Printer Friendly

At home with Julie and David; "nice" best describes this typical suburban couple who happen to have two American presidents in their past.

AT HOME WITH JULIE AND DAVID

Six years can be a grade-schooleducation. It can be an adolescence. It can be a prison term or a Senate term. For David and Julie Eisenhower, it was a period of being famous in a way that no one had ever been before, no one has been since, and, we can all hope, no one will ever be again. They were famous not for what they had done, but for who they were: the daughter of Richard Nixon, the grandson of Dwight David Eisenhower, linked to each other for better, for worse.

For worse began in 1968, whenNixon emerged from his six-year political exile to run for president. David and Julie, already engaged, were students--he at Amherst, she at Smith, two colleges then in the vanguard of campus radicalism. They hit the campaign trail for Nixon-Agnew; all of a sudden, they became traitors to their generation. An author, Garry Wills, mixed up his kinship terminology a bit and actually called David a "Nephew Tom.'

To be sure, they had their admirers,but that was a mixed blessing. Who wants to be the kids parents tell their kids to be like? Say you were a hippie. How would you have reacted when President Nixon declared that his input from American youth came from David and Julie and not from all those long-haired demonstrators? As usual, a New Yorker cartoon had its finger on things, as one suburban matron said to another: "I'm sure the young Eisenhower boy and the Nixon girl don't smoke anything strange.'

In the spring of 1970, campus organizersvowed that, on David's and Julie's graduation days, 100,000 demonstrators would descend on the Smith-Amherst area to protest the President's policies. The couple didn't want to subject their relatives --including David's grandmother, 74-year-old Mamie Eisenhower--to that kind of abuse, especially since the college administrations said they couldn't guarantee the families' safety. So David and Julie didn't get to go to graduation.

Three years later came the storm ofWatergate. And there again, right in the middle of it, were David and Julie, the symbols--depending upon what side you were on--of what was right with the nation's young people or what was wrong with the nation.

"Question: For whom was CampDavid named? Answer: David Eisenhower.'

--Trivial Pursuit

Nice. Have a nice day. Nice shot.Nice going. Nice guys finish last. Nice and easy.

What we have here is a conceptwith problems--and not merely because, as The Random House College Dictionary scolds, "the word is used too often and has become a cliche, lacking the qualities of precision and intensity embodied in many of its synonyms.' What exactly does it mean to be "nice'? And, more to the point, is it a trait to be pursued, or to be shunned as a limp, warmed-over substitute for real character?

You won't find the answer here.All I wish to suggest is that anyone looking for the personification of nice, with all the virtues and, perhaps, the limitations the term implies, need look no further than David and Julie Eisenhower.

Consider what happened at BetsyReimer's house one day. David and Julie were over for a visit, and it was time to go home. But David was nowhere to be found. Betsy looked all over. Finally she opened the door to a big walk-in closet, and there he was, looking at baseball cards with her two boys. If that's not a nice story, I don't know what is.

Meanwhile Julie--who, at 38,looks like 26--is bringing new meaning to the word supermom. Not only is she raising three children, all under nine, at their ranch house in Berwyn, a Philadelphia suburb, but she also actively serves on the boards of several worthy institutions, has completed a biography of her mother, Pat Nixon, and is devoted to her friends. "If she knows my work is going to be in a show, she'll always come along,' says the Eisenhowers' next-door neighbor, Jane Phelan, a painter. "She doesn't like the publicity she attracts, but she knows it can be helpful to me.'

"She is the most thoughtful personI've ever met,' Betsy Reimer declares. Julie is so nice that Betsy's four-year-old, who called Julie "Baby Mommy' when the Eisenhowers' youngest daughter was a baby, has been known to ask for Julie as soon as he wakes up in the morning.

"There have been times when she'smet friends of mine, and for a second their mouths drop open,' Betsy says. "Later, they say to me, "You mean she actually goes to the Acme to shop?' I say, "Of course she does.' And when they get to know her, they love her. She doesn't put on any airs at all.'

David and Julie have been this niceall along. It's the times that have changed. Being nice when your father (or father-in-law) is a widely unpopular president is one thing. It involves giving press conferences and taking abuse. Being nice when you're a happy young family on the Main Line of Philadelphia is something else entirely. For example, David--at 38--finally has all the baseball playmates he needs. He has organized all the neighboring kids into wiffle-ball leagues and worn a pitching mound bare in his backyard. "It's great fun to see him,' says his sister Anne Eisenhower. "He gets the same look on his face as when we used to play baseball as kids.' There's only one problem, Betsy Reimer says: "He gets upset because he'll make a beautiful hit and the dog will catch it.'

