My father met Richard Nixon in the early 1940s, when they worked together in the wartime Office of Price Administration. They quickly became friends, and as a result I met Nixon several times while growing up in Washington, D.C. Last week, as I thought back on my first encounter with him, I was struck by how much the world has changed in the last 40 years.
In 1954, Nixon was in his first term as Dwight Eisenhower's Vice President. I was eight years old, and my father had begun to introduce me to sports by taking me to Redskin games. One day late that season, one of the people who went with us couldn't make it. Dad invited Nixon, who eagerly accepted.
We drove to the Vice President's modest, three-bedroom house in the Spring Valley section of Washington, walked up to the door and knocked. No metal detectors, no Secret Service. Inside we exchanged small talk. The women—Pat Nixon, her two daughters and my mother—were staying home. When we set off for the game, Pat set off for the kitchen to bake a chocolate cake.
Nixon suggested we take his car because he had a driver. He might have been a Secret Service agent, but after he dropped us off outside Griffith Stadium, he didn't stay with us as we made our way through the crowd, seemingly unnoticed. Nixon was clearly excited and cheered as loudly for the Redskins as my father did. The title "Vice President" meant little to me, and I was baffled when two people asked for his autograph at halftime. Do I want his autograph? I wondered. No, I decided. And as the game went on, I figured I had made the right decision because no one else approached him.
After the game we drove back to the Nixons' for a spaghetti supper and then the chocolate cake. Dinner ended, as meals of families with little children often do, when one of the Nixon daughters—was it Tricia or Julie?—threw up the chocolate cake. Then we drove home.
My father is saddened by the death of Nixon, a friend whose life was lived out on the front pages. Looking back, I am saddened, too, but by the passing of a far, far simpler time.
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