I woke up early on the morning of the inauguration and ran into the living room to see the TV before I even brushed my teeth. I burst into tears when I saw the crowds at the mall. It was only the first of many torrential episodes for me throughout the morning. I had some work that had to be done, finishing up a $2 million federal grant and sending it off for submission. I don’t know how I did it because I could not concentrate on work. I could barely tear myself away from the TV. Ron came home from work to watch the swearing-in with me. Our friend Jessica from Vallejo went to DC to stand at ground zero with the nation. We tried to reach her on her cell phone to tell her to raise her hand so we could find her in the crowd (that was Ron’s line). Jessica would call us later in the day and gleefully inform us that the crowd sang “Sha-na-na-na, hey, hey, good-bye” to Bush’s departing helicopter and we laid a real surprise on her: we could hear them singing that on TV! It wasn’t just the little group around Jessica, it was the whole assembly singing. Tuesday’s participation apparently represented the largest single group ever assembled in one place in the U.S. – I called it a cross between the March on Washington and Woodstock without the mud. And the DC police later reported not a single arrest all day.
When Obama emerged to take his seat, it hit me that this is real and happening. I remember on the closing night of the Democratic Convention, when Obama and Biden and wives waved and walked off the stage into the sunset. I thought, well, that was terrific, but was it the farewell? Can this thing actually fly? I remember Obama telling the nation something like, “I know I’m not the most likely candidate for President, but I’m the one who has presented myself at this point in time.” The love shown to him and his family by that multitude of people on Tuesday demonstrated that he is more than an unlikely candidate. He is the man for the job. After he officially became Mr. President, Ron leaned me back and gave me one of those V-Day kisses.
During Aretha’s rendition of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” I experienced a moment when history telescoped. The line “Land where my fathers died” did it to me. Her fathers died slaves. Although Obama’s African heritage comes direct from Africa and not slavery, First Lady Michele is only five generations out from the Old South. Her great-great-grandfather, Jim Robinson, was born a slave on Friendfield Plantation in Georgetown, S.C., where he probably drained swamps, harvested rice, and was buried in an unmarked grave. (Michele only learned during the campaign that her forebears had been enslaved in the same town where she grew up playing with her cousins.) Imagine the thoughts going through Grammy Robinson’s head? Living in the White House to care for the girls. If Aretha’s singing cracked me up, and Elizabeth Alexander’s poem moved me, well, the actual swearing in brought me to my knees.
But the best, for me, was yet to come. Tuesday evening we held our own inaugural ball. I bought a (used) gown and put on some make-up. I wore my (costume) tiara and my Grandma Wachspress’s (real) pearls, which I have never worn before. We rolled up the rug and moved out the dining room table and lo and behold we had a big dance floor. People poured through the doors. Apparently the word spread about our shindig. It was wild. There were lots of folks I didn’t know. Lots of folks neither Ron nor I knew. We had the TV on in the living room with the coverage of the inaugural balls in DC playing. The kitchen overflowed with champagne, caviar, and heaps upon heaps of food brought by the guests. For once, I stayed out of the kitchen. I DANCED!!! The dance floor was packed. Ron spun the tunes of course (that’s what got everyone up and moving). It was 34 degrees outside and we had the windows open and the fan on. I think I must have tossed 50 or more champagne or wine bottles into the recycling during the evening. We started early because it was a week night and we wound down early so as not to disturb our Republican neighbors. A highlight of the evening for most of those in attendance was the Dance-in-the-Streets. I grabbed drums, gourds, and tambourines, passed them out, and we ran out into the street for a triumphant loop around the “Plaza” (the circle where we live). We drummed, danced, and sang. “Ding dong the Bush is gone” and an “Obama” chant. It was an outstanding celebration.
The next day, I cheered the news that Obama had begun the process of shutting down Guantanamo Bay and outlawed torture. We are truly entering the Age of Aquarius. Peace and Understanding. Here are a few more reasons to love Obama: he has read all the Harry Potter books, he speaks Spanish, and he just paid off his student loans four years ago. Last night I saw a priceless picture in Time Magazine. While getting a cup of coffee during an informal meeting, Obama paused to speak with the coffee server, an older Black man. Respect for the server as one of his elders shows in Obama’s face; pride and love in the face of the server.
Here in Ukiah, Jessie’s mother is in a nursing home dying. She is bedridden and suffers from dementia. She has reverted to her native Yiddish, which no one in the nursing home understands. When Jessie visits her, she doesn’t even recognize her own daughter, but she always asks, “How is Baruch doing today?” She calls Obama “Baruch.” Barack is Baruch in Yiddish: Blessing. On Tuesday, Jessie told her mother “Baruch is the President now, Ma.” Blessings on the Inauguration.