A story about Madeleine Albright

I used to have a series up called Tales of J which were about my late son Jonah. He met Madeleine Albright once, and one of the Tales was about that. The original post was actually two about politics, the other being where we met Senator Obama when he was campaigning for President in 2012, but that one has nothing to do with Madeleine Albright. She died today, and so I’m reprinting this story. 

My son was born a few blocks from the White House, in a hospital that closed years ago. He always had a taste for politics, though the pagentry appealed to him far more than the issues did.

When he was four years old and we weren’t local to the District, we went back for some occasion, I think our anniversary, and the three of us went out to dinner in my wife’s and my favorite Washington restaurant, Nora, located in the Dupont Circle neighborhood just up Florida Avenue from the Cosmos Club. This particular restaurant was a Democratic hangout, which had nothing to do with why we loved it – we loved the food, and they knew us there because we’d started going there when we were engaged. 

We were seated in a side room, long and narrow. At the end of the room a man was sitting in a chair by himself, no table, his eyes fixed straight ahead down the length of the room, unwavering. As we were being seated, we were led past a table where a woman sat eating; we were seated two tables past her. 

“Did you notice who we just passed?” I asked my wife. She hadn’t. “Madeline Albright.” “You’re right.” That explained the guy at the end of the room. This was during the Clinton administration, so she was in office. 

J was charming at that age (at many ages, but he was going through a particularly cute phase). The woman who had front of house that night offered to give him a tour of the restaurant, including the kitchen, which appealed to him, so she grabbed the handles of his wheelchair and off they went. 

Somehow during all of this she managed to get permission from the Secretary of State for J to come over and meet her. Was that OK with us? Duh. Have a good time, Kid. So off they went. We, incidentally, didn’t meet her. 

So J was wheeled over to her table and chatted with her for a while. In a few minutes, he was wheeled back to us.  How did the conversation go? He related it to us. She showed him pictures of her grandchildren. They talked about how neither liked vegetables.

(That would change. J would turn into a serious foodie, the most adventurous young eater I’ve ever seen, unfazed as a child by escargot or raw oysters, a far less picky eater than either his mother or little sister. I got to eat things like gefilte fish because at least one other member of the family would eat it with me and enjoy it. His mother misses having someone so appreciative to cook for – and someone who drove her to try new recipes, particularly if they involved pasta.)

J allowed as how he thought her boss had done a good job on the recent State of the Union address. “I’ll tell him you said so,” she replied.

So we go back home and J is relating the experience to Julie, his speech therapist. He’s talking about visiting the restaurant. He’s telling about how he met the front of house woman (who he named), and the chef, and the pastry chef, and Secretary Albright, and…  Julie didn’t catch his articulation, so she asked me for help – What was that last thing he said? “Secretary Albright.” “YOU MET MADELINE ALBRIGHT??!?!!?! THAT IS SO COOL!!!”

From this experience, J learned that, when telling this story, it was a good idea to list Secretary Albright first. 

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