Memories Of August 8, 1974, Nixon Resignation From One Middle-Class Wisconsin Home

As a twelve-year-old growing up in Hancock, Wisconsin this news seemed most interesting for the simple reason that nothing exciting ever seemed to occur in my hometown area. Everything exciting happened ‘out there’ and that meant far way. All of a sudden the energy of a national story was hitting home as people around me were talking about it and we seemed in that fashion to be a part of the story, too. I liked that feeling and was starting to understand the adrenaline rush that came with breaking news stories.

Counting the bean-pickers that rumbled down our country road or predicting how much rain might be in the gauge dad had set up on the white fence separating Mom’s flowers from the leafy rhubarb patch were what constituted a normal type of summer day in my childhood. So it is not hard to fathom how exciting following the news of a president leaving office might be for a kid.

Even though I was not aware of the depth and complexity of Watergate, thanks to the daily paper that was delivered six days a week in our mail and from radio newscasts, I knew there was excitement brewing in the land.

My parents spent the early part of the evening of August 8th after our dinner—supper as my Mom always referred to it—doing some lawn work. There were gray clouds that evening, though not the type that made for any rain. That surely was greeted with a smile by Dad as he mowed in cooler temperatures. Mom followed him around the trees and flower patches with trimming shears in hand tidying up the spots the mower was not able to perfect. I know dad was being cognizant of the time and wanted things to be done in time for the national presidential address.

By the time Nixon looked directly into the camera the three of us were seated in the living room, with dad in his leather-like chair that tipped back ever so slightly while Mom and I sat on the sofa, with me perched close to the TV, a spot I always seemed to gravitate towards.

How my parents felt about that night is not registered in my mind. I suspect that is due to the fact they watched the address like most other Americans who knew larger legal and political forces were at work in the nation and all they could do was just watch it unfold. In later years I knew my parents were part of that “Silent Majority” that Nixon was speaking to in his national races. They worked hard, played by the rules, and at times could do nothing more than just watch as events swirled around them. I have no memory of any emotional reaction—one way or the other—from the Republican home where I grew up that night, though I still recall where we were and what we did.

As was the case with other events that played out on the national stage in those years of my life it was the drama and excitement that drew me to the story. I knew that the resignation was a major event, but am not sure I placed it in historical terms. What I very much recall that night and then in the days that followed were the urgent tones in the announcer’s voices and the paced delivery of whatever was being reported. Where others my age were the product of the TV age I had grown up with radio and experienced a whole other way of hearing the news. I may have wished for more excitement in my youth but would not trade those AM broadcasts for any black-and-white image from a TV.

The following morning was one that left a lasting impression on me.

Dad was at work and Mom was undertaking the regular household-type patterns of life that made our house a home. August 9th was sunny and bright as I sat in the living room in front of the television with the sun streaming in through the windows on the south side of the house. What happened has lingered with me over the decades.

First, and though I was not able to recognize it at the time, came the raw and unvarnished words and open emotions from a politician. Rarely has anyone with power and a national moment spoke in the way President Nixon did as he stood behind a podium and bid White House staff and administrative aides farewell. It was unscripted and though I had no reason to know why at the time his words hit me and have never left me since. Some would say in later years they wondered how Nixon made it through his roughly fifteen minutes of saying goodbye. It was wrenching to watch and never fails to move me when I view it these decades later.

In one of his awkwardly emotional moments for a man who never relied on such sentiment to carry him through the political battles he stated, “Nobody will ever write a book, probably, about my mother. Well, I guess all of you would say this about your mother–my mother was a saint.” I think his time behind the podium that morning was as close as we ever came to seeing the human side of the man.

The second reason the events struck me that morning and continue to hold my attention, concerned the way power was handed over under the rules that our nation agrees to be governed by, even in the worst of times. This is not some small outcome when a constitutional crisis was finalized with the wave from a fallen leader as he gets on a helicopter and his vice-president takes over as the next leader of the free world. A twelve-year-old out in the country where nothing ever happens could even see the wonder of it all.

