In 2003, Dana Gioia, then chairman of the NEA, invited David and me to join him at the White House for the ceremony preceding the National Book Festival, in which David and Dana were going to take part. "Oh how my mother would love to be there!" said David. Dana promptly phoned his office and arranged a ticked for Anne, David's mother. She was 88 at the time and was a Holocaust survivor from Austria.
Following an extravagant breakfast buffet, we took our seats in a large room set up auditorium style. Laura Bush welcomed everyone and talked about the importance of books and reading. She was followed by Pat Conroy who spoke warmly of his life of reading and writing. He shared an anecdote from his childhood about how upon learning of the Holocaust he ran to the home of Jewish neighbors and knocked on their door. "If the Nazis come," he said, "we will hide you!"
When the speeches were over and everyone was milling about, Anne worked her way through the crowd to reach Conroy. "I was there," she said. "When the Nazis came. And look at me now! In the White House with my son."
Pat Conroy took her hands and looked into her eyes. "I'm glad you made it," he said.
Within a year or so Anne began her long slow decline. I'm forever grateful to Dana Gioia for giving her such a wonderful memory and to Pat Conroy for his kindness.
More pictures from the trip: