I’m fas­ci­nated by first ladies

The Covington News - - OPINION - DOROTHY PIEDRAHITA COLUM­NIST Dorothy Fra­zier Piedrahita wel­comes reader com­ments. She can be reached at ufra­zier2001@ ya­hoo.com.

Bucket lists come in many va­ri­eties. Mine is a lit­tle more grounded than, say, sky­div­ing, tast­ing all the foods of world cui­sine, or vis­it­ing the outer reaches of the at­mos­phere.

Mine is find­ing out the fas­ci­nat­ing qual­i­ties shared by the small group of women we have come to know as first ladies. I have been col­lect­ing their books.

As I was re­search­ing our first ladies, such as Michelle Obama, Laura Bush, Hil­lary Clin­ton, Bar­bara Bush, Jac­que­line Kennedy Onas­sis and Eleanor Roo­sevelt, I was look­ing for a qual­ity to link them. I set­tled on fas­tid­i­ous­ness.

I thought at first that our first ladies must surely be spe­cial, but then I said, no, they have much in com­mon with you or me. They mar­ried, just as count­less other women around the world do, but then their hus­bands be­came lead­ers of the United States of Amer­ica.

Af­ter read­ing about all of them, I learned that I share some of their be­liefs. It doesn’t mat­ter that I came from a dif­fer­ent eco­nomic back­ground, ge­o­graph­i­cal re­gion or race. We are all ladies of Amer­ica.

All of our first ladies have re­flected the times in which they lived. Each amazed me in her own way.

I first re­mem­ber hear­ing about a first lady as a stu­dent learn­ing about Martha Wash­ing­ton. While I can’t re­late to her time pe- riod, I can re­late to her be­ing a strong per­son; same thing with Mamie Eisen­hower, who in­spired me as a young girl grow­ing up af­ter World War II. Both were first ladies to men who led ar­mies in bat­tle.

Sto­ries of first ladies of the 20th and 21st cen­tury are my present in­ter­est — Mamie Eisen­hower, Jac­que­line Kennedy Onas­sis, Lady Bird John­son, Thelma “Pat” Nixon, El­iz­a­beth Ann “Betty” Ford, Nancy Rea­gan, Bar­bara Bush, Hil­lary Clin­ton, Laura Bush and Michelle Obama, be­ing more re­lat­able for me. As the “first lady” of my own home, I can re­late to them on a very small level.

All of our first ladies have daz­zled us, grac­ing the White House with their own styles.

Take, Eleanor Roo­sevelt, for in­stance. She was a first lady, so­cial ac­tivist, diplo­mat and one of the most beloved women of the 20th cen­tury. While read­ing about her in “Grand­mere,” a per­sonal his­tory, I learned that she was born into a dis­tin­guished yet deeply trou­bled fam­ily, some­thing many of our fam- ilies have in com­mon with hers. She was an elo­quent cham­pion of the rights of blacks, work­ing peo­ple, women and the poor. This great lady also greeted a troupe of white­gloved English debu­tantes in her wet bathing suit, ex­claim­ing, “in­vited you to a pic­nic.” Sounds like a woman I would have en­joyed meet­ing. Our present first lady, Michelle Obama, is a woman whose fam­ily my fam­ily might have got­ten to know if we’d stayed in Chicago. My fam­ily was part of the black flight from the South to the North for a bet­ter life. We also lived on the south side of Chicago. Michelle Obama’s fa­ther had mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis; so does my only brother. Also, both of our par­ents were work­ing-class peo­ple.

We would have many things to dis­cuss: She fights for causes that con­cern chil­dren and fam­i­lies. We’re also both veg­gie gar­den­ers, Mrs. Obama in the White House and me, in Cov­ing­ton.

Mrs. Obama’s jour­ney is not and will never be just about be­ing “first lady,’’ as she is the first black first lady. If I could choose, I would just con­sider her our “first lady,’’ not our “first black first lady.’’

Bar­bara Bush, who is in her late 80s and re­cently was hos­pi­tal­ized, was first lady to one pres­i­dent and mother to another. What a pub­lic life she has had. She has lost a child, which seems al­most un­bear­able. I un­der­stand that she is witty, and her can­dor and com­pas­sion, along with her de­vo­tion to her hus­band and fam­ily, are well­known, as are mine, which makes sense since we are both Gem­i­nis.

Many Amer­i­cans ad­mire and a have fas­ci­na­tion with the “woman called Jackie” — Jac­que­line Kennedy Onas­sis. She is the only first lady in my life­time who re­mar­ried af­ter leav­ing the White House.

When I read about Laura Bush, I dis­cov­ered that I also could have some in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tions with her. She had to live with a pres­i­dent who sent troops to war, keep­ing her mind and shoul­der open to pain. Also a teacher, she filled her mem­oir with hu­mor. I could feel her grace reach out to me as I read each page. Lastly, I would surely like to have a sit­down with Hil­lary Clin­ton. Many want her to be­come our next pres­i­dent, the first fe­male pres­i­dent of the United States. She has been ad­mired, vil­i­fied and scru­ti­nized.

I al­ways felt that in my life­time, there would be a man in the White House who wasn’t a white man. I also be­lieve that in my life­time, I will see a woman pres­i­dent.

One day, I may read mem­oirs of “first men.’’

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