In some ways, the Eisenhowers'life is normal to the point of tedium. There's spaghetti at Fonzo's (before it burned down), takeout pizza at the Reimers', Memorial Day barbecues. In other ways, it does seem a little unusual. For example, David must be the only suburban dad in America who wears hand-me-down suits from two former presidents. When Julie's parents come for a visit, as they often do, there's an extra player for wiffle ball--a Secret Service man. And not many people can pick up a Trivial Pursuit card and realize they are the answer. Not that David--an old board-game junkie--needs the help. "He and Julie are so good we won't let them play on the same team,' Betsy Reimer says. "Dave gets so excited. I won't let him sit at my dining-room table because one time he jumped up and almost went through the breakfront.'

And David, at least, spends eachworking day with reminders of his special legacy. He has spent most of the past ten years laboring over a mammoth biography of his grandfather, Dwight David Eisenhower, the first volume of which (1,600 typewritten pages) was published by Random House in June 1986. And for the past four years he has been a visiting lecturer in political science at the University of Pennsylvania, where the door to his office on the second floor of Stiteler Hall says DWIGHT DAVID EISENHOWER II. Still, things are different now. When the glare of the strobe light is no longer upon you, life is sweeter.

"These have been the happiestyears I've known,' Julie says. "I'm so grateful for this time leading a normal life. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.'

This is a sentiment with whichDavid concurs. Yet he, at least, would also say that his boyhood taste of fame--before everything turned sour--was intoxicating and wonderful. The Nixon years were actually David's second stint at the White House. His father, John, worked for Ike, and David, eight years old as the second term began in 1957, would stay with his grandparents for weeks at a time. Maybe it was the crew cut, maybe it was the mischievous grin-- there was something about David that suggested the prototypical American boy. Much later, he would write about those years in terms that suggest the prototypical American boyhood: "For a child, the White House was and is a paradise. What's now the press room used to be a heated indoor pool equipped with shower and workout facilities. The East Wing housed a movie theater that ran top Hollywood selections at the virtual request of the White House. I fashioned a basketball court during the winter out of the wide third-floor corridor leading to the storage and laundry rooms, and in the spring I practiced infield by bouncing tennis balls off the even-surfaced walls. The South Lawn was the back-yard of any child's dreams. I raced electric carts along the sloping driveway, and the trees provided perfect "cover' for grade-school cowboys and Indians. The open expanse of grass was perfect place to play golf.'

Julie Nixon was in Washingtonthen, too--her father being vice-president and all--but, oddly, she didn't see much of David. "I remember the first time I met him,' she says now. "It was in 1957, right after the inauguration. I still remember the menu, because it was only my second time in the White House. I'd never seen a ring of rice that stands up. And there was creamed chicken in the middle, with peas.'

In 1961, both children left Washington--David because his grandfather's second term was over, Julie because her father had lost to John F. Kennedy. On 12-year-old David's last night in the White House, he was despondent. But even then he found solace in historical allusions. Like a preteen MacArthur, he wandered the halls and sneaked notes reading "I shall return' into various nooks and crannies.

He didn't see Julie again until college.At Amherst, David was, of course, nice. Tom Boswell, now a sportswriter at the Washington Post, had gone to grade school with David and arrived at college a year ahead of him. "I didn't want to impose on an old acquaintanceship,' Boswell says. "I figured people bothered him all the time because of who he was. One night I was sitting in the vending-machine room and he came up to me. He said, "You probably don't remember me. I'm David Eisenhower.''

(In his book Why Life Imitatesthe World Series, Boswell recalls another encounter with David: "In the late '60s when SDS was considered politically middle-of-the-road on my campus, it was hard to find other 20-year-olds who wanted to play stickball. But gradually we discovered each other--Eric Landis, a bulldog catcher from the Bronx, a tall pitcher named Lewis, and a big-eared poli-sci major named Eisenhower. Landis and I stood Lewis and Eisenhower one balmy day for what we could safely call the Amherst College stickball championship. No other teams were entered. . . . I don't remember the score or who won, but I remember my last home run, a towering poke to the dorm roof off David. I always said you couldn't learn real stickball on the South Lawn.')

Julie--at Smith College, just sevenmiles away--met up with David in 1966, their freshman year, when both were asked to speak for a local Republican candidate. After talking it over on the phone, they both said no. But, as Julie says, David must have liked the sound of her voice, for a few days later they went out for ice cream on a double date; Julie and the other girl wound up paying because David and the other boy had no money on them. Their second date was on the night of the 1966 election. "That was a big night for the Republicans,' David says. "The Republican party of today started that night. We picked up 47 House seats. And Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California.'

