharp crack of thunder ripples through the sky. Dark clouds are overhead now. All of the delegates rush to the windows. Hancock calls for order, pounding his gavel firmly. Then he gives up and crosses to the windows too.

In the sudden confusion, Franklin retrieves his correspondence. Many people seek the Great Franklin’s advice, support, approval or help. There is a new propaganda tract from Thomas Paine. Franklin enjoys these, so full of fire and outrage. Paine is a masterful writer but a terrible speller.

Thunder rumbles once more, and then the downpour starts. Everyone whoops and hollers. Some delegates stick their heads out the windows, letting the rain drench them. Others just breathe in the storm-cooled air. Independence from tyranny forgotten, they all simply enjoy the rain.

Franklin takes the opportunity to escape. Frock coat over his head, he runs as best he can to the inn across the street. He keeps his mail safe and dry. Franklin hopes that pretty young barmaid, Molly, is working. She flirts with him, and he likes that.

The tavern is dark like the day outside. It is mostly empty. Franklin takes his customary booth in the corner opposite the door. He blots the rain off his head with a perfumed handkerchief.

Then the door bursts open and half a dozen delegates charge in, laughing and dripping rain from their coats. It is raining hard now. Franklin hears the steady drumming of rain on the tavern’s roof. Candles are being lit in the suddenly boisterous inn. Time for ale, conversation and dirty jokes. Franklin smiles and feels young again.