As a Californian, I hotfooted it over to my only well-connected Republican friend and begged for tickets to the Kennedy Center California Ball and the candlelight dinner. I got the tickets, but I was warned that there wasn't a chance in hell of getting a glimpse of the man of the hour.
"Pat, you have to be a big-money Republican to get near either Ronald or Nancy at this event. A Democrat like you doesn't stand a chance."
"Let's make a bet," I said.
"I'll bet you as much as you say, Pat."
"How about a dollar?" I said, losing faith in myself.
The women on my flight from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., were weighted down in luxurious furs that they wouldn't need all that much. The 55-degree weather was almost balmy.
Deplaning in D.C., I was immediately swept up in the hustle and bustle and spectacle around the inauguration. Even in baggage claim, the melodious voices of a 35-member male choir serenaded us with "You're a Grand Ole' Flag." Women in blue skirts and red and white silk blouses waved small flags and wanted to know if we needed anything. Suddenly overcome by the momentousness of the occasion, I felt a surge of patriotism I hadn't expected and surreptitiously wiped tears from my eyes.
News sources and Betsy Bloomingdale-style society gossip had been saying the Reagan White House would usher in of a new era of opulence, and they were being proven right. At every event, and there were plenty, women were wearing finery by the top designers: Bill Blass, Halston, Galanos, Yves St. Laurent, Oscar de la Renta, and jewels from Cartier, Tiffany and Grandma Vanderbilt. I was right in there with them in a purple silk Yves St. Laurent number. But after attending five events, I still hadn't laid eyes on President Reagan. I would lose that dollar bet, for sure.
Changing into designer duds that evening, I headed for the California Ball. It looked like everyone else was going that way too. People were lined up as far as I could see. But being alone has it advantages. "Can you help me?" I inquired of a man standing near the entrance. "I really need to get inside." It was only then that I recognized the man as Casper Weinberger, soon to be secretary of defense. "Sure," he said. "I just stepped out for fresh air. Follow me."
Inside the jam-packed Kennedy Center California Ball, I was happy to see a friend. "You can sure tell the California delegation," he said. "They're all tan, bronze, buxom and loaded with jewels."
"That's more than true of the Texans," I replied.
In electric blue satin and matching cape, Bonnie Swearingen, the wife of Standard Oil chairman of the board John Swearingen, was talking to a reporter. "Isn't this wonderful! Our husbands work hard for what we have, and it's been getting a little tiresome having to apologize for ourselves." Judging by her elaborate emerald and diamond choker and enormous drop-diamond earrings, that Texas girl would never go hungry again.
Looking demure even dressed in sequins and chiffon was cowgirl star Dale Evans. Down to earth and real, Dale was easy to talk to. "I've known President Reagan since he was head of the Screen Actors Guild. Actually, even before that," she said. "Roy and I and John Wayne and Pat Boone, Walter Brennan and President Reagan did a show together many years ago. He spoke that evening, and I was sold on his ideology."
It was at the elegant candlelight dinner for major donors -- yeah, right -- where I finally saw President Reagan.
I don't recall hearing "Hail to the Chief," although it must have been played. I do remember a fife and drum corps, and a Marine Color Guard, and then ... Ronald Reagan alongside Nancy -- who was dressed to the nines in a Galanos beaded number -- Vice President George Bush, Barbara Bush and others seated with them at a long table.
"I hope he still looks that way in a year's time," said Bull Durham of tobacco fame. "He has a hard road ahead of him."
Back home, wishing I had made a larger bet, I collected my dollar, a rare silver one, making me decide that (some) Republicans were OK.
Pat Montandon founded the international foundation Children as the Peacemakers and has made 37 trips around the world with young children, meeting with world leaders in 26 countries. She is the author of six books, including "Whispers From God: A Life Beyond Imaginings." Read her blog on Red Room.
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