Sunday, June 30, 2013

100 Things I Want to Tell My Children and Grandchildren: #1

If you work hard and excel you will reap rewards, the best of which are memories.

(Photo is of my kids and grandkids, taken 2011)

When I was growing up, and throughout my mom’s life, I asked her lots of questions about her and dad’s families, and about their early life together. I mostly asked Mom because my dad died when I was 12-years-old, about the time I became curious about my heritage.

Mom’s typical response to my inquisitions was, “Oh honey, that was so long ago. I don’t remember.” Occasionally, however, she would spontaneously lay a snippet of family history out like a jewel for me to ogle, like, “My grandmother owned the first car in the county.” Or “My Uncle Wells built a three-story house and claimed he could not die until he owned all the land he could see from the top floor. And he did.”

“They were French, you know,” she would add, as if that explained everything.

All my life I’ve clung to those rarefied and slim nuggets of my family’s history, like water in a wasteland of inconsequential days, and I’m not sure why. Perhaps I just want to know more about the genetic bolt of fabric from which I was cut. Perhaps knowing that information would tell me nothing. I do know the absence of my parents’ intimate history makes me feel like I’ve lost a piece of my own life’s puzzle. So whether my children and their children want to know my history, and the things I have learned in the process of making that history, or not, here it comes, via 100 Things I Want to Tell My Children and Grandchildren.

Wow! Where to start? Well, let’s just start with the first thing that comes to mind.

I had tea at the White House in 1990. The fact that this was the first thing that came to mind is probably a story within the story, but let’s not start there. Let’s start here. 
(photo is me in the Red Room at the White House)

When I was the executive director of Keep Texas Beautiful (KTB) we won a national prize that was awarded at a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. I was seated on the front row next to a small riser and podium. When I sat down, dizzy with the sheer drama of being in the executive mansion, I noticed on the stage two small cards. One read “President Bush,” and the other said, “Mrs. Bush.” And I then realized for the first time that, one, they would be there, and, two, I would actually be sitting within five feet of them. I don’t care what your politics are, when you are in the presence of a president, you feel incredibly honored.

My preparation for the award junket to D.C. began a week before when I realized, in spite of a closet full of nice suits, none seemed to meet the standards for a visit to the White House. My hectic schedule leading up to the trip prevented shopping in Austin.  A trip to Lubbock the weekend before to see my daughter JoLene would have to be the “buy the suit” weekend.  JoLene and Stephanie, my close friend Carol’s daughter, were roommates in college at Texas Tech University. Carol also happened to be my business manager at KTB.

Saturday morning we trekked to Dillard’s in the local mall to shop. This could have been a disaster considering Dillard’s was the only real option, but I had the support of two twenty-somethings, and a friend with impeccable taste. I left with a beautiful Ellen Tracy skirt and jacket that looked as though it had been tailored for me and for the occasion. The skirt was a sophisticated (and patriotic) red – not too bright, just a little more subdued than the red in the American flag. And the jacket was a tartan plaid of off-white, red and green that fit my curves like spandex, but in a very patrician way. Since it was February and I didn’t want to keep up with a coat, I chose an off-white cashmere mock turtleneck to wear under the jacket. It was perfect.

The morning started early, around 6:00 a.m., when I joined Don Smith for breakfast at The Willard Hotel.  Don was the director of the Don’t Mess With Texas campaign for the Texas Department of Transportation, with whom I worked closely, and who was also to receive an award. I had stayed at the less expensive W. Washingtonian, D.C. Hotel, just around the corner from The Willard, both of which were within walking distance of the White House.

I don’t remember much about the ceremony. The actual awards had already been presented so President Bush just welcomed us to the White House and invited us to have tea and make ourselves at home. When we all stood for President and Mrs. Bush’s exit, I waited just a moment then reached over to the platform and picked up the two cards indicating where George and Barbara were to stand. I still have those cards.

The tea following the ceremony was everything one might expect with white-gloved servers, exquisite little cookies and beautifully ornate china teacups and saucers. Although I have no doubt we would have been tackled if we wandered into taboo territory, we were allowed to seemingly roam at will, examining each historic piece of furniture and décor, unencumbered by the velvet barricades that typify White House tours. Of course, I didn’t touch or pick up anything, but I did sit on the furniture and breathe on invaluable relics.

Almost as if they were chosen in a beauty pageant, suspiciously handsome soldiers, elegantly garbed in military dress were stationed in each room to charm, entertain and shoot us if we tried anything, which was a little unnerving on every level. 
(photo is of me with said pretty boys at the White House)

What did I learn from this experience and what do I hope my children and grandchildren will learn from my telling of this experience?  

Upon reflection, I am reminded of why it happened. When I divorced my children’s father I was so fearful the kids would be scarred for life, I took them to a child psychiatrist. After several visits, the doctor said to me, “Your kids are fine, but you are a mess. All you’ve done is trade one brand of sorry for another. Why don’t you become a living example for your kids of how someone can come out of a bad situation, recover and be successful?”

With that declaration I had a mission.

So #1 of the one hundred things I want to tell my children and grandchildren is this:
If you work hard and excel you will reap rewards, the best of which are memories.


  1. Great idea for part deaux :) Can't wait to read all your entries!!

  2. I am gonna love these stories-------so get busy writing!! Linda Sue