The first time I went to Washington D.C. it was freezing, bleak, grey – and this little Aussie bounced around in the sleet and wind without a coat or thermals, frozen to the bone, wandering between the different Smithsonian museums with pure determination to see everything.
Mum told me her friend Dennis would love for me to stay with him in D.C. and I would be very welcome and very much looked after so I decided to take advantage of “family” accommodation and add another city to my list! I’d never met Dennis prior to my arrival but mum always said he was like a brother to her, having met him when mum was on student exchange to Michigan many years ago. Leading up to this visit Dennis and I had been in touch with only a few emails yet when I arrived at Union Station he enveloped me in a huge hug, insisted on taking my massive and ridiculous backpack (it was the early stages of my first proper trip and I was yet to learn the value of packing light), and showed me around his office before taking me to lunch. We fell into an easy routine and in that freezing cold week he went to work every day while I roamed the streets with camera in hand before meeting him and his co-workers at the pub to wrap up the day.
Returning to D.C. after visiting Canada was a definite must because even though I’d seen most of the sights, I knew I wanted to see my “family” again. I flew back from Canada to D.C. and arrived (a day late because of a cancelled flight) to a sky I did not recognise. Blue! Sun! It was still cold but there was a warmth in the sun, and the air was so fresh and bright that I couldn’t help but marvel at how different D.C. was now that its Winter shroud had been lifted.
Dennis, as usual, was very sensitive as to what I might want and not want to do, and was especially conscious of my fatigue. He invited me to see the cherry blossoms – or take a nap if I prefer. My immediate reaction was “sleeeeeeep” but I was determined not to waste the only day we would have because of the aforementioned cancelled flight and the next day I was leaving for Philadelphia. I agreed to a walk to what I expected would be a few pretty flowers. But the streets were gorgeous themselves! The magnolias were blooming everywhere and he laughed as I snapped countless photos of the same flower and told me to make sure there was room for cherry blossom photos. I could not imagine that anything would be more gorgeous that the abundant magnolia trees lining the streets.
Then we arrived at the cherry blossoms.
I couldn’t believe how beautiful they were – and not just the blossoms but the whole atmosphere. It was completely and entirely not the D.C. I remembered – the low grey sky and the bitter wind had moved elsewhere (Canada, actually – it had followed me to Nova Scotia and I left it there). I have a lot of memories of D.C. from the lemon tarts with rosemary and pine nuts that we found in the cafeteria of the National Museum of the American Indian to visiting the Library of Congress and making Dennis sit through every photo I took immediately after. I was especially honoured to go to the Supreme Court and watch Dennis get sworn in (very cool) … but mostly it’s the cherry blossoms that stand out in my mind. Of all the museums I visited and the streets I roamed, it’s that single day when we walked around D.C. and saw the cherry blossoms that I remember best. We walked slowly beneath the trees and oohed and aahed before we walked to the Monumment and mucked around with camera angles trying to make it look like we had unicorn horns, and then made caramel fudge brownies and watched Inglorious Basterds. It’s one of the days that I remember best.
And I’m glad. Because Dennis passed away last night, and my foremost memory of him is with the cherry blossoms.