Storytelling: Nixon’s resignation felt like a little piece of everyone’s history


Share with others:


Print Email Read Later

Sum­mer classes dur­ing col­lege 40 years ago were my par­ents’ idea, an­other at­tempt to pro­tect me from the wicked world, I think.

So ev­ery morn­ing I took the bus into Oak­land, to be on time for Psy­chol­ogy 101 at Pitt. Every af­ter­noon, af­ter my women’s his­tory course was done I walked home to Squir­rel Hill, to save my­self 50 cents.

It was the sec­ond sum­mer of the tele­vised drama sur­round­ing Pres­i­dent Rich­ard Nixon’s down­fall since the Water­gate break-in sto­ries be­gan hit­ting the news in 1972.

The sum­mer of 1973, when I had a job baby-sit­ting three small holy ter­rors, I’d watched the Senate Water­gate hear­ings on tele­vi­sion in my rare free mo­ments. That fall, as I was re­hears­ing with the col­lege choir, some­body came in to an­nounce that Vice Pres­i­dent Spiro Agnew had re­signed.

In Jan­u­ary of 1974, some­body hung a ban­ner out­side a cam­pus build­ing that read, “IMPEACH NIXON.” Mr. Davis, teach­ing His­tory 101, rocked back on his heels and smiled. “I didn’t do it,” he told us.

Two years be­fore, Nixon had glided into his sec­ond term. All the can­di­dates who might have posed a chal­lenge slipped away by the time the con­ven­tion came. George McGovern, who was too far left even for most Dem­o­crats, ran against him. Nixon car­ried 49 states. Voter turn­out was low, but I don’t think he no­ticed that. Nixon was the pres­i­dent who opened re­la­tions with China. He’d made his place in his­tory.

Then we learned what he’d done to get him­self re-elected. Now the pres­i­dent was fall­ing like a hero in a Greek trag­edy.

Every morn­ing on the bus, peo­ple asked, “Is he guilty?” … “Will he be im­peached?” … “Will he have to leave of­fice?”

It oc­ca­sion­ally took my mind off the rig­ors of pass­ing Psych 101. I didn’t do well in sur­vey courses, which meant spend­ing a lot of time in the big hall in the Ca­the­dral of Learn­ing go­ing over my psych text pre­par­ing for fi­nals as sum­mer wound down. I fol­lowed the im­peach­ment sto­ries in the pa­pers and on the eve­ning news, but I was more in­ter­ested in my class­work.

None­the­less, Nixon re­mained the hot topic on the bus, in the hall out­side of class and in the lit­tle Oak­land restau­rants where I would eat a sol­i­tary lunch.

By Aug. 8, I had one fi­nal left, for women’s his­tory. It wasn’t a sur­vey course, and the only thing the fi­nal would de­cide for me was whether I’d get an A or a B. Of course I wanted the A, so I was hit­ting the books the night be­fore.

Dad had the TV on. I heard Nixon’s voice and didn’t think any­thing of it. He had al­ways loved to com­man­deer the air­waves. One minute you were watch­ing “Man­nix,” the next Nixon was there at his desk with an­other an­nounce­ment.

I don’t know why I went to check it out this time. I sup­pose I needed a break. But that was when I saw the pres­i­dent of the United States tell the world he was re­sign­ing. Nixon was step­ping down the next day to let Ger­ald Ford, the vice pres­i­dent we didn’t elect, be­come the leader of the free world.

I al­most missed it all for the sake of a fi­nal exam — which, by the way, I aced.

Cel­e­brat­ing my suc­cess the next day with a hot fudge sun­dae, I saw a young man wear­ing a Nixon mask while pan­han­dling with a tin cup out­side the ice cream store. I thought it was in poor taste.

That morn­ing I had heard Nixon’s last speech. It was, pos­si­bly, his fin­est. He spoke with hon­esty and hu­mil­ity, qual­i­ties that could have kept him in of­fice for a full eight years.

In­stead, I had seen a pres­i­dent fall. I was not yet 20. I had al­most missed it all, missed his­tory, for the sake of a his­tory exam.

That is what is called irony.

Jean Mar­tin of Swiss­vale can be reached at la­dy­je­an­de­burg@aol.com


The PG Port­fo­lio wel­comes “Sto­ry­tell­ing” sub­mis­sions and other reader es­says. Send your writ­ing to page2@post-ga­zette.com; or by mail to Port­fo­lio, Post-Ga­zette, 34 Blvd. of the Al­lies, Pitts­burgh, PA 15222. Port­fo­lio ed­i­tor Gary Rot­stein may be reached at 412-263-1255.

Join the conversation:

Commenting policy | How to report abuse
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to socialmedia@post-gazette.com and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.
Commenting policy | How to report abuse

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here