The Mr. Coffee machine on the kitchen counter was dispensing, the Siamese cat Sherry was frantically escaping an aggressive dog outside, the State Department was on the phone and newspaper and television reporters were moving freely in and out of Dorothea Morefield's front door like so many familiar neighborhood teenagers.
The casual chaos that reigned in the Morefield home today was both a signal of and an antidote for the perceptible increase of tension in the family's life. In a few hours, the Iranian parliament would begin debating the conditions for the release of Richard Morefield and 51 other Americans held hostage in Iran.
Dorothea Morefield and her five children were facing either the end of a prolonged and painful wait or the biggest disappointment yet in a year punctuated with sudden moments of despair.
Should the news be good, however, everything was ready. Or almost ready. By Friday, Morefield had memorized the scheduled flights from Los Angeles to Germany, where the hostages will probably be taken on their release. She had made sure she needed no visa for the trip. As soon as Dick told her that he wanted her there, she would be on the next plane.
Arrangements had also been made for a massive thanksgiving to be held at nearby St. Joseph's Cathedral on the day of the hostages' release, and a tentative text of an invitation had been prepared.
"For so long we've talked in generalities in our own family and with the others (families of hostages) . . . now it's reality again," said Morefield. "Now we're talking in specifics."
"I do think the end is coming," she said moments later in an interview with a local radio station.
The Morefields, from 46-year-old Dorothea to 14-year-old Kenneth, are keenly aware of the dangers of excessive optimism. "When you get superexcited and things fall through, it's superdepressing," said 22-year-old Betsy, speaking from her graduate student office at the University of Virginia engineering school. "But I'm kind of torn up. It's very hard to keep calm and tell yourself, 'I'm not going to get excited.'"
Still, since uncertainty has become part of the backdrop of her existence, Betsy continued to correct her freshmen computer course test. In the same way, her mother has gone on driving Kenneth to school, making sure 16-year-old Steven was prepared for today's PSAT tests, and keeping track of the comings and goings of 21-year-old Dan and 20-year-old Bill.
Only one thing is markedly different from a year ago. Dorothea Morefield is no longer a good-natured, complaisant Foreign Service wife, content to believe that the State Department knows best. Her affection for old friends at State if now mingled with irritation at what she describes as the department's patronizing, almost mechanical handling of the hostage families' needs.
She is angry at the volunteer group which has worked as a liaison between the department and the families -- particularly at one member of the group who once told her "that I ought to change my attitude, it would make everything easier for everyone."
She is angry at the department's tendency to treat the families as a homogenous group, a tendency which she says ignores the fact that they come from widely disparate backgrounds and have had disparate needs, feelings and problems over the past 12 months.
And she is occasionally annoyed at the leaders of the families' own organization, the Family Liaison Action Group. Its president, Katherine Keough, called her yesterday, Morefield said, to say that traveling to Germany in spite of State Department admonitions not to would be "a betrayal" of the other families.
"I've come to the conclusion that I'm not going to be told anything," Morefield said yesterday. "I'm not going to decide what to do until I talk to Dick. If he wants me [in Germany], I'm going."
Some of Morefield's new independence showed through this afternoon when an old friend, Sheldon Krys, the executive director of Near East and South Asian affairs at the State Department, called to talk to her. She listened silently for a few minutes, her mouth set in a hard line. "It looks like bad news," said her sister-in-law Anita Oram. But it was not the news that Morefield and Kris were discussing.
"You're running into some variations with the people," Morefield said in a polite voice over the phone. Then, a moment later, she added tersely, ". . . Well, I'm just not going to rule out going to Germany." Looking at the reporters in the kitchen, she then asked Kris to call her back "on the other line."
"Are the two phones something new in the last year," Steven was asked as his mother left the room.
"Yes," he said, munching on a sweet roll. "And the third one."
"The third one" belongs to CBS News and was installed late last week. Its cord snakes down the carpeted stairs of their suburban home here in East San Diego, a dry seaside city 20 miles from California's border with Mexico.
Steven's tone was matter-of-fact; there was nothing unusual in the idea of a television network setting up shop in his home. Over the months, particularly at times of crisis, reporters have become a part of the furniture here. Tape recorders sit next to half-done jigsaw puzzles on the coffee table, and Dorothea Morefield always stocks enough sweet buns and coffee for strangers.
Reporters, photographers and producers answer the telephone, buy groceries, and periodically drag the Morefield children off into a corner for a quick interview.
The willingness of the Morefields to talk about their feelings over the past year has made them celebrities, both locally and nationally. On Tierra Santa Boulevard not far from their subdivision, a newly erected sign reads "Tierra Santa-Mercy Canyon. Home of Richard Morefield. One of 52." On the legs of the sign hang two bedraggled yellow ribbons.
The decision to become a public figure, a decision avoided by many of the other families, did not come easily to Dorothea Morefield. When she had to make her first major speech in public after the hostages were seized by student militants in Tehran last Nov. 3, "I was absolutely terrified . . . . Up until the time I started to talk I kept thinking of ways to get out of it."
At first, she said, the attention of the public and the news media was pleasantly exciting. "Remember our [the hostage families] first meeting at the State Department? Every time we left the building the press was running around after us . . . It's a horrible situation but it's kind of exciting to sit back and watch and be part of it.
There will come a time, she said, when interviews will become a joy and not job. "When Dick comes home, I'm going to enjoy every minutes of this.
Then she said, "I'll be glad to see it fade."