Kevin Voelker/

Touring Washington, D.C. Again

History has repeated itself. The love and pride I have always felt for our nation’s capital city has now been transferred to my daughter who moved here with her family slightly over a year ago for a career opportunity.

I was introduced to Washington, D.C. as a youngster around 10 years old. On school vacations, I escaped my apartment in Brooklyn, New York, and my pesky younger brother, and flew into the arms of Aunt Betty and Uncle Bill, who lived here and worked for the government. I became the child they never had and gloried in being the center of attention and tried hard to live up to their standards. While visiting, I was exposed to table manners, linen napkins, operettas and the quiet refinement their lives reflected. Classical music played all the time, newspapers and books were read and voices were modulated. They kissed each other when they left their apartment, and again when they returned.

Each visit we went to a different tourist attraction. My favorite, which literally towered over all of them, was the Washington Monument. Uncle Bill called it “a giant toothpick,” which made us smile. Every visit ended at Hot Shoppes enjoying Mighty Mo burgers and hot chocolate. When I was accepted at the University of Maryland, I lived with my aunt and uncle until a dormitory room was found. Aunt Betty took her role as mother and protector seriously. She accompanied me to registration at college and she even did my laundry once I got housing on campus. In my junior year, I transferred back to Brooklyn College, closer to home.

The Washington I remember in the 1940s and ’50s was smaller and more easily navigated, with far less people and cars. I can remember riding buses to and from College Park, Maryland to the apartment house my aunt and uncle lived in before they moved to Florida.

Now, more than 50 years later, I am again visiting Washington, D.C., but not in my previous roles as adored niece or nervous co-ed, but as the grandmother of a toddler. From my first trip down on Amtrak, with my daughter, her husband and her young son, pulling into Union Station felt familiar, like a pillow that comforts you before you surrender to sleep. My mind skipped back decades as I remembered my father putting me on the train at Grand Central Station and Uncle Bill meeting me and grabbing my suitcase, as I walked down the long platform holding my latest Nancy Drew book and with my pocketbook slung over one shoulder.

On that initial trip with my daughter Amy and her family, we drove around the city with a realtor looking at neighborhoods. We drove by The Greenbriar where Betty and Bill lived and I thought of them and wished somehow they were here. While driving, I spied a sign that said “Rock Creek Park” where I often walked with them. I noticed familiar hotels, such as the Willard, where college dances were held, temples for High Holy Day services and always the Giant supermarket for shopping – all landmarks associated with the Washington I knew and loved. After graduating Brooklyn College, I returned to the area, but lived in Maryland where I worked as a kindergarten teacher for the Montgomery County Public Schools.

Now a new generation was experiencing Washington. I held my breath as Amy acclimated herself to D.C., she was born and raised on Long Island, schooled in the Northeast and had lived in New York City since college graduation. Now she has a family and Washington is a friendly, navigable city for young people. We walked to the playground nearest her home and it is clean, well run, spacious and well equipped. I have heard museums offer strollers so young parents do not have to tote their own. In New York City at the playgrounds there was always a line for the baby swings and impatient parents would look at their watches if too much time was taken. Nursery school, playgroups and children’s activities are available here without a waiting list or influential recommendations. Amy and her family often compare their lives in New York to their lives in Washington, and are happy they made the move.

For me, Washington is a sophisticated city with a lick of southern hospitality that endears it to visitors and residents. It is a friendly city, overrun with young people, often associated with the government. There are ethnic restaurants of every persuasion and we particularly enjoy a Vietnamese restaurant close to where they live. The Metro, a new arrival since I was here, is clean and efficient. I think the power of Washington is in its closeness to the government and all it symbolizes. I still get a thrill when a motorcade passes me by, with policemen, motorcycles and big black limousines with tinted windows. Washington is a magical city and its spell has worked on me, and happily, my daughter.

Now, another member of my family is circling Washington, D.C. and considering attending college here, close to her family, and not too far from her home in Westchester, New York. My granddaughter, a college junior, is visiting colleges in the area and has her eyes on several schools nearby. This would be yet another link in the Washington bracelet our family embraces.