Monday, January 21, 2013

An Inauguration Day Memory


No Photo Today (Read Below)

Inaugurations are certainly one of our country’s grandest public ceremonies.  I’ve been watching them at least since Robert Frost read poetry on that snowy day in 1961 when John F. Kennedy became president.

It wasn’t until the election of Bill Clinton, though, that I felt that “we”—speaking of our generation—had stepped up to the plate.

The inauguration of 2009 was even more momentous because, though not wholly accurate, Barrack Obama was our “first black president.” (That honor’s always been bestowed, a least anecdotally, to Bill Clinton.) Those who don’t like the president don’t attach much importance to this. But the demonstration to the world that this country so historically associated with the kidnapping, transporting and enslaving of black men, women and children had elected a biracial president was pretty significant.

I looked forward to listening to President Obama’s inaugural address and arranged my work schedule to allow me time to watch the inauguration and listen to the speech.

That’s when life intervened. My mother had been in the hospital and was scheduled to be moved to a nursing home later that afternoon. But during the morning her transfer got moved up several hours. As her legal representative, I had to be present to check her into the nursing home.

As the president and his wife stepped into the Capitol to prepare for the ceremony, I left my office and rushed over to the nursing home, only to learn that my mother’s transfer had been delayed. I looked around until I found the resident lounge, a dingy room with some tired furniture and an old console television set tuned to Fox News. It was a bitter cold day. The room was cold, too, because it also served as the hallway between the resident wing and an outdoor smoking area. Every now and then I’d run down the hall to see if my mother had arrived. 

When it came time for the swearing in, I noticed that the mostly white residents who’d been in the room when I first got there had all moved along and been replaced by a crowd of mostly black nurses, aides and administrators. We waited eagerly for the chief justice and the new president to stand before the world and take the oath of office.

As if it wasn't a special enough moment, its significance really struck me when I briefly turned away from the TV screen and found that I was the only person in the room who didn’t have tears streaming down his cheeks.

As soon as the president was sworn in, the supervisors in the room hustled everyone back to their posts, leaving me to watch the inaugural address alone. 

As for my mother, it turns out she’d entered the facility through a back entrance during the swearing in ceremony and was by the time I got there safely ensconced in her new room and, not unlike our country, no worse for the transition that had just taken place.


To end this story, I should mention that for almost four years I carried with me on my phone a photo of that old TV set showing the president's face during his first inauguration. Whenever I looked at it I recalled the joy and the hope of the people in that room on that day. But when I went to retrieve it to use here, I discovered that I've apparently deleted the photo. So for this once, the photo you see at What I Saw will have to be the one you imagine in your own head.


  1. Great story Chris. Now I'm trying to remember where I was, and it may have been similar... My mom fell and broke her hip late 2008 and was in rehab a long while but then home by January, I think. It must be the exuberance post-election that I seem to remember amongst the mostly all black staff members..

  2. I had a snow day that day and was so excited that I could be home and watching on tv. Touching memory.