We trooped out into the snow to see the garden and take a few pictures with the humps of frozen dirt. Afterwards we followed the chef up two flights of back stairs, and stepped back into a long carpeted hall that was quiet and luxurious, understated like a nice law firm. We went to the end of the hall and around a corner when he ushered us toward an open door. I walked in first, and the first lady looked up from her desk.
“Get in here, come on in, don’t be shy!”
The walls were pale peach, and there was a Christmas tree in the corner. We shuffled around and stayed close to each other.
“This must be the farmer!” she said.
My dad nodded and grinned a hard smile, but none of us really knew what to say. There was some gentle ribbing of the chef about how he didn’t know much about farming, and some discussion of the people who had enjoyed the vegetables.
“We get everyone in here, Dukes and Duchesses, and the first thing they want to see is that garden!”
There was a pause and we all looked around the little space. Eventually my mother spoke up, “So, what’s your family doing for the holidays?”
“Oh, we’re trying to get out of here and go to Hawaii. That’s where the girls’ grandmother is from.”
We shook our heads like we had no idea that the president was from Hawaii: “So interesting!”
“We just need to get this healthcare thing done and we can get out of here.”
More head nodding from us.
“Well, should we take some pictures?” she said.
We gathered around the first lady, and then the rest of us moved back while she took my father’s hand.
“You really made it all possible, you really did. That spinach tasted like honey.”
My father spoke for the first time, “Well, you’re welcome.”
The flash went off, and everyone relaxed.
I felt a little mortified that my dad hadn’t said more, hadn’t made the normal sounds of deference and humility, but we were all nervous and our time felt brief in the awesome presence of the first lady. Her open Diet Coke was right there on the table. There was a box of Kleenex, and if we wanted we could have just grabbed one. The first lady’s Kleenex! Just sitting there!
It was more than that, though. When Michelle Obama mentioned that spinach, when she spoke so sincerely about the garden, I think my father finally felt heard. She understood our concerns about the collards. She knew the carrots were important. She believed in us. For a few moments, caught in the full beam of her political power, there was no way to feel cynical, or invisible, or impotent. We were the most important farmers in the world.
Then we said goodbye and filed out of the office. Our jaws hurt from smiling and we didn’t talk much on the way back to the car. In two hours we were back on the farm, just normal people again. My father went out to his office to get his invoices done and the rest of sat in the kitchen and ate leftovers.