A Big Day for All of Us
A lot of folks claim the District of Columbia as their home and those who claim native Washingtonian status are asked one question and one question only. It isn’t what high school did you go to. It isn’t where’d you live. It remains to this day, "So, where were you born?" Hint: It doesn’t count if you were born in Maryland or Virginia, no matter how close your hospital was to the District line.
It's a city that's full of transients…folks who are there for a brief idealistic while after college, for the four to eight years of a new administration or working in one of the departments and bureaus that are scattered throughout the City and into Maryland and Virginia. But, to this day, a rarity is the native Washingtonian.
When I was a kid, Washington was a small, Southern city, easy to navigate and laid out on a pretty logical grid by L’Enfant in the eighteenth century. I first lived in the Adams-Morgan area of Washington, close to the National Zoo, but my family became a white flight statistic in 1956 when we moved to Silver Spring, Maryland. The City remained familiar, though, and Christmas and back-to-school shopping all happened downtown on F Street. Woodward & Lothrop (Woodies), The Hecht Company (Hecht’s) and Garfinkels…these were our big department stores. Sure, a few suburban branches existed but they were nothing like the downtown stores. There was even a Best & Co., in Chevy Chase as I remember.
And because it was Washington, DC and politics is the main game in town, most kids had family or family friends who were involved in the business of government or reporting on the business of government. May Craig, an important journalist and frequent panelist on Meet the Press, was neighbor Buzzy’s Claggett’s grandma, and frequently in the neighborhood for Sunday dinner, regaling all with insider tales. I can remember parties where young Al Gore, one of David Brinkley’s sons (can’t remember his name now) and various embassy kids were regulars. I guess it’s like L.A. Sooner or later you’re going to be partying with someone who doesn’t know you but you know all about him.
And elections always were big deals in Washington, even to kids. Most children knew the names of the players at a pretty young age. "I Like Ike." That’s what I remember about Eisenhower. That and a black and white photo at our neighbors, the Rowe’s house. In the picture, my friend Jere's mom, Mary Lou Rowe, one of Eisenhower’s secretaries, is sitting on the corner of a desk (Ike’s?) with a coke bottle in one hand and a cigarette in the other and in the background, there’s the president. The first presidential race I vaguely remember was the 1956 (I was eight) election. I had an "Adlai Stevenson…The Thinking Man’s Candidate" button. Secretly I wished I could wear an "I Like Ike" button. Much catchier. More fun and punchy. Hard for a kid to talk up Stevenson’s superior intellect. I was disappointed that the guy on my button didn’t win, but it didn't run deep.
And then it was 1960 and though I wouldn’t be able to vote in a Presidential election until 1968, John F. Kennedy energized American youth, including elementary school children, similarly to Barack Obama today. A week or so before the inauguration one of our very liberal neighbors asked my parents if I could come with them and their daughter, Ellen, to the Inauguration and the parade. They’d moved to the area the year before from Washington State and would only be in DC for two years while Ellen’s dad was a visiting professor at Georgetown. That connection somehow secured tickets in the stands and transportation (from the University) to the Mall. Because a lot of dignitaries hadn’t been able to make it to Washington due to the winter storm the night before, people were encouraged to sit pretty much wherever they wanted so if you were able to make it through the snow, you could pretty much be assured of a decent seat in the stands.
I remember being pretty excited about missing school and am ashamed to say that most of my memories of that very special day involve the bitterly cold weather. We’d had heavy snow the night before, although you’d never know it by looking at the parade route. Pennsylvania Avenue and any important access roads along it were clean and dry, the snow having been plowed, shoveled and dumped into the Potomac by what I now know to be thousands of members of the military. Grassy areas were piled high with snow that hadn’t been moved and Ellen and I spent most of the parade climbing the frozen mounds, doing cartwheels, making snow angels and running around having snowball fights with other random kids under the bleachers.
But what do I remember of the important stuff? Not much. Even the entreaty from Ellen’s parents to hurry up, the President’s limousine is almost here fell on deafish ears. We got there in time to see the black convertible’s tail lights disappearing slowly up Pennsylvania Avenue, the President and Jackie barely visible. Can I tell you how disappointed I am in myself?
And then years later, my daughter Jane, who was asst. press secretary for Wisconsin in the first Clinton-Gore campaign (and we have the picture of her with the President to prove it) drove off to Washington after the election to work on the Hill for Wisconsin Representative and now Milwaukee Mayor, Tom Barrett. She went to an Inaugural Ball (I don't remember which one) and lived the DC life for seven years, until she and her husband moved to Los Angeles.
And now the Obamas!
This morning my best DC girlfriend, Kathy, sent me this email.
"I am on my way down to the Inauguration. Wind chill 8 degrees! Help! Hardest part so far has been finding someone to go with me. One of our former law clerks. A really sweet guy whose wife said no way. John is going, but is biking down the canal. That sounded a little bit too ambitious for me, so we will be taking a train/bus and will then walk. Look for me on your telly!
Isn't it all just too much?!?!?!
And then later on she made more to say...
"Okay, so I was dressed in so many layers I looked like a kid in a snow sujit, but did it ever pay off. I never got cold. Did get a little stiff standing on the frozen ground for 4+ hours. Getting down to the mall was a breeze. Left on Metro at 7 this morning and got down there on the mall in about 45 minutes. We were halfway between the Capitol and the Monument watching the whole thing on the jumbotron with the Capitol straight ahead of us. Close enough to see the bunting. It was cool staring at the Capitol in the distance while we watched Obama take the oath on the big screen. Getting off of the mall took a lot longer. Abut 2 hours to get to the Metro, but then it was clear sailing. Linda, the whole experience really was incredible. We were hugging strangers. Lots of tears. Everyone around so jubuliant, and hopeful and happy, happy, happy. Every time they showed Bush's stupid face on the Jumbotron the crowd would start singing "na, na, na, goooood byyye!" Great to be with millions of like minded people! As we were standing around trying to get home we actually saw Bush's helicopter fly away. Isn't that neat? Later, Jeremy and I got separated -- the crowd was so huge -- but we already agreed that if that happened we would just go it alone. I think I made better time. Got home at 3:15. Not bad.
I am so sorry that you couldn't text me. I just got a new phone and that would have blown me away! Gosh, I would have loved having you with me! What did you think of his speech? Wasn't it great when he took those shots at the past administration? I couldn't believe that Michelle did not wear a coat! She looked kind of bulky, so I'm hoping that was long underwear. And why didn't those girls have on hats? Linda, you can't imagine how cold it was today (yes you can, you lived in Milwaukee for all those years). By the way, Amy Holmes is talking now. I can't stand her. Can't they find someone less Republican?
Okay, I've got to take a hot shower. I've been watching the parade, but I am stiffening up. I think I walked about 10 miles today!
Love to you, and aren't we all incredibly lucky to have that wonderful family in the White House? Yippee!!!!
This is not a woman prone to multiple exclamation marks. To me, she says it all with..."aren't we all incredibly lucky to have that wonderful family in the White House."
Yes, Kathy, we are.
And, in case you’re interested. I was born in Sibley Memorial Hospital…the old one, in Washington, DC.