Last month’s trip was full of “holy shit!” moments. From beginning to end, the two weeks was chock full of eye-opening events and scenery. Our first leg took us to the 38th Annual National Society of Newspaper Columnists Conference in Washington, DC. It was my fifth year of attending and I wasn’t disappointed.
Arriving a day early, we were picked up at the airport by a friend I’ve known since we were in the fourth grade. Margie and Bob reside in Falls Church, VA, and were gracious enough to put us up on our first night in their lovely home. Decades ago, Margie’s mom managed the Home and Hobby store on chic Park Avenue in Winter Park, which was the go-to place for crystal, china and anything shiny and breakable. Margie’s welcoming home reflects her mother’s taste and charm.
But first, Margie took us to the Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens which includes the Georgian-style mansion of Marjorie Merriweather Post (of the Post cereal empire). Some of you, as old as I, might recognize Ms. Post’s daughter, Dina Merrill, the actress and philanthropist, who carries on her mother’s legacy. One of my favorite stories on the tour was about an incident which occurred during the depression of the twenties. Ms. Merriweather Post gathered up her collection of jewelry, placed it in a safe deposit box, then used the savings from the insurance on said jewelry to open several soup kitchens for women and children. She served up food and drink for the poor with linens and china, respecting the dignity of those who were not as fortunate.
The mansion/museum is full of art, china, and original furnishings; and the magnificent gardens are resplendent with color. This jewel of an estate is tucked away in the residential Forest Hills neighborhood of DC and provides an enlightening and quiet side trip from the tourist areas of the city.
While Charlie hung out with an old school friend of his own, the rest of the weekend put me into star-struck nerd writer overload. The roster of speakers at the NSNC conference was incredible. Beginning with Connie Schultz, I was thrilled to meet this prolific writer, of whose FaceBook page I am a stalker. Connie used to write for the Cleveland Plain-Dealer but left the paper when her husband, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, campaigned. She now is nationally syndicated through Creators Syndicate and writes for Parade Magazine. This Pulitzer Prize winner gave me a “holy shit” moment when I realized she was following me on Twitter.
Other speakers kept us enthralled and in stitches, such as Craig Wilson, retired USA Today columnist; John Avlon of The Daily Beast; Gene Weingarten, Dana Milbank, Marguerite Kelly and Alexandra Petri, all of the Washington Post; and Llewellyn King, who currently is host and executive producer of “White House Chronicle” on PBS, and whose background is too lengthy to list here. These are but a few of the journalists who graced us with their presence over the weekend and were so inspirational to a “wanna-be” writer.
Again, I was thinking, “holy shit!” while having dinner in the bowels of the Capitol building after a short tour of the rotunda, with nary a soul around but our small group of writers. Having toured the Capitol before with hordes of tourists, it was an eerie feeling to be there without the crowds. Our footsteps echoed in the pristine rooms which have held so much of this country’s history. It was an awesome experience and one I will not soon forget.
The next chapter takes us to Portland, Oregon…to be continued.