Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inaguration Day Recollections and Musings Before Ceremony

Who is not focusing on the momentous events of this day? I have been thinking about past inaugurations that I remember. My family was always very interested in politics. something that I have written about before. My dad was for years the Democratic Party Chair for our Texas county, and elections were family affairs for us. Thus we always followed elections and subsequent events very closely. Here are some recollections:
  • As a young girl, I remember that my entire class was taken in cars to my teacher's home on inauguration day. We were seated on the floor in front of her television. For some kids, this was the first TV they had ever seen. We watched the inauguration of President Dwight Eisenhower. Yes, I am that old. I remember thinking to myself, "This is nice, but Adlai Stevenson should really be up there!" I was probably the only kid in the room with a partisan attitude. All the same I remember feeling that this was a momentous event.
  • The next one I really remember was the Kennedy inauguration. What struck me that day was seeing Robert Frost. By then I had decided I would major in English in college and was already a poetry lover. I remember how Frost's hands shook as he held the sheets of paper with his poem, and the tremulous voice with which he spoke. I don't recall how much longer he lived, but clearly he was in the later days of his life, and I felt lucky to see and hear him. It wasn't really until the next day that people started repeating the "ask not" phrase and I began to realize the historical quality of Kennedy's speech.
  • I watched the Carter inauguration sitting on the floor of my living room with my little one. She was about two years old. We got out pots and pans, at her insistence, and she banged on them with a wooden spoon to keep time with the bands in the parade. During the pledge we both put our hands over our hearts. I wanted her to have the same strong sense of citizenship that was part of my upbringing. The thing that struck me about this event was that the Carters walked the length of Pennsylvania Avenue rather than ride in a limousine. I remember thinking what a courageous act that was in view of past violence against presidents. I did feel very hopeful that day, because I was glad to see this good and decent man fill the office.
I just now realized I have been sitting watching the events with my hands clasped before me in a position of prayer. This was an unconscious yet appropriate attitude to assume. I feel extraordinarily fortunate to be watching this event today, and to know that my dad, age 96, is glued to his television in his own living room. He very much wanted to see the end of the Bush years. To him, they have been very painful as so late in life he saw our country mired in such distressing times. I once asked what was the most scary and distressing time he could remember, this man who lived through two world wars, the depression, all the assassinations and other hard times since his birth in 1912. His reply was...NOW. He was extremely worried about terrorism, the Iraq war, and all the other upsetting events and issues from the last eight years. He has also said that, in a way, he is glad my mother passed in 2000, before the 911 event and all other distressing times since her death in June of that year.

There is in my family a regret that my brother's wife, an ardent fan of both Obama and Clinton, died in October and thus did not live to see the outcome of the election. My thoughts are with my brother today, who has the great good fortune to be in Washington DC. I know he realizes that he is there for both of them and that Nancy's spirit is with us all on this day. I am glad that he is the one of us that got to go, because I think the optimism and excitement will buoy his spirits even as he wishes his wife could be there with him.

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