A bitter wind blew down E Street NW, but the four Mississippians on the sidewalk were smiling in the teeth of it. They elect Republicans in Mississippi now.
"We're fixing to go play in the snow," said Helen Salmon, her face flushed with a warm-blooded case of Inaugural Fever.
Around Washington yesterday, Mississippians such as the four from the rich plain of the river delta joined with a crazy quilt of other American GOP loyalists to celebrate the second coming of Ronald Reagan.
They ranged from "rat pack" alumnus Frank Sinatra to "Cactus Jack" Ratliff, a Wyoming mountain man who prepared for today's inauguration by warming up his bear and badger furs.
In between were thousands of restive Reaganites champing at their bit parts in the 50th presidential inauguration.
For many of them, the Washington trip is a chance to celebrate for a second time the election of Ronald Reagan, the one-time movie actor who said the federal government had grown too big and needed taming. Today, when the critic of big government publicly tightens his rein on power, many of his supporters will bask in the confidence of those who have not just arrived, but have been around for a while.
For others, such as the Mississippians, the visit to Washington reinforces a feeling that they are not only a part of the political process but, for the first time, they also are riding in the saddle of government.
Robert Love, a plastic surgeon and GOP contributor from Greenville, Miss., reflected on the fact that in November, for the first time, he voted for three successful Republicans: a congressman, senator and president: Rep. Webb Franklin defeated a black Democrat for reelection in the 2nd District, Sen. Thad Cochran was returned for a second term in the face of a strong challenge from former Democratic governor William Winter and, of course, Ronald Reagan whipped Walter Mondale in 49 of 50 states.
All of which is quite a change from the days in Mississippi when a vote for a Republican was a wasted vote. Love recalled that his great aunt warned him against voting for Richard Nixon in 1960. "She said, 'I can't vote for Nixon. My grandfather told me about Republicans.' "
Added Love: "She was referring to Reconstruction, and this was 1960."
Yesterday, after a brisk walk down E Street, Love took a seat in the lobby of the Bellevue Hotel, 15 E St. NW, where a contingent from Mississippi is staying for the inaugural weekend. With him were his wife, Edwynne, and friends Helen and Tom Salmon, also of Greenville.
Through the lobby a succession of Mississippians strolled blithely toward the street, many of them attired in fashionable leathers and light topcoats.
Outside, a wind carrying single-digit cold air blew harshly between the buildings while limousines hustled down snow-filled streets and doormen, stiffened by the cold, hailed taxis.
It snows sometimes in Mississippi, dentist Tom Salmon advised. It even snows in that rich agricultural land of the delta that, wags have traditionally said, "forms in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tenn., and runs to Catfish Row in Vicksburg."
The meteorological change in that pocket of the Deep South coincides with a shift in the political wind, the Mississippians said. "Now that we are electing Republicans in Mississippi," quipped Robert Love, "we seem to be getting some snow."
The change has brought a flurry of political involvement for the Loves and the Salmons. Sally Salmon, the Salmons' 19-year-old daughter who is a sophomore at Vanderbilt University, has taken a semester off to work as an intern in the office of Rep. Webb Franklin (R-Miss.). Helen Salmon worked a phone bank during an election-season voter registration drive. Edwynne Love organized her college-aged children and their friends to make sure they voted by absentee ballots while they were away at school. The two men contributed money to the party.
The payoff now is a trip to Washington, at the invitation of their congressman, and a whirlwind weekend of cultural and political activities.
Saturday night, the Salmons and Loves went to a National Symphony Orchestra concert at the Kennedy Center, and yesterday their plans called for a visit to the Smithsonian and some shopping in Georgetown. After that, the agenda included a reception and today's inauguration and inaugural ball events.
How do they like the view from the top? "Being where the action is, it's exciting," said Edwynne Love.
It was not always thus. Robert Love recalled that, as a boy growing up in the delta area, he never saw a visiting president or presidential candidate.
"Prior to Nixon in 1960, the only president as far as I know who came to Mississippi was Teddy Roosevelt, and he came to hunt bear. I remember as a kid wondering why the president never came to Mississippi."