Forty years ago today, August 8, 1974: I was a young mother living on the outskirts of a small town in east Tennessee, having uprooted myself, along with my husband and young son, from my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin a year previously. I was still in severe culture shock, getting used to the ways and the speech of my neighbors, learning to eat things like soup beans and cornbread that was white and salty and not yellow and sweet like I was used to, and coping with my husband's weird, mostly night shift schedule. I didn't have many friends yet, and being home with a toddler, my television was my companion. For months I'd been glued to what was better than a soap opera, first the Watergate hearings, then the impeachment hearings. The faces and voices of Sam Ervin, Howard Baker, Daniel Inouye, and later on various House members, most memorably the inimitable Barbara Jordan, had become almost as familiar to me as those of favorite actors, and each day I could hardly wait to get my coffee and turn on the TV to see what would happen next. But that seemed to be over and I wasn't sure what would happen next. All that day, August 8, there were rumblings that something was going on, and we heard on the evening news, as I recall, that President Nixon was going to address the nation later. I didn't expect much, probably more denial and dissembling, so I went about my usual routine, but I kept the television on just in case he said something important.
And he did. After a fairly brief preamble, "Therefore, I shall resign the presidency, effective at noon tomorrow." My husband and I stared at each other, speechless, neither of us daring to believe it, both of us wanting to cheer and both of us feeling, as we admitted later, that cheering would be the wrong response. I wouldn't really believe it until the next day, when I saw Nixon get on the helicopter (who else remembers that ridiculous double peace sign business?) and fly off. My husband broke into a chorus of "Thank God and Greyhound You're Gone" at that point, which made me giggle hysterically. It was his birthday, and he said he couldn't have asked for a better birthday present.
I feel a little less vindictive towards Nixon now than I did in 1974. Maybe it's a function of getting older. Maybe it's seeing what several presidents and their underlings have done since, and looking at what the Kochs and their ilk are trying to do to the country now. Nixon was just another guy trying to steal the Constitution. He happened to get caught. Of course, back then we had a Senate, a House, and a Supreme Court that were worth something. Now, as a Chinese friend is wont to say, "I not so sure."