Commentary: Lewis County Farm Bureau president goes to White House


People of my generation and a bit younger probably remember Aesop’s fable “The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse.” The moral it taught was that living in poverty with security is better than living in plenty with fear and uncertainty. The Town Mouse felt the lifestyle of the Country Mouse was below her standards but did not see the other advantages. However, when the Country Mouse went to town, she may have been impressed by the standard of living, but was not willing to give up her safety and well-being to have it.

I think there is another, possibly less significant, lesson. We are uncomfortable with what is unfamiliar. When we experience something different, there is a period of awkwardness or being uneasy, an adjustment, a learning curve, a period of adapting or acclimating.

But it can all be a learning experience. I had just that opportunity this past week.

Two of my sons and I drove to Eastern Washington to have Thanksgiving with another of my sons and his wife. Just before getting there, my cellphone went off. I tried to answer, but up and down the hills of the Palouse I could not get and keep a signal. So, upon arriving at my son’s home, I checked my messages. Sure enough, there was a voice message from that same number that I did not recognize. So, I listened to it (it is a busy time of the year for me, with phone calls coming from numbers I do not know looking for help with Medicare insurance, so I can’t ignore unknown numbers).

I was surprised to hear Third District Congresswoman Marie Gluesenkamp Perez saying something like, “It is not an emergency, but it is time-sensitive. Please call me.”

Good grief.

It was about 5 p.m. the eve of Thanksgiving and I assumed she had just gotten home for the holiday with her family, and I did not want to bother her. But … she said to call, so I did.

Long story short, she asked me to attend the Christmas Ball at The White House. I told her I needed to think about it. It’s a busy time of the year with appointments already set for the days I would need to be gone, and I had to consider the financial cost on my Social Security-dependent budget. I hung up and my daughter-in-law, who was standing there listening to my conversation, informed me that I could not say no, that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I debated, then gave in and let Marie know that I would attend the White House function with her.

Then stuff started happening.

First order of business was to find airline tickets. Then, I had to book a hotel. Then, “What the heck am I going to wear?” It is not like I have a dozen evening gowns fit for the White House hanging in my closet. So, when I got back home, that fun began. Finding a dress and shoes ended up turning into a nightmare that finally got resolved about 12 hours before departing for the airport. I do not like cutting things that close, but in the end, it worked out. I just started wondering if my coach would turn into a pumpkin on the way to the ball and leave me sitting alongside the road in Washington, D.C.

Once there, I never had a concern with transportation in D.C. as a great young man on Marie’s staff took me under his wing. He was waiting for me at the airport when I landed and got me to the hotel. The next evening, he picked me and Marie up and took us to the White House and later got me back to the hotel. The next morning, he picked me up, took me to Marie’s office to meet all her staff, and then after that I had a personal, guided tour of the U.S. Capital. Zev was my personal chauffeur. I wandered through the botanical gardens and the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian for about five hours. My daughter-in-law put Uber on my phone, but thankfully I did not have to rely on it. Zev was there to give me a ride back to the airport.

The ball was more of a reception. While there were musicians in several locations, there was not an inch of floor space on which to dance. I had sent all my information the week before so they could run a background check on me. So, when we arrived at the White House, we made our way through serpentine tented alleyways and I think four or five security checks. Each time, we had to show our ID and then maybe answer a question or two.

Once through all that, we popped out into the open and made our way up some steps onto a porch with a Marine band playing, and in we went.

The decorations were over the top. “Excessive” would not be an unwarranted description. I like natural trees, but obviously The White House decorator likes flocked. At least they were all real trees. I tried to find out if any were from Washington, being particularly interesting to me as Lewis County is the largest producer of Christmas trees in our state.

I have no clue how many trees there were, but a dozen or more in one room seems a little much to this Country Mouse. I did not want to look like a hick walking around with my cellphone taking pictures, but it was basically impossible to get pictures anyway as there were too many people in the way to get any effect of what the decorations were like. I tried repeatedly to get a picture of one of the Marine Corps orchestra groups that was playing (three of my sons are Marines) but could not. If I got close, I was too close to get them all, and if I backed up 5 to 10 feet so I could see the entire group, a dozen people filled the space.

Friends and Farm Bureau members keep asking me what it was like. The best analogy I can come up with is that I felt like I was in the holding pen of a milking parlor. It was pretty much what I expected, just worse. Noisy and crowded. Count up how many senators and representatives there are and realize they were all invited. Everyone was milling around through I think five rooms having short conversations or just exchanging pleasantries.

It was hard to have any kind of a normal conversation. It was hard to move. I heard a lot of “excuse me,” “excuse me” as people tried to squeeze by. The food table (which I never got to as Marie kept introducing me to people) apparently was great, with copious amounts of well-prepared items that many would consider luxury foods. The bar was totally open with white and red wine, champagne and water (which I wanted — I just would have preferred plain water).

My youngest son asked me if any good will come from this trip — for me personally or for the Farm Bureau and agriculture in Lewis County and Washington state.

I have no clue. It is too early to tell.

Personally, I have no desire to get into politics or become a lobbyist or spend much time in Washington, D.C. As far as any benefit to agriculture, I will have to see as we move down the road. I did get to have fairly brief — but I felt sincere — conversations with a few senators and representatives.

Marie made a big point of introducing me to people and always introduced me as “Maureen Harkcom, the president of our Lewis County Farm Bureau,” She wanted members of congress to know who I was. I did gain “a connection” with Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee Sen. Debbie Stabenow, a top official in the Department of Agriculture, and representatives and senators from Alaska, Hawaii, California and New Jersey.

Maybe someday I can call or email them. They said I could contact them. I even got an invitation to go to Hawaii. I guess I would say, “When I met you at The White House you said to get in touch if you could help.”

It was quite an experience.

But this Country Mouse is glad to be back home in Lewis County.


Maureen Harkcom is president of the Lewis County Farm Bureau. She can be reached at