This past Monday Charleston hosted the Democratic Presidential candidates in a debate. Debate is rather a loose word for what transpired -- it was unique in questions being asked by "new media" submissions to CNN that were aired on a screen for the candidates to answer.
Earlier that day, there was a luncheon hosted for the spouses of the candidates. From now on, I'll say wives, as Bill Clinton wasn't expected. (I think he's the kind of man who wouldn't come to a spouses program when I was doing a cooking demonstration, either.)
I was impressed. I had wheedled my way into the luncheon by getting an assignment from the Charleston Post and Courier. Although I was early the room was already hopping when I arrived. I circulated a bit, meeting Mrs. Biden and Mrs. Richardson and asking to see them after the program, then sat at a near-empty table with Mrs. Dodd.
My first husband's last name was Dodd, therefore so was mine for a year, and I always liked the name. She was a lovely woman, trim, highly intelligent, very interested in being a good mother. They two children, both under five. She's a mormon, he's a catholic (although married years before, once.) Children are a main force in their lives. She says their religions are no problem. I didn't ask how the children were being raised, as they are so young. It'll be interesting to see, however, how they are -- which religion they ultimately expouse.
They live in a converted school house. It was the second school house in the
town, Nathan Hale being the teacher at the first. For a large part of the luncheon I felt she was giving us the kind of answers one has given over and over again, and invariably use as conversation with new people. Children's names, how old, the house, her job before she married him, her interests (she worked on the Hill but met him on a vacation elsewhere.), etc. But she did talk about her marriage being delayed, perhaps, by his involvement with Senator Biden when they were on a Foreign Affairs Subcommittee. She said he traveled constantly with that job, and commented on how little he was there. They have "been together" twenty years, married just over eleven.
It was interesting to be at one table with her, looking at her friend, Mrs. Biden, at the next. Both were attractive, blond women. Mrs. Dodd was in a pale blue Carlyle suit and I marveled that she could eat in it and not drop a thing on it. Mrs. Biden was in a black lacy-like dress that could take a few drops if need be. Mrs. Dodd said she wouldn't mind if her children messed up her suit -- that they were in the hotel with them and when she left and they gave her a hug she wondered if they had.
As the luncheon went on I thought about a time during the l959 election when I was canvassing my neighborhood for voter registration or Kennedy. Can't remember which. Many of the women who came to the door told me they were voting for Nixon because they felt Pat Nixon was the kind of woman they wanted to live next to.
Mrs. Richardson and Mrs.Edwards both had wonderful senses of humor. In fact they all seemed to be able to laugh at their husbands, and themselves.
When they were taking the group photograph and I was trying to get a picture, too, for my blog, Mrs. Edwards worried that I didn't have a flash. I hadn't spoken to her yet. She walked up to me afterwards and introduced herself to me and involuntarily I reached out and hugged her. It struck me how far I was from being able to do that with, say, Jackie Kennedy, or Hillary Clinton (when she was the president's wife and I met her). Lady Bird Johnson had some of that quality. The few times I met her I felt like I knew her. But why I hugged Mrs. Edwards is beyond me. Was it her cancer? Her kindness? Her personality? Who knows. I just did.
As I have been thinking about these women all week I have realized -- I would love living next door to any of them.
Here's the article I submitted to the Post and Courier. You can see their edited version on line at Charleston net.
"Leave it to South Carolina to host the Democratic candidates’ spouses in a way that other cities haven’t. For the first time, they were entertained together. They were in high cotton at High Cotton on East Bay Street in Charleston, eating an unbelievably good lunch.
Grace was the order of the day. It happens to be Chris and Jackie Clegg Dodd’s daughter’s name, but it was also the way these women operated. The six spouses (who I will call wives from now on, since Bill Clinton wasn’t able to attend, nor was Mrs. Obama) who were present at the lunch spoke only good things about each other and Charleston.
Jackie Clegg Dodd, a slender a lady, said “Charleston is a dangerous place to visit, as I know from times past visiting Peatsy and Fritz Hollings. You can put on 25 pounds in a few days if you don’t watch out, the food is so good.” She was nearly as funny a lunch companion as she claims her husband is. She wouldn’t choose who was funnier, Chris Dodd or Fritz Hollings, saying Fritz is the raconteur of the two, but that her husband has kept her laughing for the twenty years they have been together. Her pale pink suit remained immaculate through a She-crab soup laden with crab and a touch of cream and sherry, succulent grouper and a lemon dessert that she, like most of the wives, ignored.
In all unfairness, the dessert arrived as the wives were introduced to speak in alphabetical order by Don Fowler, husband of South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Carol Fowler. (They didn’t have a chance to touch it, even if they were willing to spend the calories.)
English teacher Jill Biden was wittier – and prettier – than my English teachers ever were. She quoted Blanche Dubois in Tennessee Williams’ “Streetcar Named Desire: I have to depend on the kindness of strangers” to elect my Joe. Her beautiful hands were a pale contrast to her black eyelet dress as she spoke passionately of her husband’s battle against adversity many times in his life. Those who tease about him speaking too much at times have probably forgotten he stuttered as a child and overcame it.
Elizabeth Edwards, quoted her daughter about seeing her in a smashing black outfit as well as black tights, “Are you becoming a Goth?” Her three piece black outfit was smashing. She loves her food (and perhaps was most politically astute) enough to congratulate the chef and staff of High Cotton before saying anything about her husband. After speaking about his crusade on poverty, she spoke about the group of wives gathered there today – “They are,” she said, “A splendid group of women. It is a pleasure to be here with them all, and if my husband can’t win, I hope one of the other Democratic candidates will.”
Whitney Stewart Gravel, in pale blue that emphasized her eyes and stunning gray hair, said it was the first time she had ever spoken at a campaign event. If that was true, she is a natural speaker, holding us rapt as she spoke of her husband’s ardor about public health.
Elizabeth Kucinich, with vibrant long red hair and four inch high heels, was adorned only with a small pin saying “Peace.” She decided on her second date with Dennis she was going to marry him, and they were married three months later. A very moving speaker, she said when she was growing up in London, England. “America was the hope of the world..” She concluded her speech with, “Where is America?” Privately, she said she was eagerly awaiting her American citizenship.
Barbara Richardson, whose first trip to Charleston was on a vacation thirty years ago, gave some of the best laugh lines, expressing gratitude for all the wives being together at the luncheon. “Usually, when the candidates’ wives enter the room, we are separated as if we will be in a cat fight.” She spoke about what it means to all of the women be a spouse of a candidate. “We have traveled together, campaigned together, laughed and cried together, private women in public lives. People come up to us and say, ‘Your husband is SO wonderful.’ When ‘Mr. Wonderful’ is out there campaigning, WE are STILL schlepping at home.” “The women in this room,” she said, will unite behind whoever is the candidate to bring back the White House, no matter who wins.” Later, she told me, “All these women come from diverse backgrounds, juggling their private lives. All bring something valuable to the table.”
It seemed to me it was a lot of grace."