One of Washington's most beguiling daily dramas is no more. Winston Churchill is without his bouquet of flowers.
A statue of the great wartime leader stands outside the British Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue NW. All day, every day, there's Sir Winston, doing two of the things he most liked to do -- smoking a cigar and giving the V-for-victory sign.
Back in 1982, the Churchill statue started getting an interesting kind of garnish. Each weekday morning, well before dawn, someone would march up and wedge about eight flowers in between Sir Winston's thumb and forefinger. Usually they were daisies; sometimes violets, sometimes sprigs of green. Regardless, neither rain nor sleet nor gloom of night would stay the flower-bearer from her appointed rounds.
Yes, it was a "her." That much the security staff at the embassy quickly determined. Not surprisingly in this age of terrorism, the security staff questioned the woman closely.
She identified herself as a Greek citizen. She said she worked for a former American ambassador who lives in the neighborhood. She said she had always greatly admired Churchill's skills and style, and wanted to do something in his memory. One day, she impulsively decided to stuff flowers in Sir Winston's hand. Couldn't she please make a daily habit of it?
Reassured that the woman was not an explosives expert or a vandal, the embassy staff decided to look the other way. No one ever asked the woman's name. No one ever asked where she got the flowers. She made her "drop" each weekday morning, and if anyone asked the embassy what in the world this was all about, the staff would shrug and say it was all a mystery.
Which is exactly what Isabelle Ratcliffe of the press office said the other day when she was asked why the flowers suddenly stopped late last fall.
"It's a little bit of a mystery," she said. The embassy grapevine said the Greek woman either changed jobs or moved away or both. But who she is or where she went? Isabelle had no idea.
Whoever you are, mystery-shrouded lady, you deserve a bouquet of thanks. Not only did you brighten up Sir Winston's mitt all these years, but you did the same to the faces of many grumpy commuters.
Speaking of putting smiles on the faces of the public, Montgomery County has been trying to do that in an ingenious way for the last 13 years. The county's method: non-parking tickets.
Each year, for the two days before Christmas, the Montgomery County Department of Transportation "forgets" to ticket cars parked illegally in its Silver Spring, Wheaton, Bethesda and Montgomery Hills lots. Instead, motorists discover a poem under the windshield wiper. It reads:
The meter was red as time had expired
In the rush of the season we knew you'd be tired,
A parking ticket would just make you blue
In the holiday spirit this just wouldn't do;
So during this time of friendship and good cheer
Season's Greetings to you and best wishes all year.
According to Joe Tracy, chief of the Division of Parking at Montgomery DOT, 1,900 of the non-tickets were given out during the 1987 holiday. The idea was to provide "a little public relations and holiday spirit and make everybody feel a little better. It is a good will effort on the part of the county," Joe said.
I think it's a heck of an idea. I think the other jurisdictions ought to copy it (none has, by the way). I think the lucky 1,900 parkers ought to send county executive Sidney Kramer a thank-you note -- since Kramer's name appears at the bottom of the poem.
But you know what? Not a single one of the 1,900 unticketed souls called or wrote Kramer this year. Nor did any of them call or write Montgomery DOT. In fact, said Joe, it has been several Christmases since anyone in the county government has gotten any reaction to its non-tickets.
Joe says there are no plans to dump the program. But if a P.R. campaign doesn't seem to be making any visible or audible friends, that campaign may soon be on the endangered species list.
Don't let that happen. If you have received a Montgomery non-ticket over the years, take a second to let Sid Kramer (251-2500) or Joe Tracy (565-7670) know how much you appreciate the favor. Twenty-five cents spent today may mean $10 not spent next December.
A nurse at George Washington University Hospital says she overheard it in the intensive care unit.
Heart attack victim, who was out of danger, to his daughter: "For a minute or two, I thought I was dead."
Daughter: "Did you know anyone in heaven?"
Dad: "No. That's why I decided to come back."