Pat Nixon

Pat-NixonAfter I finished Going Home To Glory, by David and Julie Eisenhower, (see Revisiting Eisenhower) I decided to read Julie Nixon Eisenhower’s biography of her mother, Pat Nixon: The Untold Story.

I learned a lot reading this book, first of all respect for Pat Nixon. “Overcoming adversity” is such an exhausted cliché. But how does one describe the circumstances wherein a girl—13 years old—nurses and loses her mother to cancer, then in the space of five years nurses and buries her dad; works full time to help one, then another brother go to college; enters USC at age 22 and graduates cum laude three years later after working multiple jobs?

Here’s what impressed me about Pat:

♥ Her family adored her. Her brothers, her husband, her daughters, her sons-in-law, her grandchildren. That is a major accomplishment when you have lived life in the public eye and needed to be absent from family often. Yes, this is a sympathetic biography.

♥ She reached out to people. Her default mode with crowds was to shake hands, look in the eyes: connect. It’s one thing to connect with supporters, but she pursued detractors and protesters, often disarming them with a smile. She was a cool cucumber in life-threatening situations.

♥ Discipline and duty directed her steps. Campaigning is grueling: sometimes three solo appearances during the day and an evening with her husband. Entertaining dignitaries non-stop. She never shrank from what needed to be done.

♥ She sought *and found* beauty. Flowers, colors, fashion, design.

♥ She traveled to all fifty states and over fifty countries of the world.

♥ She read. In her later years, sometimes five substantial books a week.

♥ She was a creative grandma. She played “shoe store” with her granddaughter. They lined *all* of Pat’s shoes up; her granddaughter was the sales person and Pat would ‘shop’ and try on shoes. Oh, how I want to do this with my Aria when she’s older.

♥ Her signature phrase was “Onward and upward.”

I found Pat Nixon’s funeral online…and watched the whole thing. One of the earlier songs was Vaughn Williams’ For All the Saints, a song I decided at age 17 I wanted at my funeral. Billy Graham spoke about death, describing it as five things:
— a coronation
— a cessation from labor
— a departure
— a transition, and
— an exodus or “going out”

I’m glad I read this. When I finish a book that catches my imagination, there are more books I ‘need’ to read. This is my life. Even though it smacks of voyeurism, Pat and Dick: The Nixons, An Intimate Portrait of a Marriage is a book I’m interested in reading, based on recently released love letters.

The Boys in the Boat

1936-team-on-waterThe Boys in the Boat consumed me while I consumed it. I blew dry my thick mop on the low setting so I could read more of it each morning. For a two week stretch I managed to work the book into every casual conversation.

In short, the book is about rowing, about the University of Washington crew who took the gold at the 1936 OIympics. Daniel James Brown tells the story with skill, weaving the personal and team history of the crew, the craft of boat building, the Nazi propaganda guru, Leni Riefenstahl, together in so spell-binding a way that, even though you know the outcome of the final race, you have to turn the page to find out.

Certain elements of the story were bound to draw me in: Nazi Germany, a motherless child, boating, work ethic, craftsmanship, athleticism. But what captured me the most was the harmony, the heartfelt cooperation, required between the boys in the boat. If you don’t like some fellow in the boat, Joe, you have to learn to like him. The combination of humility and confidence, requisite to a good crew, fascinated me. My husband has built and rowed several duck hunting scull boats in his time. By default (and by interest—his nightly question is ‘what are you reading?’) Curt gets the first feedback from my reading. But there was no way I could simply tell him about the chapter on the art of boat building. I read it aloud and reveled in his comments and appreciation.

Reading in the age of YouTube means that the scenes recreated on page are available to watch on a screen. This short book trailer shows the stunning end of the Olympic finals. (I’m glad that I saw this after I read the book; knowing the back story helped me appreciate the significance that is hard to grasp in the few seconds of the footage.) What a thrill!

As I read I bumped into “old friends”: The Suzzallo Library, Grand Coulee Dam, Fritz Kreisler(how does a world-class violinist get into a book on crew?), Louis Zamperini of Unbroken fame, and Hugh Laurie. Yeah, that Hugh Laurie! If you loved Unbroken, odds are you will like The Boys in the Boat.

It’s called “swing.” It only happens when all eight oarsmen are rowing in such perfect unison that no single action by any one is out of synch with those of all the others. It’s not just that the oars enter and leave the water at precisely the same instant. Sixteen arms must begin to pull, sixteen knees must begin to fold and unfold, eight bodies must begin to slide forward and backward, eight backs must bend and straighten all at once. Each minute action—each subtle turning of wrists—must be mirrored exactly by each oarsmen, from one end of the boat to the other.  160

Revisiting Eisenhower

"Going Home to Glory"In 2011 I read and reviewed Volume 1 of Stephen Ambrose’s magnum opus, a biography of Eisenhower. I finally took up Eisenhower Volume II: The President, which chronicles the two terms of Ike’s presidency (1953-1961) and his retirement years.

I found the book dense and too full of details that were difficult to absorb. I plodded, rewarded by many curiosities: Eisenhower’s valet, Sgt. Moaney, dressed him. Everyday. Most of his custom-made suits were gifts; he seldom wore a suit more than twice! Mamie spent most of the day in bed, watching soap operas and attending to her correspondence.

