CBS2 News This Morning’s Suzanne Marques is in Washington, D.C., to interview First Lady Dr. Jill Biden. Follow along with her experiences here.

By Suzanne Marques

WASHINGTON (CBSLA) – What comes to mind when you think of the holidays?

When I was a child, my mom would tie up toys in black trash bags, so we couldn’t see what she got us for Christmas. She’d hide them in her closet or in the garage.

The holiday decor inside the White House in Washington D.C. This year’s theme is “Gifts from the Heart.” Dec. 1, 2021. (Credit: Suzanne Marques, CBSLA)

These days, so many Amazon boxes arrive at our house Austin doesn’t look twice at the boxes piled up in my closet. Before the pandemic, I’d bring home bags from Target and the 99 Cents Store, and if I didn’t hide them immediately, he’d spot the bright label on a box, and it was over. Before he could speak, he’d fuss and point until I gave him the gift. There was no distracting him. His young mind didn’t understand that waiting for a present just builds the anticipation and makes it more fun. He knows I bought him something, so just give it to him already.

Last year, Austin’s “big present” was a police car he could drive. Does everyone do a big present? It feels like something my brother Matt and I made up as a Christmas tradition to pressure my mom into getting us more gifts.

“Mom. I know you just got me an outfit, but what do I get for my big present? Should we go look at the shoes or handbags?”

I cringe when I remember our shameless ways. But now that I’m a mother, I know how much fun it is to shop for children. Austin is 5, and I already miss the stages of childhood that are already behind him.

I also love entertaining people at my home. There have been so many memorable dinners, cocktails and full-blown theme parties. Thanksgiving this year made it feel like the pandemic was far away. All twelve of us were vaccinated, so with the doors wide open, we filled every chair at the dining table and the kid’s table. My mom cooked her take on a traditional Southern Thanksgiving. We had turkey, ham, cornbread dressing, my Grandma Ethel’s green beans, mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, fresh sweet corn, roasted sweet potatoes with candied pecans, mac and cheese, whole cranberry sauce, and at my urging, sweet Hawaiian rolls. There was pumpkin pie and apple pie. I know I’m leaving out something. Oh, cranberry jelly from the can! We slice it right up.

The White House. (Suzanne Marques, CBSLA)

We played little games, opening crackers and wearing paper crowns, reading riddles and competing to figure them out. We wrote down what we are thankful for and went around the table. Some of us were thankful for health, family and friends. Others gave thanks for simple pleasures, like driving with the windows down, listening to music. walking and listening to leaves underfoot in the cold air.

This is my favorite time of year. My colleagues will tell you, and you’ve probably heard me say, that I once put up my Christmas tree in August. It was when I lived in Atlanta. I lived in a high-rise and had a beautiful downtown view, but I was homesick. I survived that lonely season by putting up a white plastic tree and buying vintage ornaments on Ebay in my spare time. I loved receiving the packages in the mail. They often came from older folks in different parts of the country, the boxes addressed with shaky cursive writing. Sometimes the faded baubles were wrapped individually in vintage newspaper. This was years before anyone had even heard of Amazon. Did the site even exist? Ah, the good old days.

The White House. (Suzanne Marques, CBSLA)

Now, I just leave up the lights on my house year-round and put up the tree right before Thanksgiving. Don’t worry, they’re clear lights. The neighbors haven’t complained yet.
So, when I received an email from CBS Chief White House Correspondent Ed O’Keefe, saying the press secretary for First Lady Dr. Jill Biden wanted to do another interview with me, my heart simply left my chest.

I first met Dr. Jill Biden when she was our former Second Lady. She was on the 2020 election campaign tour, and she came by the CBS Broadcast Center in Studio City for a quick interview about her new children’s book titled, “Joey,” about President Joe Biden’s childhood.

She interviewed with me and my co-anchor DeMarco Morgan for CBS2 News This Morning. She wore a bright green jacket, a floral dress and heels. We were all so thrilled she came by. I remember telling her how proud I was that she checked a stage crasher who tried to get at her husband, our then former Vice President and Presidential hopeful Joe Biden.

I am the protective type too, and my family has always related to the Bidens in a personal way because President Biden has been open about his stutter and embraces children who stutter. A few days ago, a little girl talked about her stutter with the president. While President Biden stutters once in a while, my dad had a stutter that wouldn’t quit. I’ll admit, he didn’t have a lot of support as a child. Maybe he would’ve overcome it better if he had nuns helping him sing words like the president did. I love that story by the way.

The White House. (Suzanne Marques, CBSLA)

People love to make fun of a stutter, implying lack of intelligence. Not that my dad’s lifelong stutter held him back in life. He was great at math and storytelling. He raced cars and started two successful businesses from nothing, but he never overcame his stutter. It was part of him. I remember my dad would be in the middle of telling a great story about boxing, and he’d start to say a word like, “Fight.” He’d say, “That guy really wanted to ffff…ffff…. punch his lights out!” And then he’d laugh, like he just couldn’t grab the word. Like a fisherman, he’d try to reel in a word, but sometimes they just got away from him.

So back to the present. I emailed back the press Secretary for FLOTUS. I had no idea if Dr. Biden would be coming by the studio again, or if it was something out of town. So when he said the interview would happen at the White House, I about passed out. When I learned it was a tour of the holiday décor, well, I basically had to be sedated. It’s all of my favorite things wrapped into one.

Can I tell you about one of my favorite books? It’s called “Upstairs at the White House: My Life with the First Ladies.” I have read it multiple times. It was written in 1972 by J. B. West, chief usher of the White House. Over the course of 28 years, he worked for six presidents and first ladies. He worked quietly behind the scenes through our nation’s triumphs and crises, the goal ensuring everything ran smoothly for the first family. Regardless of political party, the loyal staff at the White House stays the same, as each family leaves their indelible mark. I loved his peek behind closed doors, especially since it was done with respect and dignity.

The White House. (Suzanne Marques, CBSLA)

West goes into detail about First Lady Jackie Kennedy’s restoration of the White House. She created the White House Historical Association when she was first lady, which is a private nonprofit that funds efforts to preserve and maintain the beauty and elegance of the White House. She secured priceless paintings for the walls and hired the first White House curator to make sure the furnishings reflect the history of the presidencies.

I vaguely remember giving CBS2 investigative reporter Kristine Lazar a copy of the book a few years ago. If I’m wrong, Kristine, I owe you a copy.

Back to the subject of gifts. Remember how I mentioned my son’s “big present” from last year? My husband Robert was trying to put together the police car, in the garage, on Christmas Eve. Austin spotted a massive box near the trash cans, with a photo of the police car on it.

He said, “Santa brought me a police car!”

I hollered, “His elves are so busy, he sent it to daddy to finish!”

Next time I check in, I’ll have done the White House Holiday Tour. Wish me luck!

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Suzanne Marques