Really? 1986? I got this keepsake Christmas gift thirty years ago??
Yes, it is true. I have not had occasion to wear it in southern Arizona, I seldom have to swaddle in a woolen scarf. And on those rare occasions when I did wear a warm scarf, I chose one in colors that I like better than green.
But of course this is green–it is a Christmas gift. And a very special one at that.
Nancy Reagan sent it to me as a reminder of our meeeting at the White House. Me and several thousand other people. The party I attended was just one of a dozen or so Christmas parties given by the President and his wife each year.
In 1986, I was working for Congressman Jim Kolbe of Arizona. When he got his invitation to the White House Christmas party that year, his wife, Sarah Dinham, was unable to fly from Tucson to Washington D.C. to attend, so he needed “a date.” I was the lucky choice of staff members. I flew into Washington from Tucson where I headed up the District Office, and spent a few days on Congressional office business with some excursions for Christmas shopping at the Smithsonian Museum gift shops.
However, the highlight of the week was getting all dressed up and going to the White House. Several weeks before, we had to submit my name, address and social security number to the White House so that the Secret Service could be sure I was not a menace. We arrived that evening and passed through a metal detector and a cordon of watchful men in suits and uniformed marines.
We made our way up the grand staircase to the main level. At the top of the stairs, president Ronald Reagan and Mrs. Regan stood shaking hands with every guest that came into the hallway. The President was as friendly as his familiar smile and his warmth took away some of the nervous feeling of actually being a guest at the White House.
It was an interesting moment when Jim Kolbe introduced me to the President. He used my nickname, Bunny, which all my life I thought I would shed when I became a real adult. After that evening, my fate was sealed. I had been introduced to the President of the United States by that silly child’s name. I knew I was fated to be known by some people as Bunny for the rest of my life.
Nancy Reagan left quite a different impression than president Reagan. Many people comment about how tiny she was–particularly standing next to the robust “cowboy” figure of Ronald Reagan. But despite being beautiful and tiny as a doll, Mrs. Reagan, while formally correct, did not radiate the warmth that her husband did. In fact, as she limply shook my hand, she was quite obviously looking over my shoulder to see if there wasn’t somebody more important coming.
There were quite literally hundreds of people packing the Blue room, the Red room, the Green Room, the Grand Foyer, the enormous East room and every hallway in between. After all there are 535 members of Congress and each attendee brought a guest. Even the most jaded old- timers could not pass up the opportunity to be able to chat with old friends and frenemies at the White House. Some probably even had plans for lobbying the President on some pending piece of legislation.
Since my Congressional “date” was an old hand at visiting the White House, he graciously asked me what I wanted to do. Without hesitation, I told him that I wanted to be able to meet George Bush, then the vice president. We wove our way through the crowd, Jim stopping to chat with Congressional friends, and then I spotted George Bush. He towered above the crowd–people don’t always realize how tall he really is.
When we got there, the two men–Kolbe and Bush are two of the most gracious men I ever met–had a semi-awkward moment. Jim, trying to make sure that Bush would not be embarrassed by assuming that I was Jim’s wife, stumbled over an introduction in which he wanted to say “Mr. Vice President, this is Bunny Badertscher, my chief of staff, not my wife, who had business in Tucson.” Instead, he only got out, “This is not my wife….” when the vice president enveloped me in a hug and said, “Oh, that’s all right!”
Our conversation was brief because a mob formed around the vice president, but I was satisfied that I had been able to say hello to the man I admired.
I am sorry to say I do not remember a lot of the details. There were tables of refreshments in the East room where the Marine band was playing and we even managed to dance briefly. The towering official Christmas tree was decorated with vintage children’s toys that year, I believe. [Click on the photo to see the real story–I was close–it was Mother Goose characters.]Gorgeous decorations filled every room, but is all a blur–a blur of faces and bodies filling every foot of floor space.
And I got a keepsake Christmas gift to prove that it was not just a dream, but a real Cinderella experience.
Details of a 2016 White House Christmas party for the volunteers who did the decorating.