Connecting At The Convention
Wednesday - September 17, 2008
I’ve just returned from the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul, where I was a delegate. It was an unforgettable experience, especially because I got to share it with my husband, Jerry (the McCain campaign chair in Hawaii), my son, daughter and son-in-law, granddaughter (6 1/2-month-old Emma), sister and nephew. And also, in a strange way, my mother, who died in 2006.
When elected as a delegate last May, I immediately called my family - each in far-flung corners of the country - to invite them to attend as guests. I never expected they’d rearrange schedules, save money and book flights for the chance to get up-close and personal with America’s political process at its craziest.
But why was I surprised? My mother carried the political gene and passed it to us all. Her strong opinions and activist spirit influenced two generations - children and grandchildren alike - to get involved, espousing her personal credo: “If you don’t participate in the political process, you have no right to complain.” A Republican when Texas was all Democrat, Mother worked at precincts, stuffed envelopes and canvassed anyway.
Our large family - 17 cousins just on one side - weren’t (and aren’t) all Republicans. We run the gamut. Grandma was Republican, granddad, Democrat. And Dad? A small-town lawyer in Texas ranch country, he would bluster, “I can’t tolerate politicians who use our money on projects to keep themselves in office,” but I never really heard him claim a party, likely to keep family peace.
During the convention, my sister Sara kept saying, “I wish Mother were here. It was her dream, not ours.” We had each, unbeknownst to the other, captured some patriotic items from Mother’s jewelry box after she died and was wearing them. Mine was a little red, white and blue ceramic elephant pin. Sara wore a rhinestone American flag. (We wondered whatever happened to her “I like Ike” button).
My sister felt the fact that Mother named her Sara Louise (but without the ‘h’) like Sarah Louise Palin, McCain’s vice presidential pic, was a sign. Mother was here.
After John McCain’s nomination acceptance speech, we all headed to the St. Paul Hilton, where some POW friends of my husband were gathering. Several members of the Heath family (Sarah’s folks) joined us for food and conversation. On the table in front of Palin’s mother, Sally, was a diaper and a pacifier, belonging to new grandson, Trigg, reminding me of my new granddaughter Emma, who’d just gone home. “Would I be there to tend to Emma if my daughter were tagged as vice president?” No question. “I lived in Hawaii for 30 years,” said Katy, Palin’s aunt, who now lives in Northern California. Turns out she was the manager of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki for years and had just been in Hawaii visiting friends. Somehow my son, Kyle, mentioned our Texas roots to Katy and discovered that her brother, Palin’s uncle, lives in our old home town of San Angelo, Texas. What are the odds of that?
Sara and I laughed at some other trivial connections that would’ve amused Mom: My son Kyle’s middle name is Hensley, Cindy McCain’s maiden name. Sara’s son Cameron’s middle name is Heath, Sarah Palin’s maiden name.
Chuck Heath, Palin’s brother, who lives in Alaska, said everything had moved quickly for the family, but added that none of them was surprised about Sarah as the pick.
“Just wait till you really get to know her.” According to Chuck, the Palin family has a condo here in Hawaii, another connection. (Sarah attended Hawaii Pacific University her freshman year.)
Being part of Hawaii’s delegation engendered pride and responsibility. The fresh orchid lei we wore every day with our very bright Aloha shirts inspired awe from other delegates and after every session, in the spirit of aloha, we each gave away our lei.
On that note, besides Governor Lingle speaking on the national stage about Governor Palin, another famous person drew attention to Hawaii - without knowing it. On Wednesday night of the convention, my husband Jerry (Coffee), was seated behind the McCain family with the POWs and Medal of Honor winners awaiting introduction. Suddenly, former president George H.W. Bush and ex-first lady (now “first mother”), Barbara, entered the row directly in front of him. Jerry spontaneously removed his lei and offered it to a willing Mrs. Bush. For the rest of the night (and in last week’s Newsweek spread), there was Barbara Bush wearing a purple orchid lei from Hawaii.
Mother, always crazy about Hawaii, its flowers and Barbara Bush, would’ve loved that, too.
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