Charles Siskin: Dancing With A Star - Rosalynn Carter

  • Sunday, November 26, 2023
  • Charles Siskin
President Jimmy Carter, First Lady Rosalynn Carter and Diane Siskin. Also shown are the North Portico of the White House and the East Room, the largest and most formal of the state reception rooms. The postcards are from the White House Historical Association.
President Jimmy Carter, First Lady Rosalynn Carter and Diane Siskin. Also shown are the North Portico of the White House and the East Room, the largest and most formal of the state reception rooms. The postcards are from the White House Historical Association.

I don’t remember the exact date, my wife is much better with dates, but I do remember that it was raining as our limousine pulled under the portico of the East Wing of the White House.

Because of my wife’s job as a feature writer at the Chattanooga Free Press and the relationship fostered with President Carter through a series of articles about the Carter family, she received an invitation to a Christmas party for the press at the White House.

Regardless of your political affiliation, no matter who was or is currently residing at that most impressive address, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, a coveted invitation to attend an event there was both exciting and an honor. Or as I said to my bride, “Count me in!”

First things first, as I remembered, I needed a tuxedo. (My talented wife will remind me if I did or didn’t). Borrow or buy was the question and the answer was rent. Simple enough. Like a Christmas turkey I needed all the “fixins”, tux shirt, bow tie, cummerbund and shoes. Properly outfitted that night we headed inside for a memorable evening. And we were not disappointed.

While security was tight, I’m sure it doesn’t compare with what now takes place in order to get inside the White House. We were on a check list and we did have to show a picture I.D.

That was it and “just like that” we were escorted by a Marine in full dress to the main ballroom where a large crowd of journalists was mixing and mingling. There was no alcohol in sight. The Carters were very strict about that.

My wife seemed to know several of the writers there and, while she was speaking with them, I tried to look as inconspicuous as any husband might under the circumstances. First off I checked the buffet.

Being in food service I wanted to see and taste what was being offered. It was typical Southern country fare. You could call it “finger food” and I did. Nothing wrong with that but since it was a large crowd and there was limited seating, if any at all, handling a small plate of food and a cup of punch was pretty much a balancing act and gave me a greater understanding of how to handle my next catered event.

At one point in the evening I did wander out into the White House itself and was accompanied by one of the Marines who were on duty that evening. He showed me around several of the public rooms normally open for tours. Having my own personal guide was another highlight of my evening.

However, the real highlight of that evening came when I was tapped on the shoulder and told that I would be dancing with Mrs. Carter shortly and basically… Stand By. And moments later I was dancing with Rosalynn Carter. She called me by name as I remember and, while I don’t know what I responded, I’m sure it was something insipid. I remember she was light on her feet but then again this was no Dancing with the Stars. However, Mrs. Carter was the star and those few minutes we danced together were and remain very special and quite memorable.

What stuck in my mind was how she called me by my name. While I know she had been told by one of her staff in advance, I thought it was pretty cool to have the wife of the President of the United States speak to me as though we were old friends. Those few short minutes we spent on the dance floor seemed very natural. That was Rosalynn Carter’s style.

That’s how I will remember her as a gracious Southern lady from Plains, Georgia who was thrust into a very harsh limelight and who handled her fame with charm and grace. Always a lady as well as a pretty good dancer.

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