Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas at the White House 2008

The Sunday after Thanksgiving, I accompanied Pam Helmsing, executive director of NCTA, to Washington D.C. to present the official White House Christmas Tree. As this is my first year with NCTA, I have never seen the Blue Room Christmas Tree presentation. It was definitely a career high for Christmas Tree growers Jessie Davis and Rusty Estes of River Ridge Tree Farms, and I was glad I could be there to experience it, too.
Upon arriving at the White House on the day of the presentation, it took a bit of time to clear each of us through the security gates. Once on the grounds, Pam and I were busy coordinating with the first lady’s press office and the media. We distributed media kits with information about River Ridge Tree Farms, the official White House Christmas Tree, NCTA and general Christmas Tree facts and information. We also provided NCTA ornaments for the media. The weather was not agreeable as it continued to drizzle and stay gray throughout the presentation.
When Mrs. Bush came out of the White House doors, the U.S. Marine Corps Band, “The President’s Own,” played Christmas music as the wagon hauling the tree approached the portico. Though she kept it quick so everyone could move on and out of the rain, Mrs. Bush hit all of the high notes. Not only did she mention NCTA but she also quoted facts about the Fraser fir from River Ridge Tree Farms.

Once the presentation was complete, the families and NCTA staff were invited in out of the rain and into the Diplomatic Reception Room for cookies and hot chocolate. There we enjoyed the treats and warmed up as the family took pictures in front of the fireplace where a famous painting of George Washington hung above. In fact, the face on the $1 bill is a replica this painting. During our time at the White House, Chief Usher Admiral Stephen Rochon gave us quite a history lesson in the time allowed.

In a matter of 15 minutes, one of her press secretaries ushered in the first lady. Mrs. Bush took the time to take pictures with each of the families and NCTA staff. Though her schedule did not yield her much time to stay and visit, she was personable and enjoyable! She even spent time holding Rusty Estes’ grandson and taking a few extra pictures with the children.

Once she left and the hot chocolate and treats were gone, Admiral Rochon personally invited the family and NCTA staff back the following morning to see the Blue Room Christmas Tree being decorated and get a small tour of the White House. On that tour, we were able to see and learn the history of most of the rooms on the State Floor including the East Room, the Green Room, the Blue Room, the Red Room and the State Dining Room. We also saw all the rooms off the Ground Floor Corridor, including the Vermeil Room and the Library. Then we moved to the East Wing where we toured the bowling alley and the movie theater!

We were even lucky enough to run into the Superintendent of Grounds, Dale Haney with the Bush's dogs, Barney and Miss Beazley.
On the day of the presentation on our way out, , we watched the Parks Service crew pulling the Fraser fir tree through the front doors of the White House and into the Blue Room. It is no small task to pull a 21 foot tree through a small double-doorway and through the White House with all its valuable antiques and historic paintings. Getting the tree in the Blue Room, situating it in the stand and setting it upright is another job that takes the many hands. Watch the attached video to see just how complicated and tedious this process is.

Once we left the gates of the White House, life resumed its normalcy. For just a few hours, which seemed to go by so quickly, we were guests in the executive residence and workplace of the president of the United States, one of the highest honors I know I will ever receive.

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