Cathleen’s brother, Chuck, had even rented a tour bus to take the family — nearly 40 people — around Washington while he gave one of his special tours.
“He does give the best tours of D.C.,” Cathleen said.
And then suddenly nobody was flying anywhere.
“It just wasn’t to be, darn it,” said Cathleen, who lives in the District’s West End neighborhood.
But Cathleen had an idea: She sent an email to the entire Clinton family — all those nieces, nephews, grandnieces, grandnephews, grandchildren, siblings and cousins; the youngest 6, the oldest in their 70s — inviting them to enter a family haiku contest.
Nearly everybody participated.
“I was absolutely shocked,” Cathleen said. “Especially from the younger ones. I don’t even think they knew what a haiku was. Their parents explained it to them. A lot jumped in with great vigor, and there were some very talented responses.”
It may have helped that Cathleen promised $100 for the first-place winner, $50 for second and $25 for third.
“I think that was part of the incentive,” she said.
The family reunion was going to be in a city that has come to be special to the Clintons. (No relation to those other Clintons.) Cathleen, Chuck, their sister Caroline and their late sister Connie grew up in Cleveland. In the 1970s, first Chuck and then Cathleen moved to Washington. They sunk their roots deep.
Chuck, 77, worked for the D.C. government’s energy office. Cathleen worked in development for organizations such as the Kennedy Center and the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington. They were delighted to serve as hosts whenever Clintons who had stayed in the Midwest came to visit.
Chuck cemented his status as tour guide extraordinaire when he won a D.C. trivia contest in the Washingtonian magazine. He even produced a book for family members about Washington history — and the role of Ohioans in it, people such as Congresswoman Frances Payne Bolton.
“She was the one responsible for the legislation that made the land across from Mount Vernon stay exactly the way it looked when George Washington lived there,” said Chuck, who lives in Alexandria, Va. “There was a proposal to build a power plant, which is ironic since that was what I worked on with the D.C. government.”
Before the family reunion was scuppered, Chuck had assigned the grandkids different sights in Washington. He asked them to research so they could narrate in the tour bus microphone as they swept past.
He wants them to be proud of the nation’s capital as Americans, but also to know that their family has a connection to the city.
“We’re all so sorry that our trip to Washington, D.C., has been delayed,” Chuck said. But he figured the haiku contest — inspired, Cathleen said, by my annual spring contest — would “keep us all busy when we’re sheltering in place.”
Cathleen, Chuck and their sister Caroline Farrar were the judges.
“We tried to be as blind as we could be,” Chuck said. No one could vote for their own child or grandchild. To keep them honest, Chuck took the names off all the entries and numbered them.
Poring over the poems was the closest they were going to get to a family reunion. They picked their three favorites and sent the entire batch to the family to enjoy.
They decided not to award third place but to pick two for a second-place tie. One was a haiku by Ainsley Walsh, 9, of Chicago:
Love is happiness
Love is always feeling safe
Love is beyond words
The other was a politically pointed four-haiku set from Grace French, 15, a high school freshman in Cleveland, that began:
Barely skimming the surface
He’s empty inside
The winner was from Holly French of Cincinnati, daughter-in-law of the late Connie:
Flowers are blooming
Family relationships too
We are so lucky
It’s a hard time for all of us. Even if we can’t be near, family keeps us strong.
Said Chuck: “We’re still very eager to have everybody convene when the time is right.”
How is your extended family keeping connected during these lockdown days? Send the details to me — with “Family reunion” in the subject line — at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported Ainsley Walsh’s name. It has been corrected.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.