Memo From Mac

 

                                                                   

The Burlington Hawk-Eye
The Hawk Eye
Burlington, Iowa

Convention Was Fitting Windup
 
August 31, 1988

We were watching history being made in New Orleans, my wife Peggy and I, as we peered at familiar faces and sat listening to familiar voices we'd heard over the years Ford and Dole, Reagan and Bush. In the mist of memory we could see other faces and hear other voices farther back Landon, Dewey and Wilkie, Taft and Eisenhower, Goldwater and, of course, Nixon.

This, I had announced, would be my last convention, having gone to my first in 1948. I would make this one despite everything, provided she would come along, helping with notes and errands and reminders, and keeping me going despite my still new heart by-passes. It was altogether fitting, we decided, sitting there watching Ron and Nancy, George and Barbara, Bob and Liddy, that we would be winding it up together. For we had started it together this political journalism career 42 years ago this summer.

I was just out of service after a year at Bethesda Naval Medical Center, back to pick up where I'd left off four years before at Emporia State College. She was in from her teaching job to pick up some summer hours. I had tried some writing in my hospital bed, encouraged by the Red Cross Gray Lady who pushed the library cart around the wards, and even had one small magazine piece published. But I wasn't thinking about writing, but only about getting on with my pre-law course, and into politics.

I did sign up for one course called News English, which looked like fun. The class put out the summer edition of the school paper. She was the editor. We were acquainted but not, as they say, romantically. We had once, years before, washed dishes together in her mother's restaurant, where I was working for my meals.

At deadline for the first edition she still had a big hole on Page One. "You're supposed to be a hotshot," she said. "Write something." So I did, a real emotion-grabber about how good it was to be back, which borrowed generously from William Allen While, the great and recently departed Emporia Gazette editor.

She edited it to fit, the Gazette reprinted it, then gave me a job writing campus news and an occasional editorial page piece for $15 a week, and that's how I got in the newspaper business. We got the school paper in a little trouble that summer, criticizing the administration, and that meant a lot of night work.

There's much more to tell, but suffice it to say that we got married a year to the day after that piece appeared in the school paper, a coincidence, which to her utter disgust, I didn't notice until years later.

Down all the decades of children and homes and jobs and joys and sorrows, we shared this interest in politics, which had been nurtured as children of the Depression and the New Deal. Our very first formal date had been the Washington Day dance at the state capital the winter before we got married. (In Kansas, the Republicans always celebrated Lincoln, the Democrats Washington.) We met our share of presidents and prime ministers and went to far places and grand events, but clung to the small towns.

When I went off to Philadelphia in 1948 for my first convention, she'd stayed home and the grandest event that winter was not Harry Truman's upset, but our first born's arrival. Now, at New Orleans 40 years later, after each session in the hall, we would go by the United Press work area where he was editing the day's copy, even as his mother had edited that first piece of mine, long ago. We'd compare notes, share coffee, trade the latest Quayle jokes, say goodnight, and drag our weighty years off to our hotel, leaving him to carry on the family trade. It was an exceptionally satisfactory way to begin winding it all down.

So now we've another winter coming with another election. But believe me, more important things will happen. And you won't, in your wildest dreams, be able to guess where they will lead 40 years from now. That's the wonder of it all.

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