Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Julie Nixon Chronicles, Part Four: The Squash Connection

In 1967, Smith, like most colleges, published a freshman facebook. This collection of photos helped me and other Smith women identify our peers, but it was of far greater interest to the men of Amherst, Yale, and Princeton, who were looking for dates.

The facebook contained shot after shot of modest-looking young women sporting Peter Pan collars fastened with circle pins. My photo, on the other hand, featured me in a sleeveless tee with a suggestively low v-neck. My long hair appeared tousled and my expression was more come-hither than demure. I’d submitted it in all innocence. I hated most pictures of myself and this was one of the few in which I thought I looked decent.

Apparently as a result of this photo, I began receiving phone calls from total strangers asking me out. But I wasn’t even tempted. I already had a boyfriend—an Amherst sophomore named Peter, who had gone to Southside Senior High School with me back in Rockville Centre. We’d even been in the same Spanish class. I’d always regarded Peter as cute but way too immature, despite the fact that he was a year older than me. Then, in December, 1966, I saw him in a whole new light.

Southside had a tradition of inviting recent grads back to meet with seniors and share their college experiences. I’d just been accepted at Smith, early decision. Knowing that Peter attended Amherst, only a few miles down the road from Smith, I was mildly curious to hear his impressions of college. But when he showed up, looking dashing in a brown suede jacket and exuding a newfound confidence, I felt intrigued. With his wavy black hair and crooked smile, he really was handsome, I decided. He’d even grown a bit taller. But that oh-so-cool jacket clinched it. I was smitten.

A few days later, he asked me out and by the time his winter break ended and he returned to Amherst, we were a couple. When I arrived at Smith the next fall, his presence nearby represented a small island of security in my sea of anxieties. I wasn’t about to jeopardize that for a few facebook dates.

The year before, Julie had her own facebook problems. Apparently, on viewing her photo, some men at Amherst and other schools thought it would be a lark to go out with the former Vice President’s daughter. As a result, she got countless calls from guys who probably had no real interest in getting to know her. She could never be sure, but her natural self-protectiveness led her to assume the worst.

Imagine what a relief it was to hook up with Amherst student David Eisenhower. David was equal in celebrity and understood exactly what Julie was going through. Their romance took off. And here’s where the squash connection comes in. David and Peter were both on the Amherst squash team. Hence, Julie and I knew what it was to hover inside the chilly corridors overlooking the squash courts while our boyfriends wacked a hard little ball inside a claustrophobic cubicle.

This connection led to at least one double date and gave Julie and me a common bond. Few of the freshmen and sophomore women in Baldwin House had steady boyfriends and even fewer were dating guys from Amherst. In fact, some felt condescending toward the little college down the road. I remember one senior remarking haughtily that she only dated Yale men. This struck me as odd, since it was a much more arduous trip to New Haven than to nearby Amherst.

I wanted to be with Peter as much as possible. He felt the same way, except for a few things that took priority--squash and tennis matches, squash and tennis practices, hanging around with his Deke fraternity brothers, even schoolwork. Given that I would drop anything to spend time with him, whereas he made time for me only when it was convenient, I was usually the one traveling the nine miles between our two schools.

Before one of my visits to Amherst, Julie asked me a favor. David had a history paper due that day, but was away from campus and had given the paper to Julie for delivery. Could I drop it off at his professor’s office? Of course, I said yes. During the ride over I struggled with the temptation to read what he’d written and, without too much hesitation, gave in. While I can’t remember the exact subject of the paper (something to do with American history), I do remember my reaction to reading it. It was an okay effort, not terribly well-written. I believed I could have written something at least as good, maybe better.

But this was David Eisenhower, grandson of the President! Since famosity had me in its grip even then, I was awed by David’s lineage. Wasn’t he guaranteed by birthright to be a superior student? The realization that he was merely competent bowled me over. For the first time since I arrived at Smith, I felt that I might actually belong there.

Next installment: Rocks for Jockettes and Winter Weekend with Jocks


Anonymous said...

I really do look forward to each of these installments. Biographies have always been one of my favorite types of reading--from Mary Queen of Scots to Rasputin to Virginia Woolf to Einstein to Father Damien to Allen Ginsberg to Plath to James Dean to John F. Kennedy to Elvis to and on ad infinitum, and yes even Richard Nixon. I always wondered about those beautiful girls. They always seemed so proper, so nearly doll-like. There's something quite delicious about vicariously observing the lives of the famous/infamous. My bookshelves are peppered with them. Bonnie

Anonymous said...

I am continuing to enjoy this immensely! The writing is wonderful and leaves me looking for more! Keep it coming, please! Judy

Anonymous said...

So interesting to review the past from our current "safe" distance. I'm enjoying your frankness! How was the squash?

Anonymous said...

Barbara,you are a fascinating story teller and I hang on every word. I could read on forever and wish you would never stop spinning your yarns. More please!