(Providence, Rhode Island) – Happy Mother’s Day to all the great moms out there. I was in a job interview a few weeks ago; and the boss asked me, “How did you get interested in politics?” Well, believe it or not, it all happened when I was five years old; and my mom had everything to do with it. It was the start of a lifelong journey, so let’s “brunch” on that this Mother’s Day:
“Johnson v. Goldwater, 1964” – In November, 1964, I was in my first semester of kindergarten at Leland School in Elm Grove, Wisconsin. Since Leland was the community polling place, school was cancelled for the day. I was excited to spend the day at home, hoping to watch the “Mickey Mouse Club,” “Leave it to Beaver,” and my other favorite TV shows with my mom. I was shocked when they weren’t on. Instead, I was subjected to a day full of Walter Cronkite, "The Huntley-Brinkley Report," and all sorts of wall-to-wall television coverage about the election. At first, I was mad; but then I got hooked. I’ve never looked back!
“News Junkie; Political Junkie” – Even before the election, I was fascinated by television and radio. A guy named Bob Herzog lived across the street, and was the anchorman on WISN-TV, then the local CBS affiliate in Milwaukee. A number of my dad’s patients were personalities on local radio and TV, including Tommy Richards who was “Pops” on the local kids' show; popular radio deejay Robb Thomas; and another local anchorman legend, Carl Zimmerman. These were people who came to our house – in person or via the airwaves. As a child, I was star-struck. Since my dad worked a lot, my main TV watching companion was my mom.
“The Kennedy Assassination” – Some of my earliest memories as a child surrounded the Kennedy assassination in 1964, when I was just four years old. While my parents were Irish-Catholics, they were fairly conservative and voted for Richard Nixon for President in 1960. But I always remember how hard my mom cried on the day of the Kennedy murder, and in the days after, including his funeral. It was a national tragedy, and it seemed as if the televisions in our house were on all day long. As he was America’s first and only Irish-Catholic President, there was a great deal of pride and symbolism in Kennedy's election, even for those who did not vote for him.
“Political Tensions” – As mentioned, my parents were moderate-to-conservative Republicans. While they loved Ronald Reagan, they were probably more of the moderate Gerald Ford and Nelson Rockefeller persuasion. However, they broke ranks in the 1968 U.S. Senate race in Wisconsin, with my mom backing the ardent environmentalist and Earth Day founder, Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-WI), while my Dad backed State Senator Jerry Leonard (R-WI). Senator Nelson was supporting changes to the nation’s medical profession, which my dad opposed. My parents didn’t really fight, but rather had some very spirited debates. Nelson was reelected, and years later when I interviewed him as the head of the Wilderness Society, he laughed when I told him the story of my parents' conflict.
“Those Were the Days” – The 60s and 70s were some of the most raucous decades in United States history. Think of all that happened: The Cuban Missile Crisis, John F. Kennedy's assassination, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights movement, the Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations just three months apart, the Beatles, Woodstock, and the whole cultural change, the space race culminating with the moon landing, then Watergate and beyond. Ours was one of those odd families that had a TV on the kitchen counter, and we watched the newscasts every night while having dinner. Imagine the kitchen table debate with nine people gathered around! It was feisty and fun; and my mom was a great cook, too!
“The Nixon Resignation” – Maybe the darkest memory I have of me, my mom, and politics took place the night of August 8, 1974. That was when President Nixon gave his televised address to the nation, saying that he would resign effective noon the next day. Most of my brothers and sisters watched with my mom and dad in stunned silence. I remember that my mom was worried that we might be attacked by the Soviet Union, because the United States looked so weak and vulnerable at that moment. She was shaken by Watergate and the first-ever Presidential resignation. It was the nation’s darkest day since the Kennedy assassination. Sad to say, my mom would die just eight months later; but the imprint of her love of politics and news coverage is with me to this day. God bless Mary Beth Dougherty Curtis - and thanks, Mom!
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