By Rebecca Price Janney, Apr 19 2017 06:44PM
White House Memories.
When I was a college sophomore, I received an invitation to a picnic on the South Lawn of the White House. My memories of that golden night include dancing with a reporter, who had no idea I was one myself, while my ROTC friend danced with a man in uniform, who also didn’t know about her background! I also recall the red and white checked cloth napkins (I still have mine), the beautiful view of the Washington Monument at night, and standing in a receiving line to shake the President and First Lady’s hands. I haven’t been back until two days ago when I went with my husband and son to the White House Easter Egg Roll, thanks to a good friend who was able to secure three tickets for us.
This tradition is one of the oldest annual celebrations held at the White House. Some say Dolly Madison hosted the first one. Most historians of the event believe by the 1870s, children regularly gathered at the Capitol’s West Grounds on Easter Monday to roll eggs, and themselves, down the hill. Concern for the landscape led to a banishment of the practice in 1876, and no one showed up the following year anyway because of rain. In 1877 local kids again went to the Capitol, but police escorted them off the premises. Undaunted, the little ones headed up the road to the White House, and President Rutherford B. Hayes told the guards to let them come through the gates to roll their eggs. What a nice thing to be remembered for!
The first time I was on the South Lawn, I was brought through the White House and after passing through security, went on outside. On Monday, however, along with some 5,000 other people slated for the 12:15-2:15 time slot, we wound around the sidewalks flanking the lower grounds, then serpentined through a few checkpoints before being allowed inside. My son was fascinated by the presence of sober-looking Secret Service agents dressed in no-nonsense black uniforms and policemen on horseback. We were told in advance to be prepared to wait for an hour before we could be escorted onto the South Lawn, so I was ready for standing that long. What caught me somewhat off guard, however, was the rain. Yes, I had checked the weather forecast several times before and during the event, but the percentages were low, especially for our time slot. When the heavens opened up in spite of the weather people, I huddled under an umbrella with Scott while David hunkered down under the other one we’d brought. Before many minutes, my right arm and backpack were soaked, and my hair had begun to “explode.” Far worse off was the family in front of us, with just one umbrella and two little kids, both in summer clothes, the mom in a sleeveless sun dress sporting goose bumps. No one was in a bad mood, though. In spite of our drowned rat appearances, our group was far too excited to complain.
By the time we got inside, the rain had slowed to a drizzle, and smiling greeters handed us map/schedules and “egg pops,” hard boiled eggs on sticks. Yum! I once again, as I did as a college student, felt the awe of being at the White House, this place of so much of our nation’s treasured history and countless stories of courage and freedom. I also smelled something like the fragrance of being outside when a neighbor is using the clothes dryer. I joked to Scott, “Melania must be doing the laundry.” He just grinned and shook his head. “Melania does not do laundry.”
We walked up the paved road to the right, past the gleaming Presidential Limousine, toward the South Portico and a striking wisteria next to the door. Children were lining up for the egg roll, so David fell in waited a short time for his turn. I was struck by how short a course it really was, less than the length of a bowling “alley.” I snapped several photos as my son rolled his hard-boiled, colored egg with a spoon-like paddle, and won his race!
We spent the rest of the time listening to music at the concert area, in a Minecraft exhibit, talking to other parents and White House volunteers. A couple of highlights included listening to Dr. Ben Carson and his wife tell a story at the “reading nook,” and then bumping into national security advisor Sebastian Gorka, who graciously got into a selfie with us.
We didn’t get to see the President, First Lady, and Barron, who had come out for an earlier group, but just being at the White House was a huge treat for us. As we left the South Lawn with our newly minted memories, David was handed a poster and a bag of goodies, along with a commemorative wooden egg. I hope when he’s a dad, he’ll be able to recount the wonder and joy of this day for his children.