Sometime during the commotion of the night, while news bulletins from Tehran were coming in over the radios, the television and the telephone, Dorothea Morefield let down the internal barrier that for a year had shielded her from false hope. She allowed true anticipation to creep into her home.
She had tried to stop it; she knew the dangers. Unfettered hope could mean unbearable disappointment should something go wrong. The Iranian parliament had issued four conditions that the United States must meet for release of the American hostages. But there were still many unknowns, many circumstances that could keep her husband, 51-year-old consulgeneral Richard Morefield, in captivity.
"I'm scared to death. I'm absolutely terrified," she said early this morning, a few minutes before she received word of the parliament's vote. Then, for five seconds, she stumbled into uncharacteristic incoherence, groping for a way to explain herself.
"I think that I could wait days, I could even accept a couple of weeks," she said later in the evening. "But at this point, if it should fall through and we'd be right back at the beginning, I don't know. We'd handle it, because we'd have to handle it. But it wouldn't be easy," she said.
"I'm afraid for us. I'm afraid for them."
It had taken a long night, marked by a crescendo of sometimes optimistic, sometimes confusing news bulletins, to finally break down the family's built-in caution.
As the evening began, the Morefields still had some detachment left. Dorothea Morefield was away in the Old Town section of San Diego eating crab meat enchiladas when the Iranian parliament convened. She was still at dinner when she heard it had attracted the necessary quorum of members to do business, something the Majlis had failed to do three days earlier.
Debate in Tehran had been going on for two hours when Morefield returned home well after 11 p.m. She joked as she greeted her husband's sister, Anita Oram, and his diminutive 73-year-old mother, Maria Morefield.
Dorothea tried to settle in for the wait, but found she could not stay in one place. She moved from the couch to the stairs, then from the stairs to the kitchen and back again, her jovial small talk faltering, her face grim as she watched her 16-year-old, Steven, laugh at "Saturday Night Live."
"The Majlis has convened," BBC broadcasters were repeating in hourly broadcasts over a TV cameraman's shortwave radio. The same news, with little variation, came in from all sides until a 1 a.m. CBS radio broadcast that included an interview with one of the militants holding the hostages. Speaking through a translator, the captor said that events were in the Majlis' hands.
Two television cameras were trained on Morefield as she listened to the report. They stayed trained on her as a television correspondent told her that the deputies in Tehran were about to vote or were already voting on the conditions for the hostages' release.
Morefield turned to her son. "You might call Bill and Dan and tell them something's expected within the hour and they ought to come over here," she said, trying to ensure that her two older sons were kept abreast of developments. "Call Betsy," she added, thinking of her 22-year-old daughter and oldest child, who was 3,000 miles away in Washington, D.C.
Then Dorothea Morefield resumed her restless motion, each of her abrupt, 10-yard journeys followed by seven newsmen, two cameras and the stark brightness of television lights. At 1:18, the crucial news finally came through.
Leaning against her refrigerator, Morefield heard Barry Peterson of CBS News repeating the bulletin he was getting over the phone. "The Majlis has accepted the conditions," he said. Morefield's eyes closed, and her head fell back, a momentary smile chased away by a sigh.
From behind the crush of newsmen in the small kitchen, her mother-in-law appeared, anticipation and bewilderment on her face. They hugged, and the older woman suddenly burst into tears. "I don't want these people here . . . no, don't take pictures," Maria Morefield said as her daughter-in-law led her back to the stairs and the cameramen switched off their lights.
The rest of the night "was just a jumble," Dorothea Morefield said wearily this afternoon as she rose after three hours' rest. Each new piece of wire-service copy, each new broadcast that discussed the parliament's conditions for release of the hostages contained varied interpretations. No one seemed sure if the parliament had decided to release the hostages in stages, some freed each time one of the four demands was met, or to release all at once.
"I believe it, I believe it, but when I see the taxis on the [airport] runway [in Tehran], then I'll really believe it," she said in an optimistic moment.
Later, more worried, Morefield gazed at the television camera and said, "I just don't see that we have control of the shah's wealth." She was referring to the most difficult of the four demands -- that the U.S. return, or help the Iranians obtain, or admit that the Iranian government has a right to, the wealth of the late shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi.
While the fusillade of news kept coming into her home, Morefield suddenly became part of it. First, a series of radio and television interviews were fed from her living room to homes in San Diego and throughout the nation. Her emotions were somehow both private and public.
On the stair landing, her sister-in-law sat numbly, trying to figure out where her own emotions had gone. "It's strange, I'm like an outsider looking in . . . I can't seem to grab hold of this," she said. "I'm an emotional person. I can't understand this reaction of mine."
Above her, Steven sat quietly petting one of the family's two cats, aloof from the excitement below. He had been the messenger who brought the news to all of his brothers and sisters except 14-year-old Kenneth, who had slept through the whole thing. Steven had done his part.
Kenneth was finally awakened with the news at 3:30, just as his mother prepared to go to a local TV studio for a nationwide live broadcast.After talking to her youngest son, she also took a moment to call the State Department, listening carefully to their cautionary advice. "They reminded me there's no official communication yet," she said as she prepared to leave.
Nothing official. But President Carter was flying back from Chicago to Washington at that moment to assess the situation. Nothing official. But much of the State Department had apparently been mobilized. Nothing official. But hope had clearly gotten the better of her.
She was laughing again as she returned from the television studio, commenting on the beauty of the thin line of dawn that threw the dry eastern mountains into sharp relief. She was laughing as she headed out to an early breakfast of pancakes at a small restaurant along a nearby suburban strip.
It was her son Dan, newly showered and newly briefed, who still tried to cling to a few streds of caution as he talked about the developments of the long night. "I'm still very nervous. I'm walking a tightrope on the whole situation. It's just a wait-and-see attitude until we do actually see."
And if everything falls through? "We start again," said the young college student. "We go back down again. Go back to our friends and just kind of hold each other again."
By early afternoon, his mother was still trying to bring her anticipation under control. "I don't think there'll be a big, rapid turnaround," she said philosophically. "These things take time. I know that, you know that.
"But my heart doesn't want to believe it."
By late afternoon, however, her heart was back under the control of her rational faculties, at least for outward consumption. As President Carter began his remarks on nationwide television, Morefield looked out at him with a firm but only slightly worried expression. She smiled briefly when the president said that the parliament's conditions "appear to offer a positive basis" for eventual release of the hostages.
When Carter closed and the microphones turned toward her, Morefield gave her complete approval of Carter's words and his tone. "I liked what he said, I really did. . . . He's trying very hard to take this out of politics.
". . . We've waited a year. I don't want to see a rush of a deal" just to gain a few days, she added.
"No matter how slowly it goes, as long as things keep moving forward, I'm content."