Peace and Prosperity is how Ike wanted his tenure to be remembered. He got us out of Korea and had six consecutive balanced budgets. I find it ironic that the former five-star general continually slashed defense spending to the howls of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The Interstate Highway system and soil conservation—paying farmers to take land out of production—were two highlights of Ike’s domestic policies. Eisenhower, not wanting to antagonize southern politicians he relied on, failed to assist the civil rights movement.

In 1955 the world had two Germany’s, two Korea’s, two Vietnam’s, and two China’s. The greatest fear during these Cold War years was the growth of communism. I’ve always wondered when and why foreign aid began. It started with Ike’s insistence that America’s prosperity wouldn’t last if other countries didn’t also prosper.  More to the point, if Third World countries went Communist, their raw materials would not be available to the U.S.

I learned about the Dulles brothers: Foster Dulles, for whom the D.C. airport is named, was Secretary of State and his brother Allen Dulles, who was the head of the CIA. The poor author had to constantly differentiate which Dulles was referenced.

A few things surprised me. Eisenhower’s cabinet urged him several times to solve a situation by dropping a nuclear bomb. It seems they did not grasp the consequences of such an action. Ike resisted each time. I was also amazed that  Kennedy and Johnson both consulted Eisenhower several times. Think about that: can you imagine President Obama asking President Bush for help?

While my interest was still warm, I decided to read David and Julie Eisenhower’s biography, Going Home To Glory, eager to read a grandson’s personal perspective. This book is more accessible, shorter, easier to grasp, more fun to read. David blends family stories with historical analysis. It is affectionate without being obeisant.

I once asked Mamie if Granddad’s compulsive restlessness, his habit of maintaining company around the clock, revealed a weakness, perhaps a fear of being alone, or a nonexistent inner life….My question unanswered, I asked her if she felt she had really known Dwight Eisenhower. She paused. “I’m not sure anyone did.”

My friend’s father was a friend of Ike’s. We have visited about his friendship with Eisenhower, Ray sharing how excited Ike was about shooting a hole-in-one, how he reenacted the shot in the telling of it. It was delightful, then, to read about this achievement in both books. Ike called it “the thrill of a lifetime,” which, when you consider Eisenhower’s life, is saying something.

I want to close this long post with two DDE quotes I find prescient and throw in a recipe he concocted.

When the federal government begins to fund education, he argued, educational institutions will find they cannot live without the assistance they receive. Then, he added with dark emphasis, the government eventually tells the educators what to do. Whether for good purposes or evil purposes, Eisenhower continued, the ability to control education has the potential to be used to promote mind control and that should be enough to recommend against letting any such thing take root.


Eisenhower’s Barbeque Sauce
1/4 cup butter
1 no. 2 can tomatoes, sieved (2 cups)
1/4 cup vinegar
1 T sugar
1 T paprika
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tsp salt
2 tsp chili powder
1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire
1/4 tsp Tabasco
1 tsp black pepper

Mix and simmer 15 minutes. Use for basting meat or chicken, and serve as sauce for it as well.

Letter from Eisenhower to grandson, David, 1966:
Too many of us are allowing too much authority and responsibility for our lives to become concentrated in Washington. I think it is just as important to develop enthusiasm for the election of a proper city council, a county board of commissioners, or statewide governor and legislature as it is to get the right man in the Presidency. Indeed, if we had better and stronger government at lower levels we would do much to reduce the risk that one day we are going to be governed by an entrenched and organized bureaucracy.

Mom, Migration, and Graduation

Nellie young

Mom was raised in Wapato, Washington, in a farming family in a farming community. Her father, a widower with two sons, married a much younger woman who had immigrated to America from the Netherlands. They had two daughters and three sons. Mom was the oldest.

Hers was a life of rising early, milking cows, doing chores, watching siblings, weeding gardens, canning produce, cleaning up. Evidently it was also a life of reading and studying. After she graduated from high school, she studied one year at Biola (Bible Institute of Los Angeles).

She wanted to transfer to a recently established college in Dayton, Tennessee, named after William Jennings Bryan. She was offered a car ride across the country—before the interstate highway system—, so she decided to check it out. Her mom was doubtful. She wondered how Nellie would pay for tuition and books? The admissions director had the same question, asking her what skills she had. “I know how to milk cows,” Mom offered. It just so happened that the college had cows but lacked knowledgeable milkers. So she was hired. She earned money ironing and eked out a degree with academic distinction.

She also met my dad, whom she called “Johnny.”  She wrote in his yearbook: “Labs, water fights, Gutenburg trips, Sun. Piano playing, Street meetings, Dr. Gregg, or reading together, I’ve enjoyed it all and been blessed by it. He has been extra good to us, hasn’t He? Ps 103 — Nellie. I Cor 15:58

It’s a wonder to me that Mom started in the Yakima Valley of Washington and ended in Lombard, IL, two states over from Ohio, where her father began his life. And I, raised in Lombard, settled a few hours south from where she lived.

