Socks Goes to the White House
A Cats-eye view of the President's house
By Kenneth T. Blackshaw
Illustrations by Mary Beth Burns
Copyright 1993, 1997
Socks Goes to the White House
A Cats-eye view of the President's house
A DOG!! The whole place seemed to smell of it. Socks sniffed here and there in his new home. He rubbed the fur of his cheek up against certain spots, adding his own, feline odor to the mix. Soon, with repeated passes through the room, his personal mark would gradually replace that of Millie who had been the last presidential pet. But today, he felt there must be a dog around every corner.
Just a few days before, Socks had meowed wistfully as he watched his home grow smaller and smaller through the back window of the car as Mrs. Huber drove him out the gate of the Arkansas Governor's Mansion. He had lived there for two years, almost all of his cat life.
He had been just about ready to settle down for a nap. After breakfast, he'd had a good wash, licking his black and white fur shining clean. Perhaps a nap here in the car would be a good idea. His eyes slowly closed. The gentle motion back and forth, as the car changed speed, helped him to doze off.
The Clintons, his owners, had been gone for a while. He particularly missed Chelsea, since she was the best cat stroker. Socks enjoyed having a good pat, and could send out a rumbling purr that you could hear across the room.
This ride was not a normal one. It went on for a thousand miles and two days, with an overnight stop in a motel. Not all motels allowed pets, so Mrs. Huber had to be particular. Socks' nose told him that most of the pets were dogs. The fur on his back would stand up each time he sensed a dog was near. Sometimes the fur on his tail would stand out as well and his tail would look like a bottlebrush.
Socks was not happy about having to stay in the car all day. He was used to making his rounds through the lawns and gardens around his Arkansas home. This was a bit of a change. But Mr. and Mrs. Huber stopped every few hours so he could walk around on a long leash. His favorite dry catfood was there and Mrs. Huber gave him plenty of attention, so things weren't so bad.
Finally around 3 o'clock on the second day, the car drove through some big gates and then up a long, curving driveway and stopped in front of The White House. Mr. Huber got out of the car and lifted Socks, still in his cat carrier, up the steps and gave him to a man wearing a uniform. The badge on the uniform said "Secret Service". They also brought in a little box with Socks' food dish, special catbrush, and his favorite cat toys.
Suddenly the top of the cat carrier opened and Socks found himself looking up at a group of men, all dressed very neatly in suits. They all looked anxiously down at him to see what he would do next. Socks gave his best "hello there" meow, and stepped out onto the floor and immediately over to the food dish they had ready for him. He was in the White House Usher's Office right next to the front door. The Usher does everything to make sure that the President's House runs just right. There is a Chief Usher and three Assistant Ushers and they work any time the President's family is not sleeping. Right now, they wanted to make sure that Socks would be content in his new home.
After Socks finished eating, one of the men picked him up and used his cat brush to give him a nice brush. This felt good, but after a few moments, Socks jumped up on a desk, and then walked over to the window where he could see out onto Pennsylvania Avenue. He plopped down on the sill and stretched out, washing his paws and his face. Soon his eyes closed. He looked like he was napping, but every now and then, he would peek around. The men all relaxed. A phone rang and business resumed at the White House.
Socks jumped quietly down. He had to explore this new place. And most importantly, he was looking for Chelsea. His nose told him that she was around here somewhere.
He went through a door and found himself in a bright yellow room. The sun shining through the gold curtains and reflecting off the yellow walls was so bright, it made the pupils in Socks' eyes shrink down to little lines. This room is called the Family Dining Room although the President's family only eats there when entertaining formal guests. If more than fifteen or twenty people come, they would generally eat in the State Dining Room.
Socks hopped up on the windowsill and immediately felt warm and cozy. There was a heat vent blowing warm air on him. He could look back across the room and see many old and beautiful pieces of furniture. One of the most famous ones was the library bookcase, built in Philadelphia about 1800. It had a set of plates in it used by President Benjamin Harrison.
His nose told him that Chelsea hadn't been in this room, so he bounded down from the windowsill and under the table and through another door. Now he was in the State Dining Room. It was a much bigger room. As many as 140 people could eat dinner in here at the same time! There is a wonderful painting of President Lincoln on the wall over the fireplace.
The tables were all set up for a dinner for some ambassadors. Something smelled good. Socks hopped lightly up on the table and picked his way passed the glass goblets to bury his nose in the lovely bouquet of flowers.
Several people were in the room, making everything perfect for the dinner. "Look! It's Socks." One of them exclaimed. Socks didn't feel ready to be discovered, so he turned and jumped to the floor. There was a light clink of glassware behind him, but nothing fell over. He made his way from table to table, hiding underneath the tablecloths.