Decades following that morning when Nixon made his emotional comments from the White House I wrote Walking Up The Ramp, a book about my life, and parents who raised a boy to be a determined man. The quote I used to open my story was the same one that caught my attention back in the sunny living room of my childhood. No one may have ever written a book about Dick Nixon’s Mom, but I would write one about mine.

There are many who can not find anything other than revulsion for Richard Nixon. I just am not one of those. As readers might know I have had a life-long interest in the life and times of Richard Nixon. While I have long stated President Abraham Lincoln was our most important leader to occupy the White House I have long felt Nixon was our most intriguing. Nixon’s life was a Shakespeare play acted out for the whole nation to watch.

No one can or should want to spin away from the Watergate affairs which cover everything from a bungled burglary to the plumbers, ITT, the firing of a special prosecutor and so much more. Frankly, it is hard to imagine all that happened to play out day after day, week after week, month after month. Yet it all happened and many of us have memories of those days, as anguishing as they were. We would not again see a political meltdown until the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election unfolded in horror and shameful actions in front of our eyes on January 6, 2021.

Over the years I have come to a more nuanced perspective about the man. I do not allow for any wiggle room on his crimes or the need to resign from the office. But when it comes to his international involvement I leave the bitterness for the partisans while taking stock of his accomplishments in places around the globe.

At this time as we reflect on the resignation, we need to ask ourselves if our politics really did survive that event or was it instead a demarcation line where faith was lost in our political institutions that have never again been mended. Between the Vietnam War and Watergate, the nation lost more of itself than most knew at the time.

Let Kids Read…Whatever They Find Interesting

I read a column this week in the Los Angeles Times that again called our attention to banned books. The column also raised a memory from my childhood that strikes at the heart of this issue.

David Ulin composed a tightly written and fast read about the place we find ourselves with the latest pushes for banning books in places all over the nation. We might like to believe that such behavior is located only in red counties and conservative states. But that would be very much mistaken.

In 2018 the Monona Grove School District in Dane County was considering whether it should continue teaching To Kill a Mockingbird after a parent complained that the racially charged language in the novel is inappropriate.  That would suggest some in our area have no more ability to digest and discuss thought-provoking books than people we now argue with about banning James Baldwin. In the end, the school board continued the use of the book in the classroom.

That episode crossed my mind as I read Ulin’s opinion article.

The house where I was raised had an open shelf rule. This meant my brother and I were allowed to read anything, no matter how inappropriate or beyond our years. We never had to ask.

I spent hours of my childhood perusing the volumes on my father’s bookcases at will, trial and error. Histories, thrillers, science fiction, books on politics and culture — all of it was available to me.

I keep thinking about this as more and more school districts participate in what is shaping up to look like an open war against reading. According to “Banned in the USA,” a report issued by the writers’ organization PEN America in April, nearly 1,600 individual books were banned in 26 states between July 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022.

Among the titles challenged or removed are Ta-Nehisi Coates’ “Between the World and Me,” Elizabeth Acevedo’s “The Poet X,” Roxane Gay’s “Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body” and Robin Benway’s “Far From the Tree.” All are works of abiding literary merit that address issues of identity and race and family — in other words, exactly the kinds of books students should be reading now.

Although the challenging of books and curriculum is hardly new in the United States, what we’re facing now is somewhat different. Of the current bans, PEN notes, “41% (644 individual bans) are tied to directives from state officials or elected lawmakers to investigate or remove books in schools.” It is not parents or even school boards driving many of these challenges. It is the power of the state.

I have a visceral reaction when the topic of banning books is raised. To place constraints on an individual as to what can be read and learned and what ideas can be entertained is just unacceptable. Books are a gateway to new concepts and allow for a higher level of reasoning.

My memory of attempted censorship took place when I was in grade school, the 6th grade.

“Do your parents know you are reading this book?”

