There are days, few and far between, when things line up just right. The stars align, the planets take their place and everything is just as it should be.
How else can you explain the luck of this political junkie being able to watch this week’s inauguration from the comfort of her own bedroom, wearing the fashionable pajama pants and sweatshirt outfit for the noon ceremony?
OK, seriously, I have always enjoyed watching those “history in the making” moments. Blame my parents—one staunchly Republican, one steadfastly Democrat—who brought us up on history books and spoon-fed us current events from the time we were taking our first steps. My father took my siblings and me to the '69 Vietnam war protest march on Washington, one of many events he—and we—participated in during the time of anti-war protests and civil rights marches. Two years prior, our mom walked us to the corner to wave to President Lyndon Johnson as his motorcade headed to Glassboro for a summit with Soviet leader Alexei Kosygin.
And yes, I realize that Johnson was a Democrat, which was not my mother’s political leaning. But she knew history when she saw it drive down Red Bank Avenue, and she was determined we wouldn’t miss it. Besides, LBJ had been veep under John F. Kennedy, the one Democrat my mom could get behind. For the former Mary Crowley, Hallahan High blue ribbon girl, Catholic and Irish always trumped D or R.
Anyway, my point in all that is I’ve always enjoyed watching the inauguration, no matter who won the election. But most years—like four years ago, when Barack Obama took his first oath of office—I have to watch as much as I can of the fanfare during my lunch break. This year, though, those stars aligned…or whatever. I had off for Martin Luther King Day, which allowed me to watch the ceremony from start to finish.
My husband wandered in, somewhere between Joe Biden's swearing in and James Taylor singing for real. “Wow, I never realized how many people watch these things,” he said, taking in the crowd that flowed across the National Mall. “I never actually saw the inauguration before.”
So we watched together, he with his untrained eye, me with my Washington savvy (though, truth be told, only in comparison). He questioned Beyonce on the spot, raising the “lip-synching” question long before spokesperson for the Marine Corps Band made a similar claim. (And I must raise the even more pressing question—“who cares?”)
We snarked about the future of poets in society throughout the extremely lengthy inaugural poem. And we learned from that ever-astute press that the second-term president used the word “together” exactly seven times in his speech. (Again, who cares? Did someone count how many times he said “the”?)
Then we decided to round out our uber-patriotic day by visiting the National Constitution Center in Philly. I think this decision came less from our rousing sense of patriotism and more because it would be free, as we became members of the center last March when they featured a Bruce Springsteen exhibition in the main hall.
When we got there Monday, Springsteen was long gone, replaced by a multi-room special exhibition called American Spirits: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition.
“We’re only in fourth grade. Why do we have to learn so much about beer?” my daughter complained as she travelled the exhibit, drinking in the history of gangsters and abolitionists. She and her friend had second thoughts, however, when we came upon the full-sized speakeasy replica. As my husband and I watched from our corner table, Libby and Julianna went full-on flapper, practicing Charleston tap routines to perfection. We had to drag them out, luring them with the opportunity to have their mug shot taken with gangsters of the roaring '20s.
Later, they rubbed shoulders with the Founding Fathers, filled in clouds with their own ending to the famous “I have a dream” statement, and even waited in line for a voting booth to cast their vote for their favorite president. (My mom would have been pleased to see that JFK was winning that day.)
The double holiday proved to be a fun learning experience for all of us, a good way to laugh and have fun before heading back to the work that faced each of us on Tuesday. Sort of like the inauguration—a celebration before back to the grindstone, business as usual, even when it’s the business of making history.