On August 9, 1974, I turned 14 and Richard Milhous Nixon resigned from the office of the President of the United States of America. These two events should have had no connection with each other save for coincidence, except that I was the granddaughter of Greta “Biggest Fan of Nixon Outside of Roger Stone Who Has a Giant Tattoo of the Man’s Face on His Back” Johnson.
“I don’t know how we can celebrate anything today,” my grandmother told me and my family as we sat at the dining room table after dinner and waited for my mom to bring out my birthday cake.
I looked at my dad, an occasional Democrat. He winked at me. We liked reading about Watergate, which was rich with an odd assortment of nicknames for people and events: Deep Throat, Tricky Dicky, Saturday Night Massacre, Smoking Gun Tape.
“This date will go down in history as one of our darkest,” my grandmother added. She’d written this sentiment on my birthday card, too.
My 10-year-old brother, Ken, said, “Your birthday should be cancelled forever.”
“Shut up,” I told him quietly. He not only had a birthday during the school year but he was born on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. So every February for his in-class party my mom brought him and his classmates ice cream bars in patriotic colors, specially made at Watts-Hardy Dairy.
As for me, my mom always made a Lazy Daisy cake. Here’s the secret family recipe:
1. Follow the baking directions on the side of a box of Duncan Hines Classic Yellow Cake mix
2. Pour Hershey’s chocolate syrup on top of the cake, straight from the can
3. Stick a half-burned candle recycled from the previous years’ birthdays in the middle of the cake and light said candle
From the kitchen, my mom soon carried in the cake. She started a ragged version of “Happy Birthday” and afterward she told me, “Blow out your candle!”
I can’t remember what I wished for. I can’t remember what presents I received. But each year thereafter, I clearly remember my grandmother, at some point during my birthday dinners, memorializing the date by saying, “(Insert number) of years ago, President Nixon resigned.” My grandmother lived to be 98 years old so Richard Nixon haunted my birthday in this manner for a total of 27 years. Plus one more time.
When my oldest son was a senior in high school, he served as a mentor for a freshman orientation program. I was wrangled into driving the kids to several locations during the August event. I first met his three charges before taking them to volunteer downtown. My son introduced me to Grant and Lucas, and then he turned to the smallest boy who had thick black hair. Which is how, the week before my 50th birthday, I found myself shaking hands with G. Gordon Liddy’s grandson. The elder Liddy had been the leader of Watergate’s White House Plumbers. And in that moment I heard my grandmother, somewhere in Republican heaven, announcing, “Almost 36 years ago … “