Hillary's Coffee Ladies share memories of election night defeat one year later

A year ago, I left five women sitting shell-shocked on the floor of a Wyoming home after their election night party went horribly wrong.

It was well past midnight and I remember them still staring at the television screen, trying to understand how Donald Trump had beaten Hillary Clinton to become president of the United States.

I felt awkward as I watched their expectations collapse in slow motion.

I had spent hours with these women over the years and my stories had made them famous. They were known nationally as the Hillary’s Coffees Ladies – a group of ordinary Ohio women who had met at a College Hill coffee shop every single Friday for eight years after meeting as volunteers during Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid.

“We have very little memory of that night. I have no memory of driving home,” admitted Joyce Shrimplin, when I met her and the other ladies for a Friday coffee a few weeks ago.

A year had passed and here we were again, inside the same home as on election night, passing plates of homemade Danish and drinking coffee, while they shared their fragmented memories.

“I don’t remember any of it,” said Francie Pepper, who couldn’t even recall which casserole she had served at the potluck dinner that night.

The Hillary's Coffees Ladies on Election Day, Nov. 8, 2016, just after the polls closed.

But I remembered quite a bit.

I remember the crying teenage Clinton campaign workers who buried their faces in the laps of these older women.

I remember the champagne glasses lined up so nicely on the basement bar, and unopened bottles in coolers on the floor. Not one was popped that night.

I remember the words of now 90-year-old Ena Wilson, when she told me early in the evening with hesitant excitement, “I never thought I would ever live to see a woman as president.”

Michele Mueller was the only member of the coffee group who was absent that night. Her work with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America had earned her an invitation to Clinton’s presumed victory party at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan.

The Hillary's Coffees Ladies late on Nov. 8, 2016, after realizing Hillary Clinton had lost.

“We sat there for hours, and one of the reporters finally said ‘There are not enough votes left in Florida to give her Florida,’ and we knew it was over,” Mueller said. “It was just total silence in that room. I remember putting my hands on the stage and I said … I guess its time to go. It’s over.”

She still carries a piece of white confetti that was supposed to have dropped from the ceiling that night to celebrate Clinton’s win.

“I never have cried about Hillary’s loss,” Shrimplin told me.

“Oh Lord, I cry every day,” Mueller countered.

“Because it’s deeper," Shrimplin said. "I don’t know how to explain it.”

The women don’t just miss Clinton, they miss the social life and the deep bonding that her campaign gave to them -- not once, but twice.

The Hillary's Coffees Ladies in August 2016.

In September the six women decided to drive to Buffalo to see Clinton at a book signing for her new memoir, ‘What Happened.’

They arrived at the bookstore four hours early to be first in line.

“It was like being at her campaign events again, everybody waiting in line and talking,” Mueller said. “It was like being with friends again, all your friends, waiting for an event.”

Reporters interviewed them. Clinton recognized them and said, “You came all the way from Cincinnati,” and when she took a photo with them, the crowd cheered.

Hillary Clinton signed copies of her memoir, "What Happened," for the women.

Mueller took the chance to thank Clinton for using her campaign to highlight gun violence prevention.

“She looked at me and said, ‘It’s important work. Don’t stop this work,'” Mueller said.

So the Hillary’s Coffees Ladies still meet every Friday morning, closing in on their 500th coffee next year. But now public service -- not just Clinton -- is their bond.

The Hillary's Coffees Ladies meet at a Wyoming home to reflect on their election loss, one year later, on Oct. 13, 2017.

All of them are collecting signatures on petitions against gerrymandering in Ohio.

Christine Zevon is helping her niece’s campaign for solicitor of Cheviot.

Mueller is continuing to work against gun violence.

Florence McGraw, who is 86, still makes her daily call to Sen. Rob Portman’s office.

And all of them will be paying attention to upcoming local races – the Ohio governor’s race and U.S. Senate race in 2018, as well as congressional races.

“I think once we get submerged in future campaigns … that’s going to help us go through the process of redirecting our energy and our sadness,” Mueller said.

Since they saw Clinton a few weeks ago, they are taking her message to heart.

“She lost. We have to deal with it and move on to do what needs to be done,” Shrimplin said.

A week after that Buffalo trip, Shrimplin finally removed the life-size Clinton cardboard figure that had been in her office since the campaign and tucked it into a storage room.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever get over the election and I don’t know that I want to, because I want to have something to keep driving me,” McGraw said.

“There is a 2018 election coming and I’m looking forward to it," McGraw continued. "I want to elect people who will go to Washington and work for the American people, all of us: Republicans, Democrats and Independents. But we’re not getting that now and its got to stop. This country is too important to all of us, if we’re going to make it.”  

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