The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up Hillary

A friend of Hillary’s confronts her collection of memorabilia on the anniversary of Donald Trump’s inauguration

Betsy Vandercook January 20, 2018

After taking the oath of office, President Donald Trump and his wife Melania salute the crowd gathered on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 20, 2017. (Photo by Drew Angerer / Getty Images)

It’s been a year, exact­ly, since we’ve had a new pres­i­dent. Some of us have marched, some have writ­ten let­ters, oth­ers haven’t got­ten out of bed yet. Me, I keep return­ing to my base­ment. It’s time to move on, and there’s stuff down there I need to let go. There are these box­es — all alike, all pret­ty full, and all neat­ly let­tered: H‑I-L-L-A-R‑Y.

"The Other Betsy" made a profession out of serving as Hillary’s high-school gatekeeper, allowing access only to the loyal circle. They made jewelry for her. They made hats for her. They cheered her when she debated against Bernie. It’s good I wasn’t invited.

Inside are news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines, let­ters and invi­ta­tions, books, bumper stick­ers, pho­tos, fridge mag­nets, and Bill Clin­ton and his Fam­i­ly” paper dolls. I could have start­ed a pres­i­den­tial archive or made a killing on eBay. But now it’s too late.

Like most of you, I vot­ed for Hillary in the gen­er­al elec­tion. But in the pri­ma­ry, Bernie was my guy. That made me feel more than a lit­tle guilty, like I was cheat­ing on a friend — because in a way, I was. Hillary and I, you see, go way back togeth­er — same home­town, same schools, and birth­days just five days apart.

In grade school, we were pret­ty close, like when I helped make posters for her first failed pres­i­den­tial cam­paign—for eighth-grade class pres­i­dent. In high school, not so much, as she found her tribe among the stu­dent coun­cil reps. Me, I was an alto cow­girl in the high school pro­duc­tion of Okla­homa.” Need I say, we didn’t eat lunch together?

But fame is a fun­ny thing. When Bill began to run for pres­i­dent, I couldn’t help myself. I wrote her long polit­i­cal mash notes, and she sent back lit­tle hand­writ­ten replies. And then, I got the invi­ta­tion to the 1993 inau­gu­ra­tion! There I was at the Arkansas Ball with Bruce Horns­by, Car­ole King and Bill Clin­ton on the sax­o­phone. How could I toss all that stuff into a dumpster?

I found a pos­si­ble way: the New York Times best-sell­ing book by the Japan­ese orga­niz­ing genius, Marie Kon­do: The Life-Chang­ing Mag­ic of Tidy­ing Up. She tells us: We should be choos­ing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of. Take each item in one’s hand and ask: Does this spark joy?’ If it does, keep it. If not, dis­pose of it.”

It was worth a try. I opened the box with the last clip­pings I had saved:

At the top: The front page of the Chica­go Tri­bune from Nov. 10, 2016, two days after the elec­tion: A New Real­i­ty Sinks In.” Easy call — this was the oppo­site of joy.

Below that, I had kept every­thing from the elec­tion, the pri­maries, Hillary’s years as Sec­re­tary of State and as New York Senator.

Much could go, but I spot­ted a small for­got­ten clip­ping from 2003. A two-hour Hillary TV bi-op had been in the works. For the title role, the pro­duc­ers were con­sid­er­ing Sharon Stone. Sad­ly, it nev­er got made, but some­how it brought joy.

The deep­er I went, the more I saved: 1999: Parade mag­a­zine won­dered why she stayed with Bill.” Didn’t we all? 1998: Clin­ton impeached. 1997: She cel­e­brat­ed her 50th birth­day. (So did I.) 1996: The web­site hillaryshair​.com was cre­at­ed — if we need­ed it or not. And three years and two inch­es of clip­pings below: The scoop by the Week­ly World News: Hillary Clin­ton Adopts Alien Baby.” Of course I kept the whole paper.

Not all the mem­o­ries were joy­ful: The failed health care plan, the White­wa­ter scan­dal,” and at the bot­tom lay Jen­nifer Flow­ers and all the oth­er women.

