Friday, June 09, 2006

The Julie Nixon Chronicles, Part Six: Catching Rides with Manolo as Nixon Rides to the Presidency

During the late sixties, limousines were an uncommon sight on the roads. If one drove by, it invariably aroused curiosity, since limos were then generally used only by V.I.P.’s—Presidents, movie stars, and the like. When Julie offered me a ride home for the Thanksgiving holiday, it didn’t occur to me that I’d be riding in style until the Nixon limo pulled up at the front door of Baldwin House.

Richard Nixon had dispatched his valet and chauffeur, Manolo Sanchez, to transport Julie back to Manhattan. Julie suggested that Manolo drop me off at Penn Station. From there, I could easily catch a train to Long Island. So, off we went, cruising down Interstate 91, chatting about school and holiday plans. All the while, I kept noticing the people in other cars staring at us as we sped by. Just riding in such a fancy vehicle with the daughter of a famous person induced in me a heady, albeit unmerited, sense of self-importance.

In my recollection, Manolo was a bit of a crazy man, or at least a crazy driver. On that trip, he zoomed along at breakneck speed and made it to Manhattan in record time. But, the next time I hitched a ride home with Julie, Manolo managed to get totally lost in the wilds of Westchester. He kept insisting that he knew where he was going as he careened from one exit to the next. I began to fear we’d wind up in Pennsylvania, with Manolo protesting all the while that everything was fine. Despite his faulty sense of direction, Manolo remained with Richard Nixon throughout his Presidency, serving as his valet.

During that second ride, before Julie and I had to focus on getting Manolo back on track to Manhattan, we talked about her father, who was busy campaigning for the Republican Presidential nomination amid rising anti-war sentiment. Julie said he had received a number of unsolicited letters from soldiers at the front, voicing their support for him and their confidence that if Nixon were elected, he would find a way to end the war honorably.

I was quite moved by this conversation. Not because I thought Nixon would really end the war if he were elected, nor even because I was touched by the soldiers’ naïve faith in his ability to bring about peace with honor. What moved me was Julie’s passionate belief in her father’s goodness. I thought her confidence in him was misplaced, but it was impressive all the same.

Back at Smith, Julie survived geology and Professor Burger urged me to select it as my major. At the time, I foolishly thought pursuing subjects that came easily was tantamount to cheating and instead gravitated toward the ones that came hardest. I never took another geology class and wound up majoring in English.

At the end of first semester, Gloria and I switched roommates. We separated amicably and, as a parting gift, I gave her my llama rug, which she’d made good use of during our sojourn together. My new roommate was tidy and quiet, but moody. In retrospect, I missed Gloria’s weirdness, accompanied as it was by her invariable good humor. At the end of freshman year, I learned that she’d managed to flunk out of Smith, no mean accomplishment, as the college bent over backwards to help its students succeed. My next (and last) sighting of Gloria occurred in the mid-seventies, when I was married and living in Palo Alto, California. I ran into her on the steps of the local Post Office. She told me she’d just arrived from Hawaii, where she’d been living. She had a job selling Shaklee Vitamins—a healthy progression, it seemed, from the drugs she’d been into back at Smith.

My freshman year marked the last time I shared a dorm with Julie. The following fall, she took first semester off to campaign for her father, then married David Eisenhower in December, 1968, shortly after Nixon’s election. When Julie returned to Smith, she and David moved into an apartment across the street from Baldwin House, so I still saw her from time to time. She occasionally came over to Baldwin House for dinner, which created quite a stir, given that she was accompanied by Secret Service agents, who sat discreetly at other tables. I remember one dinner in particular, when a handsome young agent sat at my table. I found him articulate and pleasant, except for a few odd moments when I asked seemingly innocent questions, only to watch his demeanor stiffen as he replied, “Sorry, that’s classified,” in a clipped voice.

A few years later, as Watergate unfolded, I sometimes told friends the story of meeting Richard Nixon and his odd remark about the plumbing in Baldwin House. They often urged me to do an exposé of Julie and her father, but I could never bring myself to write such a piece. I simply liked Julie too much and didn’t want to take advantage of her friendship. A lot of time has passed, and I offer these chronicles as part of my personal history. I hope if Julie ever comes across them, she’ll read them in that spirit.

6 comments:

alex said...

A thrilling conclusion! I don't think this could read as anything but loving and earnest recollection. For instance, describing Gloria as having made "good use" of your llama rug... Fantastic euphemism! You don't have a meanspirited bone in your body.

I wonder what would have happened if you had become a geologist?

OK, bring on the next serial!

Bonnie said...

Well, I guess that at the very least Nixon raised a fine young daughter who loved him and was loyal to him. Whether or not one agrees with his politics or his behavior during Watergate and his presidency, your picture of his daughter Julie shows another more admirable side to his nature. Bonnie

Cheryl said...

Well, Barbara, you had a closer brush with a famous person than most -- limo rides and all! Thanks for sharing this exciting time in your history. It would certainly be interesting if Julie came across your chronicles and commented.

Jane said...

What a great series, Barbara. A perfect example of what can happen when solid content and fabulous writing style converge.

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Diego said...

Hello Barbara, Manolo was my godfather,he died some years ago here in La Coruña, Spain. It was funny to read this story!! He was a one of a kind man!