I’m gobsmacked that this quiet girl took it upon herself to ride halfway across the nation to go to an unknown college. I hitched a ride with friends to go to one year of Bible school in Los Angeles. My plan was to establish residency and go to UCLA. I never stepped on the campus, frozen with fear. If I had but asked, a dozen people would have been willing to help me navigate both the mass transit and the admissions process.

So Mom migrated, milked her way through school, and graduated. She never knew that her oldest son became both a scholar and a dairy farmer. I imagine a conversation today between her and David, her intelligent questions and thoughtful replies. She would chuckle and sigh, “Farming sure has changed.”

Mom left her mark at Bryan. Reading her senior yearbook, I find these benedictions:

Your life has been a blessing and joy to us. — Eugene Rosenau

I’m unable to tell you what your daily work has meant in my life! — Cleo Graham

I’ll never forget what a friend in need you were. Knowing you has really enriched my life. —Dorothy Borror

I’ll never forget your beautiful smiles. — Delbert Baker

Thanks for letting me sleep in your bed overnights-even if there were stones in it! I could never tell you what a blessing you’ve been to me this year. I really enjoyed my frequent visits to your rooms. — Miriam Levengood

Years later, I’ve been told, Mom was in the throes of a nursing baby, dirty diapers, hungry toddlers, and active preschoolers. My dad arrived home, scooped up a child, and asked the most pressing question on his mind: “Did you study your Greek today?”

Yesterday, on the (46th!) anniversary of her death, I talked to my husband about my mom. A sob caught in my throat, and I admitted, “I still miss her.” He nodded and said, “One day you’ll never have to miss her again.”


I am midway through a journey begun in 2008 to understand the 20th century.  The Great War took a year (of my time!); WWII about 15 months. Life circumstances slowed me down, but I’m cheerfully working through the post-war period and the Korean War.  One approach to history that I appreciate is studying the lives of key people. Voila, la bibliographie! [That is a private joke that only I understand: the first sentence I ever learned in French was “Chttt! Voila, la biblioteque!” translated: Be QUIET! There is the librarian! It was on a filmstrip (with accompanying vinyl album that had a bell signal to go to the next slide) we watched in French I.]

I wanted to know Eisenhower better. Stephen Ambrose admires his subject.  He begins, “Dwight Eisenhower was a great and a good man. He was one of the outstanding leaders of the Western World in this century.”  This is the first volume of a two-volume biography of Eisenhower. Anyone interested in leadership would benefit from reading Ike’s story.

Everyone brings a personal “grid” to their reading.  I was very interested in Eisenhower’s religious background. Much has been made of the fact that one of the world’s greatest generals was raised in a pacifist home. David and Ida Eisenhower were devout members of Brethren in Christ.  David’s nighttime reading was the Bible in Greek; Ida memorized 1325 Bible verses. And yet…

Nightly Bible reads, Milton said, were “a good way to get us to read the Bible mechanically.” They never discussed what they had read, never asked “Why?,” never explored the deep subtlety or rich symbolism of the Bible. It was the word of God, sufficient unto itself. The duty of mortals was not to explore it, investigate it, question it, think about it, but rather to accept it. 24

Two traits, ever helpful in his life, were manifest in young Ike’s life: intense curiosity and a remarkable ability to concentrate.  As an adult he had another remarkable ability: to shake a depression. Ambrose writes about his vitality:

That quality showed in his speech, in his mannerisms, his physical movements, most of all in his eyes. They were astonishingly expressive. As he listened to his deputies discuss future operations, his eyes moved quickly and inquisitively from face to face. His concentration was intense, almost a physical embrace. His eyes always showed his mood—they were icy blue when he was angry, warmly blue what he was pleased, sharp and demanding when he was concerned, glazed when he was bored. 272

As a general, Ike comprehended the sacrifice that both the soldiers and their families made.

Eisenhower wanted to let as many men as possible see him. He made certain that every soldier who was to go ashore on D-Day had the opportunity to at least look at the man who was sending him into battle. 294

He was the man who had to total up all the casualties. 293

…only Eisenhower had such a keen sense of family, of the way in which each casualty meant a grieving family back home. Eisenhower’s concern was of such depth and so genuine that it never left him. 293

It wasn’t until he was in his fifties, that Eisenhower received acclaim and notoriety, primarily as the Supreme Commander of Operation Overlord.  Eisenhower was also the NATO commander, president of Columbia University and president of the United States.  This volume ends with Eisenhower as President-Elect of the United States.

I found Ambrose’s book engaging and helpful. At no time did my interest lag. I was inspired by Eisenhower’s discipline, organizational skills and perception.

A fun coda: I have a habit of immersing myself in books on (relatively) obscure topics. I find myself wanting to discuss the ideas and events I have read about, but coming up short on conversation partners. Honestly, what would dampen a dinner party faster than, “I know, let’s talk about Truman and Eisenhower!”?  I discovered recently that among my acquaintances are a couple who were friends with Ike and Mamie Eisenhower during their retirement years in Gettysburg.  They were full of stories about the Eisenhowers. I lent them this book; Ray read it through in three days.  I’m looking forward to some great discussions.  An unexpected gift!