There was just too much stuff to make a deci­sion about each piece. Marie Kon­do tells us: Tidy­ing by cat­e­go­ry works like mag­ic”. And the pay-off? Putting your house in order is fun!” My fun cat­e­go­ry was going to be our home­town of Park Ridge. There was Hillary’s house, where we made those cam­paign posters, and Hillary’s church, where we were in the same con­fir­ma­tion class! But it was also com­pli­cat­ed with arti­cles about her real best friend — same school, same age, and the very same name — Bet­sy. I like to call her: The Oth­er Betsy.”

The Oth­er Bet­sy didn’t sing, so she was in the stu­dent-coun­cil clique, and 50 years lat­er, she still pret­ty much was. That’s the thing about high school. If it worked for you then, you nev­er leave. Any­way, The Oth­er Bet­sy made a pro­fes­sion out of serv­ing as Hillary’s high-school gate­keep­er, allow­ing access only to the loy­al cir­cle. They made jew­el­ry for her. They made hats for her. They cheered her when she debat­ed against Bernie. It’s good I wasn’t invited.

Of course the Clin­tons — both Hillary and Bill — had lots of oth­er friends, too. But many found that if you didn’t adapt to their pol­i­tics, things didn’t go well. Remem­ber Lani Guinier, whom Bill nom­i­nat­ed for Assis­tant Attor­ney Gen­er­al for Civ­il Rights? He wouldn’t defend her when the con­ser­v­a­tives went on the attack. Or Hillary’s friend­ship with her men­tor, Mar­i­an Wright Edel­man of the Children’s Defense Fund? That took a seri­ous hit when the Clin­tons went all in on wel­fare reform.”

Is there a les­son here?

Not for me. After her nom­i­na­tion for pres­i­dent, I start­ed mag­i­cal­ly think­ing that maybe it’s nev­er too late to re-con­nect. Put in a lit­tle work, post some stuff on Face­book, and we could still be best buds. Her inau­gur­al ball was going to be amazing.

The oppor­tu­ni­ty came in Sep­tem­ber, when my son-in-law sug­gest­ed that we join a group cam­paign­ing for her in Dubuque, Iowa. On a per­fect fall day, we knocked on what seemed like hun­dreds of doors, and of course, most every­one was out.

But we still saw plen­ty: Grand old riv­er man­sions chopped up into cramped apart­ments; young white women so high on drugs that they couldn’t focus when we talked to them; young white men, quick­ly cross­ing the street to avoid us once they spot­ted our Hillary buttons.

And where was our can­di­date? Didn’t she see what’s going on? I should have writ­ten her a let­ter to let her know. That’s what a friend would have done. I didn’t.

So here I am with my base­ment of mem­o­ries. It could be worse. I could have gone to school with Roy Moore. Or Har­vey Weinstein.

Maybe it’s not so bad to give a few feet of shelf space to some­one who won the nation­al pop­u­lar vote and was that-close to being our first woman pres­i­dent — even if I rarely sup­port­ed her? She’s done more, risked more — and prob­a­bly made more mis­takes— than any oth­er woman I’ll ever know. And I did know her.

I said to my hus­band, I still can’t decide what to do with these box­es I’ve saved.” He said, Just think how Hillary feels.”

But let’s give Marie Kon­do the last word: The space in which we live should be for the per­son we are becom­ing now, not for the per­son we were in the past.” That’s good advice for us all, espe­cial­ly start­ing out a dif­fi­cult New Year.

I think I’ll send that to Hillary.

Bet­sy Elich Van­der­cook, like Hillary Rod­ham Clin­ton, grew up in Park Ridge, Ill. Unlike Hillary, her hero became Eugene Debs rather than Saul Alin­sky. Still, she enjoys writ­ing sto­ries about her child­hood class­mate and will be per­form­ing a new Hillary piece — Tidy­ing Up Hillary” — on Jan­u­ary 21 and 27, at the 2018 Fil­let of Soul Fes­ti­val at the Life­line The­ater in Chica­go. After that, she looks for­ward to writ­ing about some­thing else.
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