That question from Mrs. Tunks, a schoolteacher of mine, was as close as book censorship ever came my way.  I still recall the stair steps in the old schoolhouse where she pointed at my copy of The Throne Of Saturn by Allen Drury, and while looking at it sounded her prudish alarm, though for what reason I could never understand. 

Other than the fact the book was 600 pages, and ‘kids’ were not supposed to read anything other than the Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys series–which I blew through in the 4th grade, provides no real explanation for her remark. 

The fact my parents encouraged me to read, as it kept me interested in all sorts of things, did not seem to settle her skeptical mind as to why that book would intrigue me.  A space adventure between the United States and the Soviet Union was high drama for my 6th-grade mind, and I guess for lots of adult readers as well, or it would never have been published.  I finished that book and kept Allen Drury as a writer I have long enjoyed into my adult years.

And when the book was finished dad drove me to our little local library to get another one to read. Those drives were a Friday evening ritual.

Today the hard copy edition of that book sets on my shelf as not only a reminder of a good read but also to underscore a long-held belief of mine.  No one should be censoring reading material for inquisitive minds.

Let young people be exposed to books and ideas!

All Fun And Games Until Coffee Maker Gives Up The Ghost

Two weeks ago I read on Facebook about a woman from my hometown of Hancock that wondered if anyone had a coffee maker she could use until another could be bought. Her machine had passed over into the place used grounds go, and was thinking about where to get the next cup.

It truly made an impression on me when a woman in the village offered to bring her a cup on the way when the kids were taken to school. Another offered, in light of COVID still being a real concern, to bring her morning coffee and just leave it on the back table. No contact delivery! Small towns are known for that type of living and caring.

That post came to mind this morning as I went about my routine of turning on the coffee maker and then going about our home opening curtains and shades. I picked up the morning newspaper from the front stoop and pulled a mug from the kitchen cabinet. It was then I noticed there was no aroma of coffee to welcome me to another day. Instead, I was greeted with an error message on the machine which when translated from Google into frustrated caffeine-deprived lingo equaled ‘buy a new machine’.

James gave me a Burr coffee grinder for Christmas, with this photo from January 1st also showing the famous Yankee bean pot used back home in Maine. Also pictured is the recently departed.

While hot water was boiling for my French press, I needed to again be mindful of what a coffee expert suggested.

I then pulled up my favorite business in the entire world, Amazon, and started to pursue new coffee makers. Once the boiling water was added to the freshly ground magic from last night, I asked Siri to set a 4-minute alarm. Just as the alert was audible I noticed smoke was being strongly smelled in our office.

While I was in the throes of a coffee crisis James’ spring-form pan for his homemade lemon-vanilla and blackberry cheesecake with a ground pecan and molasses crust had a small drip, drip, drip onto the hot oven. Smoke was created of the type one might expect prior to a singer stepping through it to wow an audience in a stage production. With swift moves, the oven was wiped clean and a ‘hot-water bath’ style of baking his creation was found.

It was then I read an email from a man who was to install our outside french doors Tuesday morning, alerting me to a forecast calling for rain. The project, understandably, was delayed for later in the week.

This all occurred before even the first sip of morning coffee. Well, it is Monday, even if a Holiday.

The serendipity part of this story is this long weekend I am reading The Coffee Trader by David Liss. This author writes his remarkable stories with equal intensity with both history and finance. I am enthralled with his abilities with storytelling.

Amsterdam in the 1690s – a boom town with Europe’s biggest stock exchange and traders who will stop at nothing to get even richer. Lienzo, a Portugese Jew, stumbles across a new commodity – coffee – which, if he plays his cards right, will make him the richest man in Holland. But others stand in his way – rival traders who do all in their power to confuse the exchange and scupper his plans, his brother who is jealous of his financial wizardry and even his brother’s beautiful wife who both tempts and spurns him in equal measure.

I have seven chapters left in the book and if my Adirondack chair does not fall apart as I sit down, or a large branch of a tree let go over my head, or an errant neighborhood frisbee smacks me in the head the rest of the day looks better.