Suddenly he stopped and rolled and rolled on the carpet. Cheese! He dearly loved cheese and it smelled like it was all around him. Could Socks smell the enormous cheese that had been in the room in 1836? Someone had given President Andrew Jackson a wheel of cheddar cheese that was as big as a small car. The President had a big party in this room where the cheese was eaten and a lot of it was spilled on the floor. Could Socks still smell the cheese 150 years later? As he rolled out from under the table, one of the butlers tried to pick him up, but Socks was too quick for that. He ran through another doorway and was immediately surrounded by bright red.
There was a tour of people passing through the room and Socks felt dreadfully exposed. So he dashed behind some gold draperies hanging at the windowand waited for everyone to pass. No one could see his white toes sticking out the bottom. Socks made his way under beautiful chairs and tables whose legs had wonderful mahogany carvings on them. He hopped up on a round table that had a diamond pattern of different kinds of marble set into it. He batted a while at the bronze faces on top of the legs. Socks couldn't appreciate that this table was a famous American Empire table more than 180 years old. To him it was just cold (stone cold), so he jumped down on the lovely gray and pink carpet. He could tell that Chelsea had been in this room, but her scent didn't seem any stronger than before. He decided to go through the next door. Now everything shifted from red to blue!
Not only did everything seem blue; there were no corners. The walls just seemed to go on forever. This was one of three oval rooms in the White House. The others are the diplomatic reception room below it and the yellow oval room up on the second floor. This one in the past has been called the "elliptic saloon", but now is normally called the Blue Room.
Socks moved along the wall, his paws feeling the texture of the hardwood floor, walking under beautiful blue and gold chairs. As he stopped to sniff and rub his cheek on one, he smelled that dog smell left over from President Bush's spaniel, Millie that he had been picking up here and there in his travels. A cat's reaction to this is often to get as high off the ground as possible, and with a single leap, Socks made it up to the mantel over the fireplace on the east wall of the Blue Room.
On the mantel was a lovely gold French clock with a statue of General Hannibal who was famous for having crossed the Alp Mountains with 40 elephants to fight the Romans. The clock was purchased by President James Monroe in 1817. Socks was more interested in his own reflection in the looking glass over the mantel. Then he noticed the big windows overlooking the South Lawn of the White House.
Socks jumped down and trotted across the blue-patterned carpet and sprang up onto the windowsill. This seemed like a pleasant place. There was heat coming out of the slot in the sill and the late afternoon sun was shining there as well. This spot had been a favorite resting place for the last White House cat, a big Siamese named Misty Milarkey Ying Yang, Amy Carter's cat. Flopping down, Socks had a good wash and then closed his eyes for a little nap.
He was awakened by a horrible "whop whop whop" noise. He looked out the window to see the Presidential helicopter coming down on the lawn. This suddenly seemed like no place for a cat, so he jumped down and headed into the next room. Here everything was green.
This was the Green Room. Many of the furniture pieces in here were made by Duncan Phyfe, a Scottish cabinetmaker who had a shop in New York from 1800 to 1815. Socks hid in a little cave behind the green and beige floor-length drapes next to the window.
The helicopter took off and things got quieter. Socks hopped up on a low table where there were silver candlesticks. He rubbed up against President John Adams' beautiful silver coffee urn, over 200 years older than he was. Looking around, he could see a fire burning in the fireplace over on the east wall of the room. A painting of Benjamin Franklin wearing a green jacket was over the mantel.
Feeling the fire's warmth, Socks made his way across the richly patterned green carpet and got up in a comfortable-looking light pink armchair. He was going to settle down for a moment when he smelled Millie again. He hopped up on the back of the chair, looking around for the dog. But then he heard a wonderful sound. Someone was playing a piano. The only one he knew who did that was Chelsea, so off he went, following the sound.
He skidded to a stop on a beautiful waxed floor made up of lots of small pieces of wood, placed in a geometric pattern. This room is called the East Room and it is enormous, so big that President Teddy Roosevelt's children were able to roller skate in it. There are very tall windows around three sides, draped in gold and white.
On one wall there is a famous painting by Gilbert Stuart of George Washington. This was one of the few things that Dollie Madison, the wife of President James Madison, was able to save before the British burned the White House in 1814.
At the far end of the room, Socks could see a large grand piano. He ran in that direction. The piano was held up on the wings of three golden eagles, each of which was over twice as big as Socks was. Staying as far away from them as possible, he ran around to the front of the piano and put his paw up on the bench. But here he was disappointed, because it wasn't Chelsea who was playing, but a famous lady pianist who was practicing for a concert she was going to give after dinner. She reached down and gave his head a good scratch between his ears. Socks allowed that for just a moment. Then when she attempted to pick him up, he wheeled around and ran out of this rather cold room, and onto a bright red carpet.
