Some received roses. Others got phone calls at 4 a.m. One accepted a book, autographed by a reporter. Another had the telephone yanked out of her hand in mid-conversation with her son.
The Washington-area families of former hostages may have spent 14 months in an agonizing holding pattern, but they never were alone. Always -- always -- just a few feet or a phone call away were the media, ever eager to empathize, sympathize, coddle or cajole -- whatever was necessary to get one of the biggest stories in years.
Cameras were there to record the smiles and the tears. At each sign of movement, telephone wires hummed with a thousand questions.
Some families said they will keep pleasant memories of the reporters who shared their living rooms, waiting patiently, anxiously, as they did for the flight to freedom. Others will remember bitterly their own imprisonment, locked behind bars of "no comment" while the eager press attempted to penetrate their isolation.
For the first time in 445 days yesterday, the wife of one former hostage, Fran Sharer of Chesapeake, Va., spoke to a reporter: "I have carefully avoided letting this take over our lives."
But the story did take over lives, those of reporters as well as the families. "Please," complained one reporter to a reluctant hostage wife, "I'll lose my job if you don't talk to me."
This week, reporters and camera crews from around the world converged on hostage families near Washington for news of the former captives. In two days, one family recorded more than 50 phone calls, some in the wee hours of the morning. Another entertained news teams from France and Brazil, as well as local television. Yet another claimed she "practically had a suntan from all the [TV] lights."
Susan Roeder, wife of deputy embassy Air Force attache David M. Roeder, had carefully refused involvement with the press throughout the ordeal. Her two children, 15 and 8 years old, would be better off without the publicity, she felt.
Nevertheless, her bed of newly planted azaleas was trampled by television cameramen. One day, her pastor at the Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church in Fairfax County was forced to chase a television crew from the church. They later attempted to interview worshipers in the parking lot.
On Tuesday night, as the hostages were enroute to Algiers, she finally agreed to a lengthy interview in her home with a reporter, who showed his gratitude by giving her an autographed copy of a book he had written. That night came another offer: a single long-stemmed rose with a hand-written message on Time Inc. stationery: "I know you haven't wanted to talk to the press in the past," it read, "but we wonder whether we can arrange an interview now."
Roeder turned to the reporter present and joked: "Why didn't you send me flowers?"
Probably those who complained loudest of press harassment were those who wanted least to talk. But the family of Bruce German, a budget officer from Kensington, had been more than cooperative. Yesterday German's brother, Benjamin, lamented that "TV has been especially ruthless, particularly with my mother. She's been very open with them and as a result she's made herself vulnerable."
Benjamin said that a reporter yesterday snatched the telephone receiver from his mother's hand as she talked with her son in Germany "and began pumping Bruce with questions." And for the first time, he said, they learned why they had received no mail since spring from Bruce German.
Benjamin said his brother had received a call while still in captivity from someone identifying himself as German's brother. "He started asking him a lot of questions. Bruce, of course, realized right away that it wasn't me, that it must be a reporter . . . When the militants realized what had happened, they never let him receive another phone call and they stopped delivering mail."
Other families enlisted friends, neighbors and telephone answering machines to cushion them from the media blitz.