Christmas dinner at the White House

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By James Roberts

For many, the best Christmases are those that provide lasting memories. For Teresa Wolford, this Christmas is one she'll never forget.

Last year, Wolford's brother, Jesse Bailey, called her and said a florist's position had opened up at the White House. At the time, Bailey owned JLB Floral in Alexandria, Va.

"I told him, 'You can't pass this up. This is the opportunity of a lifetime.'"

Bailey took his sister's advice, and four months later he got the job.

A few weeks ago, Bailey called his sister again, this time offering her an opportunity of a lifetime.

"He said, 'I want you to come up and go to the White House dinner with me.'"

Wolford, who along with her husband Dale ran Colonial Flowers in Campbellsville for more than two decades before closing several years ago, is no stranger to Washington, D.C.

Now a freelance florist, Wolford decorated the National Gallery of Art this year. In the past, she's helped to decorate the National Building Museum, the U.S. Senate, the Smithsonian, the Air & Space Museum, Union Station and former Vice President Al Gore's home. She also designed the decor for the presidential inauguration lunches of former President Bill Clinton and President George Bush.

But the White House was different.

"I thought I was prepared, but it's a whole different world."

Entering the White House for the Dec. 18 dinner, Wolford was greeted by Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman while a military band played Christmas songs.

"They sounded like a symphony orchestra," she said.

From there, dinner guests toured the White House, taking in the various decorations.

A week before the staff dinner, Wolford got a sneak peek at the Christmas decorations when her brother invited her up.

"It's unbelievable. It's beautiful. It's just on the grandest scale you can imagine."

According to www.whitehouse.gov, among the decorations are 33 Christmas trees including an 18-foot tall Fraser fir decorated with 347 ornaments hand-created by artists whose designs represent America's national parks, memorials, seashores, historic sites and monuments. Also on display are 862 feet of garland, 232 wreaths and 514 amaryllis. In addition, 20,000 Christmas cookies will be baked and 320 gallons of eggnog will be prepared during the holiday season.

A typical centerpiece, Wolford said, may boast 10 amaryllis. At the White House, 50 was the standard.

Following dinner, the more than 200 guests got to meet George and Laura Bush and have a picture taken with them.

Wolford was surprised at how genuine the Bushes were.

"They were so nice and genuine. [President Bush] asked me, "'Are you going to have a Merry Christmas?'"

When it was explained that Bailey had invited his sister to the dinner, President Bush turned to her and said, "That's nice. Don't you think that's nice?"

Though the exchange was short, it has left a lasting impression on Wolford.

"It's one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. I will cherish this forever."

- Staff Writer James Roberts can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 226 or by e-mail at writer@cknj.com.