I can’t really plan ahead or make longterm, personal commitments; that’s the nature of my work.
I’m a professional designer of curriculum-based educational tours throughout North America as well as a tour guide based in the Washington, DC area. As an independent contractor, my life revolves around a phone call, a fax, or email. At any given moment, I could be asked to either design or conduct a tour, especially during the summer. That is why I did not write in advance for the various free tickets to the events surrounding the dedication of the National WWII Memorial in 2004; I simply thought I would either be out of town on business, or I would be assigned a VIP tour that would take me to the events and dedication. (Tour guides in DC get to do a lot of neat things!)
But the phone didn’t ring and I had a couple of days before the next convoy of safety patrols from Florida, which are traditionally the end of the student tour season on the East Coast.
It was too late to request tickets and many events were no longer available. In the past I have tried to be at the various dedications because I like to be part of an historic event. But this one was closer to home because this Baby Boomer was the product of two WWII veterans and wanted to honor their service in some way. (Yes, my mother enlisted in the US Marine Corps right after Pearl Harbor, but had to wait a year, welding the USS Missouri together at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in the meantime, until she was old enough.) I was disappointed that I couldn't be there to represent my parents.
Ah! But there was going to be a religious dedication service at the Washington National Cathedral and I thought that would be an appropriate venue and gesture for my purposes.
So again, I followed my mother’s advice: Wear a hat and pearls, and you’ll be received anywhere! Heeding this, which had served me so well in the past, I donned a cocoa brown, floral print, silk dress; a large cocoa brown straw hat with flowers; heels; and the requisite strand of pearls. (Pictured above)
When I finally arrived at the Cathedral, there was a large crowd waiting outside, hoping to get in, because tickets were required and security was tight. But as a local tour guide, I know how to finesse these situations and was also well-known by the ‘purple lady’ docents who frequently spoke to my groups.
I managed to get through the crowd to the security entrance; there was no argument from anyone that I sashayed my way to the front of the line, after all, I was wearing a hat and pearls!
I inquired of those in charge with security whether they would let the general public in, and they hedged a bit. Suddenly, one of the cathedral staff recognized me, and motioned that I could come in. She gave me a ticket for the seating area in the back of the Cathedral. I was grateful and silently blessed my mother for her advice.
But before I could sit down, an usher in a cutaway asked if I would accompany him. I took his arm and was promptly escorted to the third row, center! (This would be pretty good in Broadway or Hollywood terms, but spectacular here!)
I settled myself in my seat (they don’t have pews in the WNC) and looked around.
Imagine! I was sitting behind the Doles! Yes, former Senator Robert Dole, (who was National Chairman of the WWII Campaign Fund), and his wife, Senator Elizabeth Dole were seated directly in front of me. Friedrich St. Florian, the architect, was seated directly behind me! (He was short, so I removed my hat.) Tom Hanks was a couple of seats from me and I was across the nave (center aisle) and two rows away from former President and Mrs. Bush! In fact, as I looked around, I was the only one who wasn’t a dignitary!
It then occurred to me that some of the VIP’s were either late or not coming and they needed to fill seats for the television cameras! I felt as if I was one of those Barbie and Ken seat-fillers at the Oscars! And I'm sure that it was all because I was wearing a hat and pearls!
Needless to say, it was a lovely and dignified service. At the end, my section stood up and was escorted through one of the doors, where VIP buses awaited. Naturally, I went with the flow. (I decided to 'lay low' and blend in.)
When I was about to board, I was stopped and asked for my pass/ticket. (Gee. I didn’t have one!) But before turning away to join the hoi polloi, several hands were outstretched to offer me their extra Dedication tickets! During the bus ride, I was given all sorts of tickets to venues, some very exclusive! These tickets were divided into various categories/class, but I just accepted what was offered and attached them to the metal chain that had been provided to be worn around the neck.
When asked what my 'function' was, I simply replied, “I’m here on behalf of my parents.”. (Which was true: My father had died seven years previous and my mother was unable to travel.)
“Who are your parents?’
No one batted an eye.
We arrived at the memorial and I was seated near the current President Bush and other dignitaries. In my particular section, I was surrounded by venerable WWII veterans their spouses, family members, or caregivers; many of these veterans were in wheelchairs. I was close to several Pearl Harbor, Iwo Jima, and Battle of Midway survivors. (It must have been the Pacific rather than Atlantic section!) Unfortunately, the intense heat and humidity was affecting several of them and my thoughts ran to a DVD I have shown to my tour groups depicting the last reunion of veterans at Gettysburg.)
Again, I was enthralled by the service and to be in the midst of these war heroes; it was a moment in history, I shall never forget. ( I have since described it in detail to the many groups I have conducted through the memorial.)
The rest of the day and evening was spent attending all those ticketed events! (My feet finally gave out and I was too pooped to Jitterbug at the Kennedy Center.)
When I finally arrived home, I took off the chain that held all the tickets and glanced at them. The one on the top had gained me entrance to the prime section at the dedication. For the first time I had the chance to closely examine what was written on the ticket; I was astounded!It said: WWII Honoree!