They were engaged just afterthe next election night and married soon after the next one. Even before then, of course, we had started to see their faces everywhere. They were an odd but somehow endearing couple, the vivacious, slim, brown-haired Julie, and the somewhat less-at-ease David, usually described by reporters as "gangly' or "tousle-haired' or "jugeared' or sometimes all three.

Their wedding in NewYork was performed by an old family friend, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, and the reception for 400 was at the Plaza Hotel. The couple was determined that it shouldn't be at the White House. "It was the last chance for us to have a private, non-circustype event,' Julie says. "We knew any presidency is transient,' David adds. "We wanted something that would last beyond that.'

Twenty is a young age to bemarried, but it was a good choice for David and Julie, if only because it gave each of them a live-in ballast against the day's hurts. And as the protest against the Vietnam War grew, David and Julie became ever more visible targets of abuse and ridicule. "On opening day in 1969, David went down to Washington to throw out the first ball of the baseball season,' Tom Boswell says. "I remember a political-science professor who made a sarcastic remark to the whole class, "Well, I see it's more important for Eisenhower to go to a baseball game than attend class.'' Cheap shots like that were relatively easy to dismiss. Other slights cut deeper. When the brother of a friend of David's was killed in Vietnam, the friend stopped speaking to him.

If anything, Julie had itharder. Here's an entry from her college diary, written during the 1968 campaign: "I foolishly decided to go to the government department's mock Republican convention. It was hell on earth for me. My friend Marsha Cohen was asked to give R.N.'s [Richard Nixon's] speech because there were no volunteers. As she spoke the word "selflessly,' it came out "selfishly worked for his party.' The audience loved it. And then another laugh when she praised daddy. I just couldn't bear it. I was sitting in the back of the room and walked out.'

At least college was a protected environment.The White House wasn't. It became the couple's base after graduation, and suddenly the whole country could take potshots at them. "David Eisenhower'--just saying the name was a kind of joke, calling up the image of a goofy, ineffectual, good-natured Howdy Doody. No one could ever mistake Julie's intelligence and verve, but she found the Washington media glare almost unbearably oppressive. "There is so much attention and publicity focused on the people who live in the White House,' she says now. "The press is always around, and you're asked everything, from what you're giving your parents for Valentine's Day to your opinion on world issues. The thing I found so difficult about being in that position was that you were asked very trivial things. In order to be civil, you responded, and you ended up sounding like a trivial person.'

Photo: David and Julie, Alex, five, Melanie, 19months, and Jennie, seven, at home in Berwyn, Pennsylvania, in 1985. The face of the doll on Julie's lap sports a photo of the infant David Eisenhower.

Photo: They're a team. Julie and David speak out about their newbooks--David's about his grandfather, the late president, and Julie's about her mother, Pat Nixon.

Photo: David and the hero of his best-selling book,Eisenhower: At War 1943-1945. Two more volumes about Ike are in the works.

Photo: David appears to have had his eye on Julie at an early age.But what's a fellow to do with his grandfather, her parents, and assorted siblings gumming up the works?

Photo: While assistant editor of the Post, Julie tookan active part in selecting covers and in writing read-aloud stories for children.

Photo: If you're ever faced with the trivia-game question"Who was Camp David named for?' you're looking at the answer: David Eisenhower.
COPYRIGHT 1987 Saturday Evening Post Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:David Eisenhower, Julie Nixon Eisenhower
Author:Yagoda, Ben
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jan 1, 1987
Words:2575
Previous Article:Why did my sister get lung cancer? When a non-smoker who hasn't lived or worked around smokers gets primary lung cancer, could it be because of radon...
Next Article:The countess and the devil.
Topics:


Related Articles
At home with Julie and David.
Celebrating Ike's 100th.
Advice and dissent; what LBJ could have learned from Ike.
Comparing Presidents Reagan and Eisenhower.
The Qualities of Effective Presidents: An Overview from FDR to Bill Clinton.
Nixon Foundation Two-Day Events Highlighting Nixon Library 10th Year Include Staff Reunion and Architect of Peace Award Honoring Maurice R. Greenberg...
Nixon Foundation Two-Day Events Highlighting Nixon Library 10th Year Include Staff Reunion and Architect of Peace Award Honoring Maurice R. Greenberg...
GRAPH EXERCISE.
DAVID EISENHOWER VISITS REAGAN LIBRARY.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2016 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters