My wife and I returned last weekend from a much needed ten day vacation to Virginia. Besides the need for both of us to take a break, we traveled to Virginia to celebrate the 40th Wedding Anniversary of my brother, John, and his wife, Lynne. Their anniversary was actually December 30th, but their friends decided to have a surprise party for them at their home on Saturday January 3rd.
So, on New Year’s Eve night, instead of spending the evening with friends to usher in 2009, Isaura and I were packing for the trip. In fact, Isaura crashed about eleven because we had to leave for the Oakland Airport at 6:30 the next morning. I was still up puttering around when the clock struck midnight. I walked over to the bed and gently kissed my wife, wishing her a Happy New Year. She mumbled something unintelligible and went back to sleep. I smiled and went back to my packing.
Our daughter, Laura, and her fiancé, Ken, drove us to the airport the next morning. We had timed everything perfectly – until the announcement that our plane was fogged in down at Long Beach, causing us to be a bit over two hours late taking off. My nephew, Josh, and his girlfriend, Amy, picked us up at Dulles International outside of DC and took us to Lynne’s home. Lynne is a wonderful friend of my brother and sister-in-law’s and was the primary instigator, perpetrator, and motivator in getting this surprise party up and running. Lynne has a wonderful cabin on her property which she allowed Isaura and me to use for the entire ten days. It was a wonderful blessing!
My sister Joy, from Fresno, also flew in on the 1st of January, but she stayed in the big house with Lynne along with another house guest or three.
On Saturday we met with about twenty-five of John and Lynne’s friends at yet another friend’s home where we car-pooled it to my brother’s home. They had no idea we were coming, so you can imagine their surprise when they were ushered to the front door by son, Josh, and daughter, Abi. My mom has been visiting there since Thanksgiving and was in on the surprise. The look on John and Lynne’s faces was priceless when they saw all these friends gathered in their front yard holding a banner that read, “Happy 40th Wedding Anniversary!” Joy, Isaura and I were hiding behind some vehicles until they had walked outside. Then we showed ourselves, adding to the surprise. The rest of the day was spent eating copious amounts of food and quaffing various beverages while keeping one eye on the NFL play-off games.
But let me tell you what Isaura and I did the day before on January 2nd. A friend of mine, Dan, works in the White House. I had previously arranged for us to meet him for lunch at a local eatery just a stone’s throw from the White House. To our surprise, instead of eating there, Dan ushered us out of the restaurant and over to the White House grounds. Dan works in the Administration Department which is located in the Eisenhower Building. Once inside, Dan introduced us to a number of very interesting people who, like Dan, are not politically appointed, but are hired to perform essential administrative duties requiring no political affiliation.
Dan took us to the White House Cafeteria where we grabbed some food to take back to his office. As we ate our food, getting caught up on what each has been doing, I found myself amused at being in the midst of where so much activity takes place behind the scenes of our government. When we finished eating, Dan walked us around the building pointing out various government offices and introducing us to even more folks.
I was beginning to think that we’d taken enough of Dan’s time, so began to give the indications that we needed to leave. After all, this was an historic inaugural, besides the normal transition of power. It was at this point that Dan said, “I want you to meet some people.” So he led the way out of the Eisenhower Building, crossing the driveway, and entering the West Wing! This was a first for both Isaura and me. We’d previously made tours of the White House, but that was years before. And those tours didn’t include the West Wing. Once inside we saw the dining room in all of its presidential finery. We also saw a door marked, Situation Room. But the most fun was walking into the kitchen and meeting the folks who cook for the president and his staff.
The reason this was so special is that the folks who work in the kitchen (cooks, stewards, etc) are all active duty Navy (Go Navy! Beat Army!). What a treat to meet those who do all the food preparation for the president and his staff. They could not have been more gracious, taking the time to talk with us, answering the same questions I’m sure they are asked all the time. It was loads of fun!
As we prepared to bid farewell to these fine Navy folks, they presented us with one of the White House menus. Some of the fare offered was, Roasted Mediterranean Sandwich, Pecan Crusted Chicken Salad, Southern BBQ Platter, West Wing Burger, and the White House Signature Steak Lone Star Cowboy! I asked them if they would all sign the menu for us, which they did. It now sits among my other special artifacts which I have been fortunate enough to acquire over the years.
Once we said goodbye to Dan, thanking him for his generosity and time, we exited the security gate and walked up and down Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House. There were countless numbers of workmen setting up bleachers and other scaffolding in preparation for the Inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the United States.
Isaura and I agreed it was a great experience and a rare treat to see all of this busy activity for so momentous an occasion. But we’re just as glad to watch it on TV from our home in Ripon, California! And as I watch Mr. Obama take the Oath of Office, I will be thinking of the Navy folks a short one hundred yards or so away in the kitchen preparing meals for the new White House occupant.
Is this a great country, or what!