As I read the headlines in this morning’s Vineyard Gazette, I notice I’m showing Pavlovian signs. I actually think I will be seeing, in person, the President of the United States of America again. Well, not just seeing him but interacting with him. Actually it’s even more than that — I’m starting to look forward to getting a hug, just like last summer.
I’ve told this “well documented story” to anyone who will listen so many times and when I speak of “The Hug’ I am still exhilarated.
Let me start by saying I don’t view myself as a celebrity stalker. In fact I have such poor facial recognition skills that I cannot usually tell when we have a “live” one in our midst. The President however — unmistakable!
Most people know where Obama likes to “summer” with his family and that he loves to golf. I’ve been on the island of Martha’s Vineyard for each of the President’s six visits but last year was the first time we had a chance to meet.
So, here’s how it happened. Last summer I was playing golf with a few women who I didn’t know all that well, (I’m a new but avid golfer). We were having a great time chatting, the topic being, the timing Obama would start playing at our course that day. We knew it would be soon because the secret service had started swarming the club.
As we walked up to finish our putts on the 4th green, we saw the crowds had gathered to see Obama at the first tee which was just a short pathway from our green.
I asked each of the women if they wanted to stop to see the President tee off, but everyone was into their game and preferred to continue along. But, not me. I told them, with a half smile, “I’m going to meet the President, I will catch up with you, just give me a “par” on the next hole.” By the way “give me a par” is a golf joke. Thank goodness they thought that was funny.
Carrying no clubs but just my small fanny pack, which was “armed” with my iPhone, I walked the direct path from our 4th hole over to the first tee. There were no secret service men, no checkpoints, just a clear path, so I assumed this was all fine.
I stood at the edge of the first tee, on the opposite side of the crowd that had lined up by the tee as well. They were at least 2 deep and I wondered why no one was watching from my vantage point. I waved at our golf pro who looked at me from across the tee as I mouthed “is this ok?” He smiled and gave me a thumbs up.
The club house porch was packed with at least 50 people. It was odd, but that I was by myself, alone, on the opposite side– not one person was near me, not even security.
And then the crowd parted and the President appeared. Barack Obama walked out onto the first tee and because he is left-handed his back was to the crowd. He bent down to put his tee carefully in the ground and I watched with focused fascination. And then he paused, he peered up from that golf ball that he was balancing so elegantly on the tee – he looked up at me from his bent position and he stood up and looked me directly in the eye. With his club in his left hand, he held out his right hand and took 3 giant steps to where I was standing.
“What is your name?” he said.
“Felice,” I replied, “I came to meet you.”
“Great, how’s your game going?” The President addressed me in a voice I was quite familiar with.
“I left my game to meet you,” I said coyly.
“I appreciate that, but no one should interrupt their golf game if they don’t have to.” Barack Obama said to me.
“I wanted to thank you for all the hard work you have been doing.” I said.
He seemed to pause for a second.
It was very quiet at that moment. I was completely in a Presidential bubble, it felt like there was no one around, just the President and myself.
In that extended pause, it appeared he looked down at my 5 foot almost 8 inch stature from his over 6 foot tall height and he smiled in a sincere way. (I felt small).
“Thank you so much for saying that. May I give you a hug.” Obama said to me!
“Of course.” I nodded and felt a warm blush at the back of my neck. I believe my heart rate accelerating.
Then…Barack Obama, the President of the United States of America hugged me. It was a cool and calm moment. I was totally aware of what was happening, completely present, I willed myself to take it all in. I remember thinking, “the President of the United States of America just asked you for a hug!”
As his hands touched my shoulders and he pulled me into a very kind hug, a paternalistic hug, I thought, “He is very thin and very tall.”
And then that was it. Over. It was over. “Did that just happen?’ I thought.
He walked back to his tee. I watched him hit a great drive (I think, I don’t honestly remember) I don’t think he took a Mulligan. I was dazed. I remember staring back at the crowd facing me and seeing the golf pro with an ear to ear smile nodding at me.
My heart was pumping, pumping very hard as I sprinted over to my golf group who were only one hole beyond where I had left them.
They greeted me with laughter – they had seen it – they couldn’t believe it – I couldn’t believe it. My game was over. I barely made it to the 9th hole and they understood when I excused myself from the next 9 holes.
I ran inside the clubhouse and asked if anyone had seen Obama hugging a woman on the first tee. One woman had a few shots on her phone but they were too fuzzy. Then I walked inside to the club bar and there, the chef showed me her pictures. She had captured the hug. It was thrilling to see the photo of what I had just experienced. It had actually happened – I had proof.
And so now I have that photo, and I look at it often. I need to show it when I share the story because no one really believes me. But, then after they look at the photo – they are amazed!
So that was so last year and now it’s another summer, and Barack Obama is back on the island and he is golfing and happily, so am I. I have no idea what time he will be coming out to the course or even which day.
When I read the headline this morning that he had arrived on the island, my heart started pumping. My Pavlovian response to the headline was triggered and I was feeling that Presidential hug. Should I have the opportunity to see him again, I would gladly receive another hug, but this time, I hope he’s with Michelle because now that she’s a BA50, we’ve got a lot to talk about.