Bernie McCrea looked around in the Presidential Ballroom of the Capital Hilton. This was the finale of the five-day 90th Continental Congress of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and for this packed grand banquet the tables ran out the bottom of the T-shaped ballroom until they disappeared over the horizon. McCrea was looking for long, white gloves, or maybe a wide-brimmed flowered hat.
"Years ago," she said, "you wouldn't have come to one of these things without seeing everyone in hats and long gloves." Not anymore.
Does that mean the DAR is changing?
"Oh, my, yes," she said. "We're getting more political all the time. It's gettin' fun."
Bernie McCrea is a 50-year member of the DAR. She went hunting for her 50-year pin, which was, was . . .
"Right her," she said. She had found it. She found it that easily only because it was strategically placed. On her ribbon -- her "officials DAR ribbon" -- there must be 40 or 50 pins, most of which signify good works, some of which signify good ancestry. Bernie McCrea, at any rate, is into pins. She's the national DAR insignia chairman. That's the reason she was seated here at the table right below the dais where Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, the guest speaker, and 47 women were seated. None of those women wore long, white gloves or a hat.
Bernie McCrea knows what most people think of the Daughters. She used to think the same thing.
"My mother put me in," she said.
"Were you 18 then?" Suzanne Golden asked.
Bernie McCrea nodded. "I remember think, 'Noooo. All those old women.'"
And now she is one. A Daughter, that is, a Daughter of the American Revolution. Not old. No one who's spoken three sentences with Bernie McCrea could ever think she was old. She is 71 or thereabouts, with a firm grip and a voice that one could hear over everyone else at her table when the colors were presented and the Daughters of the American Revolution stood -- the pins with the name of their Revolutionary War ancestors draped on the ribbon over their hearts, their hands over their ancestor's names -- and sang the National Anthem.
Just the same, Bernie McCrea didn't tell her four kids she was coming to Washington for the 90th Congress. Kids tend to worry needlessly about the well-being of their parents. You know, It's 11 PM. Do you know where your mother it? So Bernie McCrea didn't mention it to any of them.
"I forgot." She winked.
"I sent 'em a card when I got here," she said.
Bernie McCrea says none of her children worry about her when she's around home, home now being Abilene, Tex. She grew up on a ranch outside Cisco, in west Texas. Her father and mother moved there from New Hampshire in 1880. Her father was a rancher. In west Texas then, it took a lot of acreage to graze a thousand head of cattle, so her father bought a lot of acres. "Most of it he bought for a dime an acre," she said. He bought 32 thousand acres.
It was her father who taught her how to hunt, which she said she still does.
"Still?" asked Rose Hall. She found it incredulous that Bernie McCrea would still go hunting.
"Sure," Bernie McCrea said. "Deer hunting. Dove hunting's my favorite. I go turkey hunting sometimes. Got to get up early in the morning to go turkey hunting, though."
Stan McClure, seated between Rose Hall and Bernie McCrea, was pouring the coffee. Dinner had been served, dessert devoured. Dr. Peale would be on in a minute.
"Coffee?" he asked Bernie McCrea.
"No, think you," she said. "I'm a Texas tea-sipper."
"I thought Texans sipped whiskey," McClure said.
Bernie McCrea smiled.
"Oh, we do. We do."