Life Stories: Momentous Occasions

There are times in our lives when we participate in occasions that are unusual or somehow momentous to us. One of those occasions for me was the recent inauguration. In writing our life stories and sharing them, these occasions provide a picture of the times as well as a perspective of the person who was the writer.

Why did I go?

I was inspired on an impulse initially and after I talked to my cousin Craig who lives in Washington, the reservation turned into a ticket and I was elated.

As I made my way to Washington the Saturday before the event, I felt like everyone else on the plane from San Francisco was going there too. Craig and his girlfriend, Linda, met me at Reagan airport. My bag didn't arrive with me but took a later flight and we went to Georgetown for supper. The place was packed with people. It was great to see Craig and Linda and I will be forever grateful to them for their kind and generous hospitality during my stay.

After dinner, it was midnight and we went to see if my bag had caught up with me but the place was locked. I saw it through the window though, so I was encouraged. Borrowing a toothbrush and t-shirt I fell asleep in the cozy guest room immediately when my head hit the pillow.

The next morning, Linda was gone to tend to her mom in a nursing home north of Washington. Linda was away all weekend with her mom and Craig and I were left to fend for ourselves. We began the day by retrieving my suitcase and then going to brunch at a famous grill, a grand old place with dark wood and brass that reminded me of some of the old classic San Francisco eateries.

Thus fortified we drove down Embassy Row and I saw the Danish and Russian Embassies and many more, grand old houses set back from the street, or in the case of the Japanese Embassy modern and very clean-looking. Flags flew at the doors. We drove by Bill and Hillary Clinton's home, up a potholed cul de sac, a classic red brick colonial with white columns, three stories, shades down on a tree-lined street, right near the vice president's residence. I wondered, in passing, if Joe and Jill had moved in yet. Or if Dick had moved out.

Then, there was the National Cathedral. We went in just as the service was starting. And we had communion together in this Episcopal church. Craig said, “now that's something I never thought we would do together, take communion!” It's because he was raised Lutheran in Wisconsin and I was raised Catholic.

After that, we went over to the Mall and walked around along with the hundreds of other people in small groups, walking, taking pictures. Craig said that Washington had never seen such an event unfolding. Thirty thousand police and National Guard troops were there, troops on every street corner, watching the people, standing in groups. We walked by the White House and saw the reviewing stand. I took a picture of Blair House, kitty-corner from the White House. As I snapped the photo, I wondered if Barack Obama was in there practicing his inaugural address.

We went past the new Newseum, a tribute to the media. It houses a large piece of the Berlin Wall with accompanying newspaper stories and photos lining the walls. The very top of the Twin Towers, singed and bent is on display along with an exhibit about the Oklahoma City bombing. The highlight was the short film of Pulitzer prize-winning photographs narrated by the photographers who took them. There was the photo of Lee Harvey Oswald being shot by Jack Ruby. And the famous photo of the Vietnamese prisoner being shot in the head and the little girls running down the street after their village was bombed with napalm. It was very moving and dramatic. When these photographers went out on the day these pictures were taken, they had no idea what would happen, their mantra was stay ahead of the action and when the event was happening, they just kept snapping and snapping and they captured these historic moments that are etched in our consciousness.

The Sunday concert was going to begin any time, while we were in the Newseum. And then we heard James Taylor singing and we went over to the railing. He was singing on the Mall at the Lincoln Memorial, just a few blocks away, and a half a million people were out there watching the concert. We watched it over the railing on a giant screen with several hundred other people. It was a wonderful concert. Stevie Wonder, Bruce Springsteen and so many more and we saw the Obamas taking it all in from their seats near the stage.

Craig and I had a front-and-center view standing over the railing, and we weren't out in the freezing cold of the afternoon either, which was an added bonus. But we were still in the atmosphere of the crowd in Washington that was growing larger as the minutes passed.

After the concert, we stopped for a glass of wine at another cozy restaurant and it felt good to sit down and visit a bit. We talked about our families and how we didn't see each other very much growing up and I said that I was glad that we were able to spend this time together now. I guess, as we realized that we are both news junkies, the history in the moment was very moving in its own way. And it was rewarding to be spending this precious occasion with a member of my family.

We drove back to Arlington after that and I was able to unpack a little and take a shower, which felt very nice. I made us some swordfish that turned out pretty good. Craig liked it. We watched TV and went to bed early.

The next morning, it was about 7 and I was just thinking about getting out of bed when there was a knock at the door. “Margaret, get up!” said Craig. “MSNBC is filming and we can go there and have breakfast and watch it live.”

I got out of bed and we left within 30 minutes. We parked at Union Station and walked over to this place that was packed with people. They weren't letting anyone else in so we stood around on the sidewalk watching our breath in the cold and finally got inside a tent that was near the door. But no luck, they weren't letting anyone else inside. So we gave it up and went back over to Union Station and had a great breakfast right there. That's a grand old place too. And they were setting up tables for one of the balls that was going to happen later that night.

We searched for souvenirs, but Craig said we should go over to the White House because they had a better souvenir collection in their gift shop. So we went over there and he stayed in the car while I went in but it was closed and they referred us to the other official souvenir store. Well they had everything you can imagine. There were calendars and cufflinks and bowls and t-shirts and mugs and a whole assortment of items.  I got a mug for myself and one for my mom and a refrigerator magnet. I was satisfied. Craig got two t-shirts for Linda's niece and nephew and two mugs for them.

After that we went to the Jefferson Memorial. There he is, “a true Renaissance man,” as Craig said. And the words, “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal,” high on the wall over our head, heralding the birth of a new country.

I was done for after that, needing lunch and a nap. It was overcoming me how many people we had already seen, how many people were there, how many police were milling around, how many thousands of porta potties were “blocking the night sky,” as Craig put it. Tomorrow was going to be huge. And we were supposed to go out for dinner later with two friends of Craig and Linda's.

We went back to Arlington and I made a salad and pretty soon, I was asleep on the sofa. It was the best thing I could have done. Later that afternoon , Craig went out to get some better gloves for standing out in the cold, to protect his fingers from the frostbite that he had from when he was a kid, ice skating in Wisconsin. So, as it turned out, we spent that afternoon preparing for the event the next day, each in our own way.

The dinner with their friends was at a lovely restaurant, but I could barely eat a thing, I was getting butterflies for the next day. When we got back and I went in my room, I took some melatonin so that I would be sure to get a good sleep for the big day, which I did.


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Short Story
Historical
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Our stories define us, they tell who we are and where we come from. Our stories also help us to preserve the memories of our loved ones. It is important to preserve your stories so that they are not lost.
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Momentous Occasions should be preserved.
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