Saturday, April 05, 2008

A fitting remembrance

While I may be a current resident of the upper left hand corner of the map, or as it was earlier described by a Republican back in 1947: "the Soviet Socialist Republic of Washington," I was raised in northwestern Ohio, a rock ribbed bastion of conservatism, even to this day.

My parents were strong Republicans, going so far as to vote their party over their Catholic religion in 1960. I well remember the chant on the playground at elementary school: "Nixon, Nixon, he's our man. Kennedy belongs in the garbage can!" After his defeat in 1960, Nixon visited my hometown of Defiance, OH, several times, given that the outpouring of affection must have felt like salve to his political wounds. And once during that period, I saw him fairly close up. He was staying at my great uncle's house that had been donated to Defiance College for their president's mansion. We lived two blocks east, and I was outside wandering about on a green, spring morning trying to rescue a downed baby bird in the side yard of the president's house, when I caught a glimpse of Richard Nixon going into the house. No Secret Service protection for a former VP and failed presidential candidate at that time.

In August of 1968, I was visiting a friend who had moved from Defiance to Barrington, IL. We took the train in to go shopping for back to school clothes. It was not until we returned to her house that night that we learned how close we had been to the riots surrounding the Democratic nomination. Of course, as the dutiful children of Republican parents, we had no interest at that time in Hubert Humphrey or Eugene McCarthy. We were barred from returning to downtown Chicago and spent the rest of my vacation time in the suburbs. of Chicago. I had made all the purchases I needed at Marshall Field's and Carson, Pirie Scott (but could not afford Saks or Bonwit Teller), so I didn't find it amiss, and only later did I realize the gravity of what had gone on between the confrontations of Daley's police and the antiwar demonstrators.

Unfortunately for my parents, I left home and went to college at a small liberal arts school in a large city courtesy of a full academic scholarship. This resulted in a major rethinking of my world and political views and led to familial ruptures at several points in my life. One of my favorite college recollections is the large bedsheet that was hung from two dorm windows facing a busy street in 1972 emblazoned with the words "FUCK YOU DICK." The neighbors' wrath forced it down after less than a day out flapping in the wind, but the point was made and the majority of the students, the male half of whom had lost their college deferments and become subject to the draft lottery earlier that spring, were extremely unhappy with the election tilt in Nixon's favor.

So it goes and on we went. As the years rolled on and Reagan led to Bush and Bush II, I became even more anti-Republican in spirit and public stance. Then, fall of 2007 and the youngest son came up to his senior year in high school and began looking around at colleges. I contacted a college friend who had years in college admissions experiences and was knowledgeable in schools that my fit my youngest's interests and personality. This friend, whose husband kept a framed copy of Nixon's resignation letter in their bathroom, mentioned Whittier College as a possible 'fit.' I was aghast. Nixon's alma mater might be right for my son? What was going on here? But given my knowledge of my friends' political bona fides and her expertise, I swallowed hard and last fall on a California tour of colleges, we stopped and gawked and talked and walked around Whittier. During the tour, I asked our guide if Whittier had any sort of Nixon building or statue to commemorate his attendance there. "Oh yes," the young guide assured me earnestly, "We have a third floor conference room in the library that is dedicated to him."
"Hmmm," I thought to myself, "that seems apropos. I can live with this college." So I bought a pair of Whittier running shorts. Their team is the Poets. From their namesake, poet John Greenleaf Whittier. I can also live with that.

Go Poets!

And just to add to the cognitive dissonance, there is this to contemplate: