Eleanor Davies Tydings Ditzen appears in a deep blue velvet dressing gown, a grande dame trailing almost a century of American history as lightly as a breath of perfume.
She was the wife of one Maryland senator, Millard E. Tydings, and mother of another, Joseph E. Tydings. She was the daughter of Joseph M. Davies, a Democratic insider who helped elect Woodrow Wilson and later became ambassador to Moscow during the presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She's been dandled in the White House by Wilson and hugged in the Oval Office by Clinton.
She's hobnobbed with power figures since long before there was a beltway to be inside of, even before automobiles clogged Washington streets.
"Daddy and I used to ride horseback through the park," she says of Rock Creek Park in Washington. She lives now in an apartment just off Connecticut Avenue, overlooking the park.
"And we rode all the way out to Chevy Chase Club, all the way and never set a hoof on asphalt. Washington was so different! You can't imagine! There was no road for automobiles, all horses and carriages."
She and her father often rode with Margaret Wilson, the president's daughter.
"The oldest one," she says. "Looked like her father. We rode the White House horses. They were probably armed forces horses. But they were very good ones. I can assure you they were beautiful animals. And it was great fun.
"That was a hell of a long time ago!" she exclaims. "It is! - 1918 ... 1920."
Well, yes, it was.
She's 96, born in 1904 in Wisconsin. Her father was a Progressive and a Democrat and a supporter of Wilson. When Wilson was elected, her father brought his wife and two daughters to Washington and installed them in "a long white French house" that still stands on Connecticut Avenue at 30th Street. Washington has been her home pretty much ever since, except during her marriage to Millard Tydings.
The Washington she's known for most of her life has all but slipped beyond the vanishing point. She's like a bright figure in a photograph from which almost everyone else has faded. Her memories bring them back into focus.
She was a Washington debutante in the early 1920s. She had a ball and a reception at home.
"I came out respectably," she says, not without a certain irony in her voice.
She still has the fine-boned features of the Washington belle in the two portraits in her apartment, both painted more than 60 years ago.
The upswept hair is gray now and held in place this afternoon by a delicate net. She wears big earrings that look like lapis lazuli, but she laughs, they're only costume jewelry. Her slippers are gold with silver bows. And she sits quite erectly as she talks and munches peanuts and cheese crackers and drinks a nice French chardonnay.
"I was the only debutante from Washington [that year] who went to college," she says. "Vassar, Class of '25."
And she was quite tall for a young woman of that era.
"All the little short guys asked for me, and I didn't like that at all," she says. "I liked the tall ones. I married 6-feet-4, 6-feet-2, 6-feet-2."
She remembers being invited to a party at West Point by "some poor little soul from Washington.
"He was a freshman, of course, and here is this gorgeous creature who was the regimental adjutant, very, very tall and handsome. And he sees me on the dance floor and he comes right over and tears up my dance card, brushes aside the poor little plebe and says, `I'm going to walk you home tonight.'
"And I will never forget that walk home, " she says. "Snow all over the place. It was cold, and I had fortunately a fur coat on. He had his uniform coat with these huge gold buttons. Very painful!"
"He hugged and kissed me. And I hugged him back, and he said will you marry me, or words to that effect, and I said yes. And I was engaged to him.
"Next year I went to a Yale prom."
"Were you engaged to a Yalie?"
"Oh, sure. I didn't allow anyone to kiss me unless we were gong to be married. I was going to be married, you see.
"I was sort of Victorian, very Victorian. And I still am. I still am," she says, with a kind of dying fall.
Could be, but she does sometimes sound as if she'd been an F. Scott Fitzgerald flapper.
A senator's wife
Millard Tydings, the first of the 6-foot-2 husbands, was quite dashing: "He walked like the king of England, the emperor of the world, the way he carried himself. I've never seen a man walk the way he walked. He had red hair originally. He had great big shoulders. They say Huey Long was so terrified of him he wouldn't come on the Senate floor when Millard was there."