Saturday, January 24, 2009

Are You Watching, Willie?

Willie Lee Carter

Dear Willie,

I think I'm finally together enough to write to you. Of course, as I think I said before, you likely know all about this. Tell me the truth - were you on the train? Were you on the train carrying that black man from Philadelphia to Washington D.C., following the very route that Abraham Lincoln's Inaugural train took? Because I thought you were. I thought you were in the Presidential car with him, and I'm guessing that some ghostly waiter passed around crystal glasses to all y'all sitting there, shoulder to shoulder: you, Medgar Evers, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. -- those four little girls from the church bombing in Birmingham -- Schwerner, Goodman and Cheney -- well, you know who was there with you. And I'm guessing that President Obama knew you were there too.

On January 20 I got up early and arranged the sofa. I had two knitting projects handy, and made a big pot of tea. I had a notebook and pencil at hand for writing impressions - and I put in a DVD into the recorder (wouldn't you have just LOVED all that stuff?). I recorded from about 10:00 a.m. until some time that evening, and I'll keep the two discs and I'll show them to our grandsons. I also had a big box of tissues...and I didn't knit one single stitch all day, I must admit.

Maybe I'll tuck the DVDs into the pages of the book "Eyes on the Prize". That's the book that went with a terrific special on the teevee some years ago about the Civil Rights movement, and Willie? I swan! There's a picture in there from Selma, and I think YOU are in it!! Well, no, I don't know for sure. You can tell me if you were in that picture, when I get there. Over a plate of those ribs. Don't you be forgetting those ribs.

OK - the Inauguration. (And may I add, I haven't made a point to watch any Inaugurations for some years.) And yes, I cried. I cried from approximately 10:00 a.m. until about 2:00 p.m. They say the Dead hear tears falling for them - I imagine it was downright thunderous up there then, huh?

Oh - there were (by design) a lot of parallels to Abraham Lincoln. Some wise guy pointed out that this is the second time in history that a brilliant orator from Illinois with huge ears became President. But then there was the train (need I say, when I saw Barak Obama standing outside on the bunting-decorated platform at the back of the train, waving -- I wept?) And the Oath of Office was taken on the self-same Bible that Lincoln laid his own hand on for his own Inauguration.

I tried to get some pictures from the teevee, but you know, they're never great. Anyway, here's one - I just include it here because this was in front of my very own eyeballs; I saw this, I watched it, it really happened.

President Barak Hussein Obama of the United States

Yes, I saw it. But you know who else saw it? MILLIONS of people! Truly the largest bunch o' people that have EVER been there in Washington. A lot of them were too far away to actually see, but they had huge teevee screens set up....and afterward (for DAYS afterward) people were interviewed and talked to and even the ones who said they were just about in Ohio at the back of the crowd were glad to have been there, to have "witnessed History". But you know what, Willie? (See, this is the advantage of watching from my own sofa - besides being able to wear my pajamas to the Inauguration) They showed pictures of the crowd on the teevee. And I saw some of those millions of faces: there were people holding infants, and I know it was so they could tell the child they'd BEEN THERE.

You weren't home when Armstrong took his first step on the moon, but I was sitting in that big rocking chair nursing our son, and I got our Lovely Daughter out of her crib, and I pointed all four of their beautiful, large eyes (your eyes, might I add) toward the screen so that I could say to them "You SAW the first steps of a man on the moon." Neither of them remembers, but what the heck, they did see it.

And in that crowd at the Inauguration, just after the Oath, people hugged each other and cried. Black people and white people and old people and young people ..... and there were old people in the crowd. I mean, OLD, like me - like you would've been. There were two old black men wearing "Tuskegee Airman" caps. Can you imagine? And as the camera scanned the crowds, I recognized people who had stood with you in Selma, and who came up from Huff's Houses in Indianola, and who linked arms and sang "We Shall Overcome" all over the South. Dr. King's son was there, and Pete Seeger, and many other notables. But when the newsfolk were out there with their microphones, over and over, were old people with tears on their cheeks, shaking their heads - black people and white people, shoulder-to-shoulder, and the energy and the hope and the optimism swelled up from those millions and wafted over the whole country, and came in through windowsills and under doors and I felt it. And I felt your heart - I could see in my mind, just exactly how it would have looked if we were still in our goofy living room on Blaisdell.

Here he is, Willie! Signing some kind o' paper, one of his first jobs he had to do as PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES! I had a teary moment of slightly-hysterical laughter when it occurred to me he was signing the bill for all those pizzas that had been ordered for everyone out there on the Mall. But that's him, sitting at HIS desk in HIS Oval Office. Being, you know, Presidential.

