Saturday, February 07, 2009

Visit to the Museum of American History ... and into my own past ... .

It felt as if I'd stepped into a time warp ... and that young Betty might pop up at any moment. Strange experience. There was that sometimes feeling of standing outside myself looking at my process. Crazy!

I thought of Les Williams and Francis Collier, two young men who would later serve as Tuskegee Airmen,and whom I once dated as a teenager. Thought about my young husband, Mel's, vain attempt at serving his country; finding himself a victim of discrimination in the Navy that would have made him a messman when he'd volunteered to fight! And he'd left his senior year at the University of San Francisco to do so. Thought about his lifelong feelings of disappointment at having failed his country when his young friends had managed to bury their humiliation and give it their best. (These are thumbnails so you may want to click on the picture to read the newspaper headline.)

Those feelings in juxtaposition with the historic happenings on the Capitol Mall -- the feeling that -- despite all contrary logic, it has all happened so fast! The illusion that within the past few hours time had collapsed into some alien dimension that sharpened my sense of the pliancy of our Constitution that would have allowed us -- within my lifetime -- to have moved from that awful truth to this new reality. How could this be?

In front of the White House with a few of my two million new best friends... .

Lunch at the Corcoran Gallery. Along the walls is the Richard Avedon exhibit.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

On Tuesday morning (Inauguration Day!) we woke to another frigid day; an icy cold grayness ...

The phone had screamed at around 5:30 a.m. The voice at the other end was that of Kathy Hoffman, field rep for Congressman George Miller. She was to be my guide for the day. Martha had no ticket for the seated area and would be standing in the purple section, a place we'd checked out the day before. Kathy was coming in on the Metro and we needed to make some decisions about where to meet in the crowds we were sure to encounter. Our tickets had carried the warning that we had to be prepared to go through security and be in our seats no later than 9:30 for the 11:30 start of the ceremony. Kathy's call served as the alarm to get all that started.

With sleep no longer possible after the shrill awakening, Martha and I (having timed the walk the day before) began to prepare. For me it meant getting into uniform but Martha had decided to not get into full ranger dress since that would subject her to being stopped for directions by the public at every turn. I hoped that - by being uniformed -- I just might be recognizable to my kids back home should there be a camera anywhere around. (Ya nevah know.) Besides, we were theoretically on a working mission and I was on duty -- besides being the congressman's invited guest.

I showered and slipped into my very expensive long johns (guaranteed by the label to protect me from the cold), exchanged my polyester black regulation turtleneck for my black cashmere sweater that I would wear under my government-issued gray long-sleeved shirt. For the second time I wished fervently that I'd thought to slip my little flag pin into my jewel case. I'd never ever thought of wearing it before now. I knew that it was optional -- something added after 9/11, I believe, except for this day when I'd have given anything to have had it with me.

I remember looking into the bathroom mirror and seeing my mother there which brought a grin as I recognized her. Where on earth had Betty gone to? Maybe it was a sign of fatigue that made me look and feel so much older today than I did yesterday ... but I quickly pulled my hair back into its clip (have I ever worn it otherwise?), brushed on some eyebrows with a little stub of a pencil marked "charcoal", and completed the look with a little blush and lip gloss. Slipped into my hip-length regulation raincoat with down innerlining zipped into place against the bitterness, topped it off with my very distinguished dimpled ranger Stetson, packed tissues into my pockets and .. and, dropped the little snapshot of "Mammá", my enslaved great grandmother, Leontine Breaux Allen, into my breast pocket for the long walk past Mary McLeod Bethune and the Lincoln Emancipation sculpture, "Freedman," joining the thousands of folks snaking their way along the 13 blocks -- through crowded sidewalks and empty streets now filling up rapidly with eager "new best friends" from Everywhere, U.S.A. Mammá would share this day with me. It was for her as much as for myself that I was here at all. I was very much aware of her presence every minute of that historic day.

All auto traffic had been barricaded out. The crowd grew to what I would have described in the past as almost alarming proportions as we neared the Capitol, but the feeling of love and anticipation overwhelmed any apprehensions I may have been harboring. This would be beautiful and warm and caring and I had to be open to it. The long blocks may well have been automated since I had the distinct feeling of being carried along on a kind of people conveyer with little sense of effort or strain. It was like being caught up in a great tidal wave with resistance being replaced by something I couldn't name -- as we neared the site where history would be made on this day.

It was now about 7:30. Kathy met up with us at the agreed-upon intersection. We would spend the next two hours walking, lining up, waiting, waiting, waiting, being processed through security, and -- eventually -- finding ourselves seated in Section 15 within sight of the Podium but even more importantly, with a JumboTron close by -- watching this unlikely, previously unimagined pageant play out before us for the next several hours.


Top right: Little snapshot of my great grandmother, Leontine Breaux Allen, 1846-1948, enslaved until the age of 19.

Bottom: Homeland Security!