Growing up, my grandmother lived with us until her death when I was nine. From that point until I went off to college, it was just Mother, Daddy, and me. Two opinionated adults and a somewhat precocious child.
If Mother and Daddy had been of one mind in their points of view, my childhood could have been an indoctrination. But they decidedly were not coming at the world from the same perspective. Mother was Methodist, Daddy was Southern Baptist, and the compromise seemed to be that we would faithfully attend his church while Mother whispered in my ear about how “those Baptists” get so much wrong, particularly when it came to dancing, make-up (yes, make-up), and having a cocktail.
Their religions didn’t exactly mix, and neither did their politics. Predictably, Daddy was a Republican, having proudly supported Barry Goldwater when LBJ won Texas by 27 points. Mother, on the other hand, was a Democrat, who not so proudly supported Hubert Humphrey (she persisted in calling him “Humpty Dumpty”) but none the less voted to help him eke out his win in Texas in 1968.
That same year, Daddy was not on board with Richard Nixon, having supported Ronald Reagan in his bid to be the Republican nominee. (In a somewhat Trumpian coincidence, Reagan actually won the plurality of primary voters while Nixon got the majority of delegates.) With Nixon’s inauguration, we settled into a Republican administration and lots of spirited political conversations over dinner.
We talked about My Lai, Jane Fonda, inflation, the price freeze, and the oil crisis. (Lots about the oil crisis as Daddy was in the oil “bidness,” and this was one time Mother did not disagree with Daddy—something about bread and which side it’s buttered on.) Until Watergate.
The Senate Watergate Committee hearings were broadcast live the summer of 1973, and Mother and I were addicted. I was too young to drive and too old to play outside, and Nixon’s involvement in the scandal was not only historic, it was narcotic. Impeachment was in the air, and we breathlessly reported to Daddy each day’s developments.
He seemed to take it all in without offering much editorial comment, while Mother and I had to set down our pitchforks to pick up dinner forks and eat. Thinking back on it, I suppose he was silently rooting for the Republicans, but not for Nixon himself.
By the time we got through the Saturday Night Massacre, the indictments of the Watergate Seven, and finally the Smoking Gun tape, it was the next summer, and I had a driver’s license. Which meant I had a job, working at O’Neal’s Ice Cream, owned by a friend of Daddy’s which served much better ice cream than that new Baskin Robbins by the K-Mart. Mr. O’Neal did a brisk business every evening that summer, except on August 8, 1974, when seemingly no one was going out. So I was alone in the shop, listening to the radio broadcast live from the Oval Office when Nixon resigned.
Reagan, Daddy’s old favorite, soon would be back in the game, announcing his candidacy and challenge to Ford in the fall of 1975. Daddy was on board with that, and somewhere in this house is a letter thanking him for his support. Meanwhile, Mother, with her soft spot for slow talking Southern gentlemen which she passed on to me, had gone for Jimmy Carter.
It almost happened for Reagan that time, but he and Daddy had to wait until 1980 for the win. Mother never wavered in her support for Carter, although she wasn’t a fan of Rosalynn. Daddy, after 20 years, finally got the Republican president he wanted. Not just any Republican president, but what was—in his mind—the right kind of Republican.
Now that we’re going through yet another impeachment process, I’ve wondered what the dinner table conversation would be like if Mother, Daddy, and I could sit down together today. Mother, no doubt, would be all over it, criticizing the cowards in Washington in both parties. (Although the Democratic spine does seem to have stiffened recently.)
And Daddy? He could be a little enigmatic at times, waiting for all the facts. When I got home from O’Neal’s that fateful night in 1974, I asked what he thought about it all. “Kitten,” he said, “he did it to himself.”