We were sitting there, Wednesday night, Jan. 20, watching the fireworks along with our new first couple. The evening featured Tom Hanks with performances from Demi Lovato, Justin Timberlake and Katy Perry singing “Firework,” as the night lit up with real fireworks and more.

Kay said something again, drowned out by band music.

“What did you say?”

Then our president and his first lady, Dr. Jill Biden, stepped out onto the balcony of the White House, as I tried to take notes on a tear-stained pad.

The notes on the first lady were few. She opted for “a dress and coat ensemble, a long dress white with floral embroidery, by Gabriela Hearst. The look consisted of an ivory double-breasted cashmere coat, paired with a silk dress with embroidery on the neckline and hemline.” End of notes.

My first lady, the stoic devourer of literature, sat in her chair across from me, wearing her Christmas present from her son-in-law, a white hooded robe from L.L.Bean, and said something again in her usual soft tone.

I grabbed the remote and turned off the sound.

“What did you say?”

“I said, ‘Mamie Eisenhower wore yellow. I wore green.'”

“Mamie Eisenhower?”

“It was a faint yellow, citron. I think they called it citron.”

“Citron?”

“Yellow.”

I was stunned. I put my popcorn down. It all came back to me.

Somewhere in a closet in the back of the house where we keep family albums there is hers.

It’s the clean, tidy one, of course, with all the pictures and clippings neatly arranged. Tucked in among them are her college memories.

In 1957, when she was a senior at Trinity College in Washington, she had attended one of the inauguration balls for the new president, Dwight Eisenhower.

“You went to one of the balls at Eisenhower’s inauguration?”

“Right. I told you that when you took me to dinner on our first date.”

I remember that night. She had agreed to be my partner for my Actor’s Studio audition, after which I took her to a spaghetti joint called “Joe’s” on Second Avenue in New York.

I remember that she talked a lot, as if she was applying for a job.

I recall watching those lips move, her green eyes, the way the light fell on her hair, as I was slipping into something I now know was love. I didn’t hear a word of her presentation. I was gobsmacked by her and struck dumb.

It was a sitcom scene. We sat there making an effort to impress one another and not mess up this magic moment.

Now, 64 years later, with a column due, I wanted to feel that again. I fell silent. Kay sat there watching Dr. Jill Biden swimming in the colored lights of the fireworks and retold me the story.

“I was the only student at Trinity,” she said, “that had gotten an invitation to one of balls; there were four, I think.”

“Why you?”

“I think it was because I was the president of the Young Republican Club at Trinity.”

“You were a what? A young Republican?”

“You didn’t listen. You never listen.”

The program kept by Kay Devine for attending one of the inauguration balls for the new president, Dwight Eisenhower, in 1957. Photo courtesy of J.P. Devine

She continued.

Cy (her very Republican brother) was in Washington working for the National Republican Committee.

She explained: “He had an invitation, of course, but his was to the ball at the Armory, a dreary place. Mine was at the Sheraton Hotel. He was so jealous; he wanted to go to the Sheraton. So I switched with him.”

“You’re sweet. You were a what?”

“Now you’re listening. My escort was a young midshipman at Annapolis. We had been dating for, I don’t know, a couple of months. And I had been keeping his white Corvette convertible in the lot at Trinity.”

“Wait, you had his white Corvette convertible?”

“You couldn’t have a car at Annapolis, so he left it with me.”

“Where is this midshipman now?

She sat back and closed her eyes.

“Probably an admiral … or dead.”

The party was over, the candles flickered and dimmed. Joe Biden was president. That night I awoke at 3 in the morning and asked aloud, “You were a what?”

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 


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