A white eight-by-six invitation bordered in silver read: "The honor of your presence is requested at the ceremonies attending the Inauguration of the President and Vice President of the United States."
My daughter, Jennie Dear, and I had waited in line for almost two hours to get to Rep. John Salazar's office for our tickets - two of the 240,000 issued that were supposed to get us at least a guaranteed standing place near the ceremonies.
No time was listed, but we were told that President-elect Obama would be sworn in about 11:45 a.m. To be sure, we would arrive on time. Brandon Donahue - a friend and member of the La Plata Democratic Committee - Jennie and I rose at 5 a.m. Tuesday morning.
Catherine Garland, our hostess and sister of Durango's Deni Dorminy, drove us the five miles from Montgomery Village, Md., to the Shady Grove Metro station.
We had no trouble finding a seat, and we laughed and traded stories with the other excited passengers. They were all going to the inauguration. A 45-minute ride brought us to Judiciary Square, where we figured we could easily arrive at the gate for silver ticket holders, go through a security check and get comfortable at our standing-room-only post near the Reflection Pool of the U.S. Capitol.
Sounds easy. But there seemed to be an endless number of early birds filing in a long line that snaked around several blocks. It took us 30 minutes just to walk to the end of the line.
We thought the inauguration folks had done a bang-up job in organizing unprecedented thousands of ticket holders, and we were confident all would be well.
So many people had come to honor their new president. Some used canes. Some came in wheelchairs. A one-legged man energetically moved forward on crutches. In many ways, this outpouring of goodwill was their "Day of Service" contribution - a day to honor country, a day to give hope to the new president and to their fellow citizens.
The minutes stretched to hours as we trudged along. An hour passed as we moved a block. Perhaps it was the security check that took so long?
While we waited, newcomers were streaming past us, heading in the opposite direction. Some asked, "Is this the silver-gate line?
As we nodded, we wondered how in heaven's name we would ever make it through the gate, much less the people coming later. It was now 10:30 a.m., and we still were moving along at the pace of a turtle.
Suddenly, a woman on her way out announced: "Turn back. It's too late. Non-ticket holders have crashed the gate. There's no more room, and they aren't letting anyone else in."
How could this be? A few people around us cried, and hundreds gave up and turned back. Many of us had traveled across the continent to attend the inauguration.
Still hopeful, we started chanting, "Let us in. Let us in." Some of the ticket holders kept shouting, then began to wave our tickets in the air.
"Yes we can, Yes we can," we shouted.
And then, as if by magic, there was a surge, and we moved rapidly forward. Someone shouted, "Watch out for the security police," and we moved past the guards, without security clearance. There was a roar in the crowd, and some people began to run, trampling over the plastic fences. Someone else yelled, "Look out, here comes the tear gas." (That fear was unfounded; no one was gassed.)We had reached the frozen Reflection Pool. We could see the Capitol bedecked with the stars and stripes covering the upper windows. We could hear the music. While we were a good distance from the presidential dais, and trees obscured the view of the speaker's stand, we were now part of the inauguration.
And so, we stood and listened, and some of us wept. We didn't have to hug our neighbor, although there were hugs. We just knew it was a day for all seasons, a day of history.
As the crowd dispersed, two older women greeted me, and we embraced and cried.
So, despite the millions of people, the temporarily dashed hopes, the hassles and the cold, I'll always say to naysayers who scoffed about us going off to Washington for the inaugural, "I was there."
Walt Dear is the former publisher of The Gleaner, a daily newspaper in Henderson, Ky. Reach him at email@example.com or at 492 County Road 202, Durango, CO 81301.