I was a month shy of my sixth birthday. He was a few month's shy of a disgraceful resignation. One evening, as a ruse to stay up past bed-time, I decided to write a letter to President Nixon. My father didn't miss a beat when I walked into the living room and announced my intention. He promptly got out pad and pencil and solemnly took my dictation. It was March 15, 1974, and this is what I said:
"Dear Mr. Nixon,
How are things going in the White House? I hope everything's going fine. Do you know anything more about Watergate because I haven't heard it? If Mr. Kissinger finally gets peace in some of the places, I hope there is peace everywhere.
I'm wondering how you think the gas situation is. I hope it is fine. And I hope no more cars are going 70 when we get more gas from Syria and places that have it. And I hope no more cars are polluting also.
When we were driving 50 mph I was able to see hawks. It was really pretty when we were going 50 or 55 mph. I saw 4 sparrow hawks, 1 red-shouldered hawk and 17 red-tails on the way to Syracuse and on the way back too.
Love, TIM ABBOTT
P.S. (5 yrs. old)"
My Dad added the postscript but the rest is a true and accurate transcript; he made a copy at work the following day, so in addition to the original at the Nixon Library, a duplicate resides in my archives. My parents kept straight faces throughout this episode, but given the sheer volume of current events I had managed to absorb through my kindergartner's ears, they doubtless experienced an "out of the mouths of babes" moment.
I have no idea whether President Nixon got a chuckle out of my direct questions regarding Watergate, the prospects for world peace, the Arab oil embargo and the national 55 mph speed limit, or whether he even saw my letter at all. One hopes that one of his correspondence staff figured it would brighten his day, but as unlikely as that seems to me now, at the time I fully expected a direct response. Sure enough, not a week later I received an impressive envelope addressed to me from the White House with a booklet entitled "The President Greets Young Americans" and this attached note to me from Nixon:
Ah, Tricky Dick. How your formulaic response stole my heart. The signature is printed on the stationery and the type font of the date and salutation lines do not match the rest of the epistle, but none of this mattered to me then. While I noted that you evaded my questions, I was gratified to be named among your young friends. The booklet was pretty cool, too, although it occurred to me that you could have sprung for color pictures, like the glossy one President Ford sent me two years later. Yours did have cool pictures of you with the Apollo XI astronauts, although you couldn't really tell that was who they were without their space suits and helmets on. Still, I learned a lot from this informative piece of propaganda. For instance, you told me that this prayer of your predecessor President John Adams is carved into the white marble mantle of the State Dining Room:
"I pray Heaven to bestow the best Blessings on this House and all that shall hereafter inhabit it. May none but honest and wise men ever rule under this roof."
Noble sentiments, Mr. Nixon. Just as relevant today as in Adam's day, or yours. I also got the sense from your booklet that you got pestered a good deal by little kids wanting one of your flags.
"Some young Americans, like you, would like to have a flag which has flown over the White House. However, this is not possible because they are owned by the United States Government. These flags are used as long as they are in good condition and are not available for distribution."
All I asked for was world peace, less pollution and safer highways, but it was good to know that I hadn't over-reached by craving the star-spangled banner. Lesson learned by a young lobbyist in training.
All too soon, Nixon fell from grace. I tried my luck writing Presidents Ford and Carter but none of these brief brushes with Executive greatness were as satisfying as the first time. Roland L Elliot, Director of Correspondence in the Ford Administration, dropped an even briefer note to me than Nixon (though as mentioned above, the White House booklet that came with it had better production value). Jimmy Carter's staff assistant fired off a meaningless nothing and no booklet. As for Reagan, he thanked me for a congratulatory letter I never intended when I wrote him as an earnest young Democrat of 12, taking him to task on his foreign policy.
Disillusioned, I gave off expecting anything pleasant to come out of Washington. It's all Nixon's fault.