My life can be measured in four-year chunks–high school, college, graduate school, and Presidential terms. I was 10 months old when Roosevelt was inaugurated for the fourth time. At four, I remember little about Truman, except that my Dad admired him. At eight, I was President of my neighborhood “Ike” Club. I realize now that I hadn’t read up on Adlai Stevenson. At sixteen, I found Kennedy’s Inauguration thrilling–his immortal words: “Ask not what your country can do…” and Robert Frost’s poem: “The Gift Outright.” Though I couldn’t yet vote in 1964, I was a staunch supporter of Lyndon Johnson. I missed voting in the 1968 election due to the Virginia residency requirement, but since I worked for McKinsey & Company at 1700 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, Steve and I watched Nixon’s Inaugural Parade from the office windows.
The Inauguration of George H.W. Bush in 1989 was the one I remember most vividly. My Mother died that morning. She had walked to her polling place in Amarillo to vote for Bush, but on the morning of his Inauguration, she succumbed to cancer at age 85. I had been with her in the Amarillo Hospice for a week, but had come home to Arlington on January 18 to check on Steve and our three children. I spent Inauguration Day planning two memorial services for her. Somehow, in a spirit of bipartisanship, I went to an Inaugural party that evening with Steve, whose company needed him to be there. Our family flew to Texas the next day for the first memorial service in Lewisville.
In 1993, when her brother and sister were away in college, Shelby and I went down to the Mall in Washington the day before Clinton’s Inauguration. The weather was mild and the crowd very festive. We felt part of Democracy. Maya Angelou read her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at the Inauguration the next day.
Obama’s Inauguration in 2009 attracted many friends and relatives. Marjo came from Ohio the week before; she and I actually got to see Obama from a distance when we were visiting the Newseum, not just this cutout. Located on Pennsylvania Avenue across from the National Gallery, the Newseum is a prime spot for watching the InauguraI Parade. I remember seeing many Black families there, joyously celebrating our first Black President. Next came Lilli, my niece Kate, her husband Willy and their friend Sarah Goldy. They went down to the Mall along with a million others, while I watched from home and provided transportation. We all listened to Elizabeth Alexander read her poem, “Praise Song of the Day,” and to Yo Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, and Anthony McGill perform a new work by John Williams. That night we celebrated at a party hosted by our friends Elizabeth and Jan Lodal.
Four years ago Obama’s Second Inauguration featured Richard Bianco reading his lovely poem, “One Day,” which you can hear here. Friends in our Florida community celebrated with a party at the Quail Ridge Tennis Center. To decorate the tables I contributed models of the Capitol and the White House, 3-D puzzles that our family had put together over Christmas. Word about the party got around and we were overjoyed to see that Quail Ridge has more Democrats than we thought.
Today is the 18th Inauguration Day of my life. I watched the transfer of power enacted at the Capitol. Everyone was well-dressed and the Mormon Choir sounded strong. I was hoping for a small measure of humility, grace, and eloquence, but those hopes were dashed. What I heard was a very dark view of the America I love and a jingoistic version of our place in the world. And alas, no poetry. I cried for that absence. I was glad to hear three prayers at the beginning and three more at the end. We need all the prayers we can get.