I can say that now since I have finished my first cup of java!

Freedom Of Speech In The Age Of Elon Musk

Many of my readers come from the age of basic common sense where those unseen guardrails on human interactions with one another are now just second nature. That does mean we are old but just seasoned with layers of respect for how the transactions of society take place. We, in many ways, resemble the charming patina that occurs on copper statues.

The majority of us would not cut in line at the grocery store any more than we would rashly make an unfounded charge, and as my folks might have said, then ‘run it up the flag pole’. Most folks would not distort election returns or argue that space lasers caused forest fires.

As a boy, the party line was (at times) the way local events became known in our rural Wisconsin home. My mom frowned on finding me listening quietly to conversations from others connected, but would then concede to ask what was the news. I never once thought that anything heard in those listening sessions was not true.

Nor do I ever recall a tirade or bombastic blowout.

The means of communication these days is a far cry from placing one hand over the mouthpiece and listening for information on the metal phone hung on the dining room wall. With today’s social media, communication has far less to do with listening, and far more to do with poking and riling others.

The discussions over the past days about Elon Musk, who bought Twitter earlier this week, have created many observers to wonder what that social media landscape will resemble when Musk allows for ‘free speech’ to reign on the platform.

Neil Steinberg a Chicago Sun-Times columnist wrote ” “Free speech” is now the equivalent of being free from the consequences of your malicious, deceptive, and toxic ramblings, the First Amendment a shield to hide behind. It’s like the worst nuisance on the beach buying a private swim club so he can freely kick sand in weaklings’ faces.”

Given what passes for ‘conversations’ in too many cases with social media across the nation it is hard to think Steinberg to be wrong. Reading many of the comments on Twitter about heavy topics of the day makes it painfully clear that not only is the nation needing some lessons on logic, but also about how to navigate in polite society.

I do find it most telling, however, when it comes to those in the nation who talk loudest about ‘free speech’, that what is really desired is the ability to anonymously spread harmful lies, conspiracy theories, and outright bogus slime. Which runs counter to the folks who know this grand freedom of speaking freely comes with the responsibility to speak responsibly.

As they did on the party line of my youth.

And so it goes.

Waushara County Gay Youth Have Positive Role Model In Pete Buttigieg, Non-Verbalized Lesson Mighty Important In Coloma

On Tuesday, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was in Waushara County. There are many reasons to cheer when a cabinet officer visits any small community, but in this case, there is an unstated reason which deserves comment.

As one of the crafters and motivating voices in the passage of the much-needed $1.2 trillion infrastructure law passed last year, Buttigieg is now visiting places across the country helping locals understand the goals to be achieved. Coloma was where ‘Mayor Pete’ spoke about the construction trades that will need more workers as a result of the federal dollars being pumped into local economies.

The visit was aimed to talk about the national investment into our infrastructure on the day that high school students from around Wisconsin were able to get a first-hand look at the operation of heavy machinery, hands-on experience with mini-excavators, and meetings with industry professionals about apprenticeships.

And with the ample projects that are needed to be completed around Wisconsin, it goes without saying that the industry needs workers.

Buttigieg being in heavily Republican and conservative Waushara County allowed for something else to manifest itself, in addition to infrastructure needs. High school students who may come from homes where gay people are belittled or laughed at had an opportunity to see an openly married gay man with children. who ran for president. and now serves as a top federal officeholder.

Without a doubt, and statistically speaking, there were a few gay students in attendance on Tuesday. Having grown up in that county–in fact, about 10 miles from Coloma–I well know the tone and type that reside in this rural part of Wisconsin. That is not snarky wording but just a plain fact.

So I can also clearly state the non-verbalized lessons for gay youth concerning the power and potential for their personal lives were a lesson they were able to see up close. Whatever information they may have gleaned about potential jobs is far less important than the fact that living authentically matters.

