Today is proving a more difficult day than I imagined. Even as deliberately turn off the news and turn away from the videos and recordings of what happened at the U.S. Capitol one year ago today, I haven't been able to escape entirely the deep feelings of sadness and outrage I felt one year ago.
So instead of rehashing all that or even rightfully condemning those responsible for attacking the seat of our nation's federal decision making and seeking to prevent the lawful transition of power, I would like to share my memories of the building and its culture going back decades.
Because, I grew up in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol. Both my parents worked for a U.S. Senator and they purchased my childhood home, in part, for its proximity to that building. Our house stood about two blocks from a House Office building, which holds the offices of about a third of the members of the House of Representatives.
The U.S. Capitol grounds, a lovely, grassy, tree-lined space compromising about 59 acres began across the street from the that building, so the grounds, which were designed by Frederick Law Olmstead (who also designed New York's Central Park) served as one of my earliest playgrounds. In those astonishingly innocent pre-9/11 days, it was possible to walk onto the grounds from any direction and without any special permission. I recall games of hide and seek, frisbee, and passing a soccer ball around on the lovely lawns, as well as siding down a snowy Capitol Hill in the wake of one of DC's rare significant snowfalls.
My Dad would walk from our house to his office in one of the Senate Office Buildings, on the far side of the hill, striding through the grounds, whistling, if the weather was good or cutting through the complex of tunnels, corridors and chambers inside the Capitol complex if the weather was bad.
Since my parents both worked for a Senator, I quickly became well acquainted with that complex that really served as a small city under the hill where the Capitol stands. I occasionally ate lunch in the Senate Dining Room with my Dad and would ride the small system of electric trains back and forth to meet him. The complex had its on financial institution branches, its own barber shops and hair salons, its own travel agencies, doctor's offices, and gymnasia. As well as all the offices needed for the complex's maintenance, such as a furniture and cabinetry shop, an audio and electrical shop, and other spaces. It still has all that, as far as I know, though I wonder if the travel agency might have shut down.
My first job, at age 10 or 11, was selling the Roll Call newspaper, that covered the complex and the Congress, office to office. I and about six other grade school age boys would walk to the Roll Call offices on 8th street Southeast where an older lady whose name escapes me would count us out our papers and tell us what building's we had that day.
Building assignments were important and were the subject of competition since they directly impacted how much work you had and how much money you would make. In general, the House office building involved less walking, because the offices were closer together, but would also bring in less money since their staffs were smaller and less likely to tip (at least in my case). The Senate buildings paid significantly more and tipped better, but they also represented more walking.
Every Thursday after school, we walked to the Roll Call office, accepted our papers and then walked or biked them to our assigned building. Each paper cost, I seem to remember, twenty-five cents, of which we paper boys were allowed to keep a nickel and I soon learned the best offices where all the secretaries, whether out of real interest or sorrow for us, would take a paper. You could move 25 or 30 papers per office in many of the offices if you hustled.
I suppose there was a vague sense of a need for security then. After all, its not like nothing bad had ever happened at the Capitol. But whatever it was had been a long time before and it seemed to us kids like the Capitol Police almost filled a ceremonial function. Sure, they were there at the entrances, running metal detectors and patting visitors down when needed, but many of them were very out of shape and, sometimes, we found them asleep at their posts, something which I have never seen in years as the force became more formidable and modernized.
So, overall, the U.S Capitol complex served as something of a stage for my early life, a place where very large and important decisions were made but which remained accessible for even a grade school boy. It's a place that's gone now - admittedly it was gone well before the delusional mob broke through its front doors - but it will remain a place worth remembering, at least for me.