"I just feel so sorry for these girls, I really do," sighed a veteran senator's wife as she looked around at the new crop of immaculately coiffed, carefully dressed and slightly dazed additions to the ranks. "It really isn't any fun the first year."
The wives of the newly minted senators had not, of course, had world enough and time to test the truth of that remark, and so they mingled in their innocence with uncreased smiles to the strains of a Mozart minuet in a small room on the second floor of the Capitol. They had come to a tea for the new Senate wives hosted by Nancy Thurmond, wife of the new chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Strom Thurmond. "Most of the wives are in a state of and exhilaration by now," she said. "This is to give them a chance to relax and regroup in an informal setting. The whole experience for them is a sort of matriculation process at this point."
The new kids on the block stuck for the most part to the comfortable conversational terrain of children, housing and the high cost of living in Washington, while the veterans, more accustomed to watching the funhouse from the minority side of the mirror, discussed the way things looked from the majority end of things. "There's certainly a lot more prestige involved," said Marilyn Quayle, whose husband, Dan Quayle (R-Ind.) had been a congressman before his election to the Senate, thereby sparing her most of the political culture shock. "We're getting many more invitations to nicer things."
Many of the wives of the new senators just got to town on Sunday, the day before their husbands were sworn in, and so had had little time to experience more than minor calamity in a town where the uneventful goes unremarked. Carolyn Mattingly, wife of Mack Mattingly, Georgia's first Republican senator since Reconstruction, has found herself camping out in a hotel after the heat failed in their newly rented Georgetown home, and Nancy Murkowski had had doubts as to whether her six children would have anything but blue jeans to wear to their father's swearing-in Monday when the luggage nearly failed to arrive from Alaska.
Still, such arcane mysteries as the care and feeding of constituents and the nuances of protocol and precedence remained locked in all the sense of future that a six-year term can contain, and hope stirred as gently as the silver spoons in the china cups. "I'm just not going to worry about all the things that could go wrong," said Carolyn Mattingly, who plans to work in her husband's office. "I'm beginning to learn just how flexible one's life style as a senator's wife can be. I may even be able to duck out and go to concerts now and then."
At the end the women were given three books -- "Nancy" by Nancy Reagan, "Marvella" by the late wife of former senator Birch Bayh, and "Mother's Medicine" by Nancy Moore Thurmond, and some words of advice from their hostess. She spoke of her friendship with Marvella Bayh, who died of cancer in 1979, urged them to heed Bayh's suggestion to "take the time to smell the roses," and added her own advice concerning the need to "reinforce and strengthen our families."
Marvella Bayh, said Nancy Thurmond, was a woman with "a firsthand knowledge of the joys of public life and its tragedies and sorrows." Her guests, with only a few days' experience of the first and time enough ahead for the rest, smiled their smiles and said goodbye.