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Zan Thompson

Some Fond Memories of Past Inaugural Events

January 20, 1985|Zan Thompson

If you are reading this before Tuesday, I will be surprised. Always on Sunday, The Times pre-sents an all-day treasure of reading, and today you also have the Super Bowl to watch. And now that the television networks have developed means to make a game of four quarters of 15 minutes each gobble up a week, I doubt that you'll get around to finding your lost kitten and casserole columnist before we're well into the week.

If I were in Washington for Inaugural Week, at this moment, I'd be at Sen. Pete and Mrs. Wilson's Super Bowl reception. And so would you if you were in Funnytown-on-the-Potomac during this snowy, starry week. It's crowded, cold, rushed, destroys your feet and is up among the 10 most exciting things I have ever had the good fortune to enjoy. Actually, your feet won't matter because by the second hour of the first day, they're numb anyway.

For me, the most exciting event is the parade. I like any parade going anywhere. Kids on wagons and bicycles. Marines in their dress blues, college bands. Just watching all those people all dressed up and strutting nowhere makes me feel there's hope for poor old Homo sapiens even as the century winds down.

If you're in Washington, I hope you're wearing your ski underwear. And gloves or mittens will improve your outlook, too. But when the parade comes into view and the Old Guard marches by, I promise you a lift of pure joy. Not jingoism, not chauvinism, not superpatriotism. Just the unalloyed happy excitement of seeing flags, seeing kids bouncing down Pennsylvania Avenue, seeing the sun strike fire from the brass instruments in the bands is worth all the cold and standing, sitting and walking of the entire week.

The Old Guard play fife and drum and flute, maybe more. They wear the tricorns and the buff trousers, blue blouses and black boots of the Continental Army, and when they march by, using the cadence the boys did when they struck out in 1774, your heart will beat faster. Their ranks are thin. Only the best are in the Old Guard. Just as it was when they started.

And then each state comes by, proffering its finest. The governor of every state is the grand marshal of their entry, with floats and bands, and they offer something that carries the flavor of their state, their hallmark, whatever gives them pride in the old home place. Two states, maybe three, won't be represented this year. I hope it wasn't for lack of money. I hope they just had something better to do, but I can't think what that would be.

The swearing-in of the President and vice president will be at 11:30 Monday morning. Then when you are frozen and you've watched a little history, you'll go to your senator's or congressman's office to thaw and drink coffee and wait to go back for the parade, which is at 2 p.m. And for the parade you get to sit. Maybe you will for the swearing-in too, but I never did. I was always behind a white barricade with my face upturned to the balcony and the dignitaries.

The ball is much better since they have divided it into several. The President and Mrs. Reagan will go to each one, greet the guests and go on. So don't whine about your feet. There's more room now since someone finally decided it was impossible to put all the guests in one or two ballrooms. At one, I was making my way across the dance floor hanging onto Doug's tail coat and I lost him. He pushed ahead with his infantry training and his 6-feet-3 while my 5-feet-2 was left behind with my arms trapped at my side. For the first time in my life, I sort of understood how claustrophobics suffer. I felt like a salmon swimming up the fish ladder, smallest and slowest salmon of the season.

The year 1980 was a dream. Space to dance and actually see a friend across the crowded room, now and then. And LeRoy Neiman, the marvelous sports artist, was on the camera platform sketching. I walked by and he spoke to me, "That's a wonderful dress, great color and you move well in it."

Nice compliment for a short lady from Pasadena. The gown is a Victor Joris silk taffeta, the color of the water just beyond the breaker line. Now? Oh, in the closet. I'm not going this time. I was asked by old friend Mike Deaver. Jim Lake, head of the media, wanted me to come back and shepherd the California press at the California ball. I was warmed by Mike's thoughtfulness and had a small rush of sanity to the head and decided not to go because I have a dandy trip planned for the middle of February.

I told Richard Diehl, the orthopedic surgeon who takes the soundings on my arthritic knees, that I had elected to choose just one trip for January-February. He said, "Congratulations. It's the most delayed case of growing up I have ever seen."

Dear boy. And if you're there give two huzzahs and a tiger for the Old Guard, and tell them it's from me.

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