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White House Invitation: Somber Reminder of September 11

White House Invitation - Members of Congress and their staff received this invitation to a September 11 barbecue on the White House lawn. Photo by Geoff Gradler

The invitation arrived by messenger with the return address "The White House". Geof Gradler, a young Congressional staffer and new member of Majority Whip Tom DeLay's staff, opened his invitation to the annual Congressional picnic hosted by the President and First Lady. Members of Congress and their families were invited to a Texas Style Barbecue on the South Lawn of the White House on the afternoon of September 11. Gradler tucked the invitation back into the hand-addressed envelope. He knew his boss, a Republican from Texas, wouldn't miss this event. He made a mental note of the date.

Tuesday, September 11 dawned clear with beautiful blue skies over the nation's capital. At the White House 160 picnic tables already dotted the lawn and Tom Perini of Buffalo Gap, Texas began setting up his chuck wagons and barbecue pits. Seven hundred pounds of beef tenderloin, 400 pounds of catfish, and other Southern specialties like green chile hominy had been shipped to Washington, DC for the menu planned by the First Lady herself. It promised to be a splendid late summer evening for the 1,400 folks from Capitol Hill who would attend and socialize Texas-style: enjoying barbecue, old-fashioned square dancing, and dancing to the Texas swing music of Ray Benson and his band, "Asleep at the Wheel".

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