A day for politics stood out for poetry

When you grow up in West Valley City, Utah, you become very familiar with the term "snow day." So familiar, you might take a knee before bedtime and ask the good Lord above to bless you with a beautiful blizzard.

You might open your curtains every winter morning, hoping to see something whiter than Aryan Nation ambitions. You might even consult Native American groups to find out if the rain dance can be choreographed to produce something more … severe.

But on a cold January morning 20 years ago, I didn’t need to rely on any of those perfectly reasonable tactics to stay home from school. While my classmates held out for a snow day, my father – and Bill Clinton – gave me something better: an Inauguration Day.

My parents voted for Clinton. They didn’t just mark the ballot and forget about it; they actually believed in the long shot candidate from Arkansas. That much I knew.

What I didn’t know, for the 15-year-old life of me, was why that meant I could skip a day of school.

Still, if it meant a day without an alarm clock or the big yellow bus that followed it, I could certainly feign interest in a political event. As far as my dad knew, I wanted nothing more than to watch our 42nd president get sworn in.

Why, just the thought of Hillary pondering which color headband to don was getting me pumped. And, for her to stand by her man – at the podium – would really be something for the world – and Tammy Wynette – to witness.

Of course, my dad’s intentions delved a little deeper than fashion and scandal.

President Clinton marked the first candidate in 12 years to go to the White House with my parents’ endorsement. They had always voted Democratic. The Reaganomics years were hard on my family financially, and the four Bush-Quayle years that followed were hard on lip-readers, the word "potato" and Murphy Brown.

As it turned out, we were avid fans of all three.

The way he puts it today, my dad let me stay home from school to watch Clinton’s inauguration "to get a feeling of one dimension of the democratic process." He didn’t aim for political zeal from his daughter, but certainly political knowledge.

Keeping with tradition, when our country’s first black president was inaugurated four years ago, my nephew watched the event with my parents, his grandparents. Alejandro, then 15, simply saw it as an extended hall pass. Now 19, he’s thankful to have seen history in the making.

It’s a time-capsule gift. Kids are bestowed with it today, but won’t unwrap it until adulthood. Unless, as I experienced, something extraordinary happens.

Appropriately, President Barack Obama takes his oath for a second term Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Kids will already be home. Parents tasked with wrangling them in front of a Wii-free TV set have their work ahead of them. That shouldn’t stop them.

I can’t tell you anything about President Clinton’s speech that day. Names of the speakers, whose breath floated in front of their now blurry faces, fail me. Hillary’s dress designer, a distant memory. But, Maya Angelou stands out in my memory like a black woman with a mic at a 1993 presidential inauguration.

Her voice sounded like audible wisdom. Her words lassoed my attention and tightened the twine with every verse. She wrote "On the Pulse of Morning" special for that day and that president.

I remember Clinton’s slow nod, awed eyes and committed clap. The camera panned to kids who were in as firm a grip by that poem as their elders, finally released with the last line: "Good morning."

Angelou stood before national and global leaders. Her words were the most powerful presence in that arena.

What I interpreted as nothing more than a glorified snow day turned out to be the monumental event the rest of the country saw it as. For me, though, it had little to do with politics.

I don’t know what I would’ve learned at school that day. But, from my living room sofa, clad in comfy pajamas, I learned the beauty of words. And I’ve been a student of it ever since.

Contact Xazmin Garza at xgarza@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0477. Follow her on Twitter @startswithanx.

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