All the snide comments and bigotry in these small towns can not stain the truth when Buttigieg walks up, smiles, and shakes your hand. It does not take your average student very long to discern the truth. The folks back home with their bigotry were just wrong.

Gay youth in these small towns must learn they can live their lives and have every single part of the American dream, from spouses to kids, just like their fellow classmates. Just like Pete Buttigieg.

When I grew up it would have been helpful to have had openly gay role models. Rural Wisconsin had such a man among them today. Thanks, Pete Buttigieg for just being you.

And so it goes.

Memory Of Dad, Royce Humphrey

“Home is where one starts from.” —T.S. Eliot.

I want to post about my dad, Royce Humphrey, who passed away at our Hancock home on this date in 2011.  This would seem like the place to share a fond picture of him, as I have done over the years on this day at one of my social media locations. But this year, I wish to take a different approach to pass along a memory.

While I am sure many other dads in the area of my youth were very proud of their homes and the land they owned, I, of course, can only speak about my dad.

As such I can confirm he had a decades-long effort to make sure the lawn was always mowed, and with mom’s attention also trimmed and decorated with flower beds. When national holidays would take place, and with certainty more car traffic on County KK, dad made sure all was spruced up. When relatives would visit for a week with my grandparents across the road there was also a solid effort to weed the garden and have the lawn look just like he wished it to be.

This was not in any way a ‘putting on the dog’ as dad was one of the most self-effacing people I have ever known. Rather I think it stemmed from the hard days of the depression which underscored that one takes care of what one has in life. And it needs to be noted that dad made sure the lawn had the ‘July 4th look’ in the middle of August, too!

That appreciation of a well-manicured lawn along with the small projects that all add up to complete the feel of a home is one of the values and traditions he passed along my way. After mowing he would sit at the picnic table with a Mountian Dew and look at the results. After each mowing in Madison–which will start again in just a couple of weeks–I drink a cup of coffee and never forget where such a tradition originated.

So the photo of dad for this post comes from 2000 as he looked through the care of his yard. The line of rocks which ran to the road is now a border to flower beds at our home on the isthmus.

Great memories, for sure.

And so it goes.

Mary Nellie Parker: Hancock Woman’s Inspiration Makes For Article In Wisconsin State Journal

Mary Nellie Parker is recalled in Sunday’s Wisconsin State Journal (Feb. 13th edition). The woman who was born in Waushara County and called Hancock home is being known today around the state. And for the best of reasons.

Several weeks ago, the newspaper wrote about the COVID-19 pandemic entering its third year and the challenges that presents for so many in our state. The paper wondered if we could take inspiration from earlier generations who struggled with crisis and hardship. They wanted readers to offer ideas.

My mind went at once to Mary Nellie Parker. In my researching The Hancock News for my Doty Land podcast episode about the 1918 pandemic, I came across the most touching, uplifting, and memorable news article concerning Parker. While there were many stories and accounts of locals who suffered from the virus, and then also from WWI, which was being fought at that time, it was Parker who best exemplified the human spirit in those troubling years.

Here then is the way the story looks from today’s paper. It was requested to keep the article to 250 words….I wrote tightly and came in at 249. I wish I had been able to know this woman. She surely was most remarkable.

‘1918 Radio Ad’ For Hancock, Wisconsin Walker Company: New Suit Custom Made!

I was just messing about with some audio on this cold winter night and recorded this ‘1918 radio ad’ for Hancock’s Walker Company. The ad content is from a copy of the town’s newspaper, The Hancock News. Imagine a custom-made suit for only $15.00! The photo is from Main Street at about that time. I have not used this online platform before so this is not visually how I want it to look….but the broadcasting side is something I am pleased with. I did the ad in my recording studio in exactly 60 seconds. Ready for radio! With music, too.

Given one small technical flaw in working with this new platform it might be necessary to hit the restart button in the lower left corner of the YouTube video below. The icon is the arrow in partial circle.

Or watch it on YouTube.