Today is his fourth day of being President. He's been very busy, arranging his ducks-inna-row, and carryin' on carryin' on. His speech was all about how NOW the work begins. It was eloquent, thoughtful - and the one thing I heard it in was that he may be there , but WE are all HERE, and by gumbo all the work that has to be done is going to take ALL of US. After the Inauguration there was a big fancy luncheon (it was for -- you know, the fancypants folks and stuff, but that's as it should be....'specially if he'd ordered pizza for everyone else). I looked up the menu - oh, come on, Willie. You would've done the same thing. And you know what? They ate stuff like Lincoln ate - but President Obama got to eat pheasants from Wisconsin. (Yeah, I know, "big deal" - but I thought it was.)

OH! You wicked man - I know EXACTLY what you're thinking! "If it was me," I can hear you saying, Willie Lee Carter, "they'd have had some good ol' ribs....but (and I can hear you saying THIS as though you were standing beside me) NO WATERMELONS!" Well, if it's any satisfaction to you, neither of your children will eat watermelon either.

Anyway, after all that stuff, Mr. President Obama and the First Lady had to go to TEN different Balls. He spoke briefly at each one, enjoyed a dance with the First Lady, and then went on. He was at work at 8:30 the next morning....frankly, probably neither one of them felt much like sleeping anyway.

Here are a few facts that might have got past you up there, but that I took note of: This is the FIRST TIME EVER IN HISTORY that that beautiful, tall, black woman in the White House is the First Lady of the land. It is NOT lost on our President that his new house was built by slaves - and that it was NOT thousands of years ago. There are children running in the White House again - beautiful little girls (well, a little girl and a young lady) and I'm guessing that they will NOT be inclined to bring a pony up in the elevator like Teddy Roosevelt's hooligans did.

But the bottom line, Willie, is that our wistful wishes have come to fruition, and while you haven't lived to see it, *I* have -- and I'm sure you have too, in your way. Times are "hard" here, they say. A couple of unscrupulous cutpurses have robbed hundreds of people of trillions of dollars (and I mean that literally). Lots of people are being put out of their houses because they can't pay for them. People are being put out of jobs right and left, nation-wide. There's a grim war on (although I feel a lot better for the future of our grandson-the-Marine than I did before). It's going to take a great deal of time and a great deal of work to pull everything back together.......but we have a chance to do it, and that's because we now have an erudite, educated, sensitive, thoughtful, clear-thinking and wise young man in the White House. Oh - and did I mention? He's black.

I took hundreds of pictures; most of them are pretty bad, but I have them. I'm not going to put them all here to show you, because I think you saw it all anyway. But I will end with one picture, the ONLY picture of this left. It was a terrible picture from the start, half-faded and all, and this is a picture OF the picture, but I thought you might get a kick out of seeing it. (Please, tell Father Loesch hello for me -- I assume he's there by now.)

As ever,

Your widow,



kmkat said...

Ah, Willy. I know you watched it all, too, and rejoiced in it even more than we did here.

Lovely letter, D-H.

Randi said...

Yes, lovely, D-H. Thanks for letting me read this letter over your shoulder. XOXO Randi

Marty52 said...

Thanks so much for letting us in on your letter to Willie... It was a grand day for the US... we've come a long way, baby!!

CTJen said...

DH, your letter is very moving. You and your Willie made a very handsome couple. Now, pass the tissues, will you?

Mother of Chaos said...


slimsdotter said...

Oh, thanks for sharing. I have been wondering what Willie might have whispered in your ear while you watched the inaguration.

janna said...

Thank you for sharing your letter to Willie with us, Dale-Harriet. It made me cry all over again.

Chanter said...

I'm not ashamed to say it: You've just made me cry. This was amazing to read, plain and simple. *hugs you*

Stephanie said...

What a great letter.

MollyBeees said...

This entry made me cry more than the innauguration. You ROCK Dale H!

Alwen said...

I am happy that this happened in my lifetime. President Obama, what a nice ring that has.

Hyacinth said...

Your letters to Willie always make me cry and this one was no exception...beautifully written :)

I loved the sentence you wrote about having an "erudite, educated, sensitive, thoughtful, clear-thinking and wise young man in the White House"...and that is just the most wonderful thing ever :)

AnnF said...

Beautiful. A lot of us didn't think we'd get to see this day and that we'd have to tell the next generation to make it come true. But it did.

Yarnhog said...

Once again, you've made me all teary-eyed. I thought about you and Willie on Inauguration Day.

MollyBeees said...

I hearby bequeath upon you the LemonAde Stand Award. Details on my blog!

Webbthistle said...


Sorry for the late comment but I just discovered your blog roundabout via IBKC. Beautiful letter. You had me in tears from the start.

So many good souls are rejoicing in heaven! May they - and God - guide us until we meet again.

erksnerks said...

Can I get another AMEN. Thanks for the words.