He was now in an area called the Cross Hall, which goes from the East Room all the way to the State Dining Room at the other end of the White House. There were lots of people walking around up ahead since the president of an important Middle Eastern country was being welcomed to the White House. Socks saw an opening up and to the right. He jumped through a little wrought iron fence and galloped up the red-carpeted grand staircase as Presidents Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, William McKinley and Franklin D. Roosevelt looked down on him from their big paintings on the wall.
Winding around to the left he came to the top of the stairs, and then dashed left again, tail lashing this way and that, and came to a stop in a bedroom. Here he was surrounded by soft pink colors. He felt himself calm down as he looked around at the delicate rose-colored walls, draperies, and President Andrew Jackson's big bed with the tall wooden posters holding up a high canopy. This room is called the Queen's Bedroom. It is well named because five different queens have slept in it, just in this century. Socks slowly made his way along each wall, pausing to sniff and rub his fur on the legs of the highly polished wooden furniture. He hopped up onto the bed, feeling how soft it was, and then bounded down and out another door. He cut quickly across the corner of the Queen's Dressing Room, and popped up in the East Sitting Hall.
The whole area of the second floor of the White House is generally only used by the President's family and a few special guests, so it is much quieter and less busy than it is downstairs.
Socks looked up at the Palladian window with fan-shaped panels, designed by James Hoban who was the original architect, hired by President George Washington to build the White House. This window makes up most of the east wall of this room. There is one just like it at the other end of the house. The way the window looked made Socks think of a spider web, and he stalked along the sills, looking for them. He found just a few and chased them into the corners of the window. Socks sat down for a minute in one of the French armchairs next to the window. Chelsea had sat there to read for a few moments just the day before, and Socks stood up, tail tall in the air as he looked around, expecting to see Chelsea. But she wasn't to be seen, and he jumped down and ran into the little room on the southeast corner of the second floor.
This is the Lincoln Sitting Room and it has windows on two sides. The walls have a tiny green and yellow pattern on them. Most of the decorations in the room are called Victorian, because they came from the late 1800's when Queen Victoria was Queen of England. Socks rubbed against the leg of a beautiful rosewood chair that had been originally bought by Mrs. Lincoln. All the wooden parts curved this way and that, so there were no rough edges.
He continued across the room and up on top of a mahogany writing desk made by James Hoban around 1800. From the top of the desk, Socks could look down on the South Lawn of the White House. It was starting to get dark out there. A housekeeper came in the door and started pushing a carpet sweeper around. She was so intent on her work that she didn't notice Socks, who quickly made an exit through the other door and into a very big bedroom.
This room is called the Lincoln Bedroom. Socks scurried under the enormous bed. It was very dark under there since the dark green bed ruffles went all the way down to the floor. This bed is made of rosewood, with a headboard that has birds, grapevines and flowers carved into it. It goes almost up to the high ceiling. Mary Todd Lincoln bought this bed for the White House in 1861. Many presidents have slept in it.
The room itself has only been used as a bedroom since 1900. Before that, this room was where the president met with his Cabinet. The Cabinet is a special group of people who advise the President. The room is also famous because it is where President Lincoln signed an order called the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. This order was the one that freed all the slaves.
Socks crept out from under the bed and over to the window, past many dark brown, curved table legs. Then he stopped to look at his reflection in the big full-length mirror. This mirror is the centerpiece of a beautiful black walnut bureau that sits between the two windows on the south wall. Socks crossed the room and then jumped up onto a round marble-topped table to smell the flowers up there.
Suddenly several men came into the room carrying big suitcases. Socks jumped quickly down and ran past them. One of them let out a yelp as he went by. "Whoa!! What was that?" "I think that was Chelsea's cat," said the other. Back out into the East Sitting room, Socks scampered to the left across the gold carpet and then left again through the next door into a room with a rich green carpet. He had disappeared before the men could come back out to look for him.
Now Socks was in the Treaty Room, named by President John F. Kennedy because so many important decisions were made there. The walls have very dark green, velvet wallpaper with a striking red design around the outside. In the center of the room is a wonderful big walnut table, with eight chairs around it. In front of each chair is a locked drawer so that people can keep their work safe when they are not there.
