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Thursday, July 13, 2023

Dr. Jill’s White House–Doilies, Lace Curtains, And A Nice Parlor For An Old Man

Little has been made of Jill Biden since she moved in to 1700, but she has been busy behind the scenes.  Eschewing the public spotlight, she has assiduously avoided ribbon cuttings and civic engagement.  Taking care of Joe has been her one and only enterprise, and an important one.  The more he slipped off the rails, the greater her role in righting the train.  Who better than his devoted wife of 50 years to assume the responsibility of keeping the President on track and moving down the line.  The country needed her as much as the President.  She willingly demurred when it came to educational leadership.  Yes, she had a doctorate and had, throughout Joe’s tenure in the Delaware political system, advised Delaware’s public school system; but her principal role had always been helping Joe – when to advance, when to retreat, when to channel his Irish brawler, when to express his altar boyishness, and when to fight for Delaware.  Most Americans had no idea where the state was let alone its storied early American history, and Jill helped provide the context for her husband’s legislative battles. Yet still and all in all, she was simply there for Joe whose happy smile and natural generosity never seemed enough in the rough-and-tumble world of American politics.

Now that he was in the White House and slipping badly, Joe became her principal responsibility.  She was there for him and for the country.

“Honey”, the President said one night before bed, “where are my slippers?” Not a good sign, Jill knew.  The President’s slippers had become a metaphor, an unsettling sign of his increasing debility.  What he really meant was what’s what? He was having trouble finding his way, and his bedtime reference to the soft, downy slippers she had bought for him was a signal – a reaching out for some familiar reference point in an increasingly indistinct world.  “Under the bed, dear, where I always put them”, she replied, and the President slipped under the satin sheets and fell quickly asleep.

Over the past months Jill had redecorated the White House – or rather the Presidential quarters, office, and meeting rooms – with the memorabilia that would remind him of his happy childhood and be mnemonic charges in a growing disassembly of his mind.  She replaced the gold-embroidered drapes, a gift from the Shah of Iran, with lace curtains, light and frilly, hand-stitched and designed with an Irish motif.  Although Jill’s father’s people were Sicilian goombas who hated the Irish, the lace-curtain cops and aldermen who never got beyond a good Guinness and Jameson’s drunk, she decided to marry the up-and-coming Biden despite her father’s outrage. ‘Good-for-nothing bar fighter’, he shouted when he found out that the future President was courting. ‘Marry one of your own kind’; but Jill had her own mind and accepted Joe’s offer.

So Jill put lace curtains on all the windows in the Presidential bedroom, and despite the censure of the Secret Service, cracked the windows so that summer breezes would flutter the curtains just as they did in Delaware.  Next were antimacassars, unnecessary  since the Presidential barber kept Joe’s thinning hair clean, well-brushed, and oil-free but memories of the modest house in which he had grown up.  His mother, like all the Irish housewives in the community, put these embroidered, intricately patterned cloths over the backs and arms of every chair in the parlor.  Jill hated them – the reeked of lace curtain Irish pretention and bad taste – but knew they featured in her husband’s memories.

Handmaid Irish Lace Curtains, Carnlough Harbor, Ireland | Gordijnen

Next were doilies, even more despised by Jill, especially the ones crocheted with horrible floral designs.  Joe’s mother had put them on every table, settee, highboy, and vanity in the house.  There to protect the wood from stains and scratches, they had become part of the décor and created a homey, familiar ambience.  Arraying all this bas-bourgeois Irish clutter was distasteful at best, but important to the President’s and the nation’s health.  “Just like home”, the President remarked once the redecoration had been completed.  Gone was the Jefferson silver, the Adams chest, and the Lincoln armoire – all too institutional and official for the President – and replaced with replicas of his childhood furniture.

Ravelry: Irish Crochet Doily pattern by The Spool Cotton Company

No one in the White House retinue seemed to notice or if they did to grasp the ancestry of the new appointments.  They were all new type Americans - the inclusive brown, black, gay, Hispanic, and transgender kind, one step from the ghetto, cabbage fields, or the Castro and didn’t know doilies from applique.  ‘God knows what’s in their houses’, said the First Lady who had winced at her husband’s overzealous peopling of the White House with ‘the rainbow’.  He didn’t have to be quite so obvious about it, she thought.  One at a time perhaps, but in one fell swoop?

Jill changed the bedroom Muzak channel to old childhood favorites – Helen McDonald, Ray Eberle, and Vaughan Monroe – filled the bookshelves with old, used copies of the President’s favorite childhood bedtime stories, and added movie posters of Tom Mix, Roy Rogers, and Hopalong Cassidy.  She limited herself to more modest changes in the more public areas of the White House, and only the Irish Ambassador noticed some quirky statuette from Cork, a present from Joe’s aunt Bridget.

Western Love Story: A New Book About Roy Rogers And Dale Evans - C&I  Magazine

Did the restructuring work? Well, the President seemed more relaxed, but his slippage continued.  He muffed his lines, garbled his responses, created words, confused history, and in many cases made no sense at all.  He was a happier man for all the doilies and lace curtains, but they didn’t help his focus.  In fact, they did just the opposite.  More and more he recalled the past in his public utterances, going far off message to speak of Aunt Bridget, their summer cottage in Rehoboth, the elms and sycamores on the streets of Wilmington, Father Brophy, and the sad Irish tunes sung by Paddy O’Rourke.  “Take the bloody things down, Madame”, said the President’s Chief of Staff, appalled at the lowbrow feel of the new White House (his patrician, Main Line, old English past had been somehow overlooked by staff recruiters).   He sniffed at every removal of Early Americana, and every new chintzy settee put in its place.  It was horrible.

There was no recourse.  Damned if you do, damned if you don’t; and so stasis ruled, and the President wobbled between this world and that until he was recalled, isolated, immured in fact in his chambers and Oval Office without appearance or visitors.  Better safe than sorry was the meme of the inner staff and the era of the invisible president began.  No one really cared at this point.  Biden’s approval rating was in the 30s and not surprisingly went up a few notches once he disappeared from view.  Besides, everyone knew that his claques and shills did all the heavy lifting.  He had nothing to do with transgender rights, border policy, energy and environmental principles, or the Iranian ayatollahs, and whatever new initiatives that came out of the White House were somebody else’s.

By the middle of his third year, the President had gone completely around the bend, the country was ruled by diversity zealots and anti-capitalist dreamers, and Jill was nonplussed.  Her dear, darling Joe wasn’t himself anymore.  One more year, she thought.  One more year and we’re back to Delaware.  She wasn’t sure what she would do with him once they got back. Presidential nursing home? Secret Service protected retirement village?  Someone to change his diapers and feed him Pablum?  Not for her, but she was no spring chicken either and she had herself to think about.  Sicily maybe, the Old Country? Fresh sardines and blood oranges?  Yes, she concluded, that was the ticket.

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