by cheri block
At the end of August 1973, after spending the summer eating ice cream sundaes and pistachio nuts, guacamole and whipped cream, I gave birth to a baby girl. I was twenty-three years old.
Most women in those days remember the months leading up to their deliveries as ones festooned with baby showers and serious decision-making about cribs and rockers, nursery colors and strollers. Not I. I spent the entire summer on the sofa watching the Senate Watergate Hearings. Gordon Liddy, H.R. Haldeman, Archibald Cox, John Dean, Herb Kalmbach–these names I knew well.
I am a small person–at the time of my pregnancy I weighed about 100 pounds and by June of 1973, my body weight was approaching 118 pounds. My ankles screamed at me; my lungs cried out nightly, “More air, please!” In short, I slowed down. These were not the days when women worked out at the gym up to the night of delivery or spent their last moments on a yoga mat before their water broke. These were the days when, like Homer Simpson creating a permanent divot, or should I say crater on the sofa, it was perfectly acceptable to lounge while pregnant.
I was no exception. My husband, in law school from August to May and in Officer Candidate School for the National Guard that summer, was not clerking for some high-powered judge in San Francisco. We were married, damnit, and he had a child on the way and a wife on the couch.
He worked, therefore, at Pacific States Steel, a filthy (now condemned and cleaned up thanks to the EPA) sooty company in Union City, California. His job was to keep the underground ovens going and to do this, he had to wear wooden sandals strapped to the bottom of his boots to keep the rubber from melting. Metal-toed boots would surely roast his toes like peanuts.
He would come home from work with soot so ground into his face, I thought we lived in West Virginia outside of some coal mine. Nightly, dropping his lunchbox on the counter before going upstairs to shower, he would find me watching the Senate Watergate Hearings. Dinner was not ready.
Like my husband shoveling coal in the bowels of Pacific States Steel, Richard Nixon, too, was on the hot seat of American politics and I wasn’t going to miss one minute. And I didn’t.
You see, I had a personal connection to the Watergate scandal: my college roommate had married the son of Richard Nixon’s personal attorney, Herb Kalmbach. I wanted to see him testify. I wondered what my roommate might be thinking about her father-in-law. I also wondered if she ever felt guilty wearing my dirndl skirts and stretching out the waist bands while I was away on weekends.
But most of all, from the outset, I was positive that Richard Nixon had lied to the American public about his role in the cover-up and, as a seasoned Sunnyside Day Camp Counselor by day, ordering small children around, and a clerk in the Mervyn’s Department Store Mens’ Department by night, I did not approve of lying or shoplifting. Or secret break-ins. I wanted justice to be done.
I will confess that at that time, I was a registered Democrat and did not like Richard Nixon, whose shifty eyes and sweaty upper lip during the 1960 debates with John F. Kennedy made me, as a precocious 4th grader, vote for JFK in a straw election in Room 6.
We all know how Richard Nixon was brought down: Arrogance. Narcissism. Ignorance. Prevarication.
These fatal flaws can eventually trip up even the most well-insulated politician.