Socks walked past the fireplace and over to the window as Presidents Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, and Andrew Johnson looked down at him from their paintings on the walls. Up on a table, he stopped to rub against President Grant's marble and malachite clock that he bought in 1869. He jumped down and prowled silently along the wall, sniffing for signs of Chelsea. But this was not one of the rooms that she had visited. He walked under the window and then through a door into another of the oval rooms.
The bright lights dazzled Socks. There was an enormous chandelier on the ceiling. It had originally come from France in 1820. Then it had 26 candles on it, but now it is fixed so it uses electric lights, which sparkle through hundreds of tiny pieces of cut glass.
This is called the Yellow Oval Room and it is the most important room on the second floor. President John Adams held the White House's first New Year's Day party here in 1801 and it is still used as a reception room to greet important visitors from other countries. The walls are painted yellow. There are yellow silk draperies at the windows, and the antique Turkish rug is also mostly yellow. Much of the gold-trimmed furniture was made in France in the late 1700's.
Socks felt closer to Chelsea in this room. The first family often uses it because it is next to their private living quarters. So he picked up traces of her scent as he stalked along the south wall under the windows. He paused to check out a palm tree, growing in a big blue-patterned pot. But then a wonderful smell reached him.
He swung his head around and spotted a big tray of little sandwiches on a table in the middle of the room. How nice that someone had put out some food for him! He trotted quickly across the carpet and bounded up on the table. They smelled like mayonnaise and tuna fish, two of his favorites. He was just about to bite into one when he heard "No no no!!" A butler all dressed up in a black suit with a white tie was running into the room, waving his arms. Socks knew that "no no no" usually meant it was time to run, so that was what he did.
Out the door he went and into what is called the Center Hall of the second floor. He didn't stop here. It seemed much the same to him as the Yellow Oval Room had. The walls and the carpet were still yellow. He was in such a hurry he almost ran right into President Clinton who had just come back from meeting with some foreign diplomats. Suddenly he heard a booming "Well, Hello there Socks." Socks immediately stopped and started winding his way in a figure eight around the President's highly polished shoes, leaning up against his ankles. He was meowing almost constantly. The President handed the papers he was carrying to the valet who was following him and bent over to pick Socks up. But before he could do that, Socks jumped up on his shoulder and started rubbing his chin against his face.
"What have you been up to?" he said as he carried him through the door into his bedroom. "I have to change my clothes for dinner, but you can keep me company while I do." And he put Socks down on the bed with a last stroke across his back that sent his tail pointing up toward the ceiling.
Socks settled down on the big bed and looked around at all the birds on the wallpaper. "Chelsea will be home from her piano lesson in a little while. Boy will she be glad to see you."
Socks closed his eyes and felt himself relax for the first time in hours. He was so glad to be back with someone he knew. After a few minutes though, his eyes popped open and he started to look around excitedly. Outside the room he could hear Chelsea's voice. He ran to the door and pawed at it. The valet opened the door and he dashed out. Following the sound, he ran to the left through a wide doorway with a beautiful half-moon glass pattern above it into the West Sitting Hall.
This is a room mainly just used by the First Family. It has a yellow-gold carpet with white-painted walls. The west wall is filled by another big Palladian window like the one in the East Sitting Hall. Many famous paintings hang from the walls including one called "Boys Crabbing", painted in 1855.
As Socks ran into the room, he noticed this room seemed softer than the others he had been in did. Much of the furniture was overstuffed and comfy looking. But even better than that, he saw Chelsea as she walked through a door in the back right part of the room. He attempted to call her as he ran. "Meowwwooowwoow" his voice went as he ran into the family kitchen. But then suddenly he was in Chelsea's arms and everything was wonderful. "Socks, my kitty. Oh I've missed you so much." she said as she gave him a good hug. "Look, we're all ready for you. You must be hungry." She shook some of Socks' favorite catfood into a bowl.
Socks had been so busy searching for her that he had forgotten how hungry he was. He hopped down and crunched happily on the dry food. Then he had a nice drink of water.
Since Mom and Dad were entertaining, Chelsea had her supper in front of the TV in her room that night with Socks right beside her for company. Then it was time to do homework.
Socks made little trips out and back of her room as he explored the second floor family living quarters. That dog smell from Millie kept popping up, particularly when he found his way into the little beauty parlor where she had her puppies. But each time he ran into the smell, he would rub his own smell over it. After a few weeks this would be his territory and his alone.
And then there was Chelsea in her pajamas. It was bedtime at last. Socks got up on the bed with her and marched all over it, looking for the softest spot. Finally Chelsea said, "The spot you are looking for is right here." And cuddled him next to her face on the pillow. If cats could smile, you would have seen one from ear to ear on Socks as he snuggled in and closed his eyes. He was at home in the White House with Chelsea at last.