Track Seven: Else
A Rose Mary Stretch of the Imagination, pt. 7
The story of Richard Nixon’s secretary told as if Built to Spill’s seminal release Keep it like a Secret was a concept album about the Watergate Scandal.
“I hope you didn’t speak too loudly,” Mary advised her daughter over the phone. Rose had absolutely no idea how to respond. Silence rolled heavily into the receiver and down her end of the line towards her mother, at home in Sebring. She was just out of college and had called excitedly to say she’d been on the news. It had been a human interest piece on “The World War II Generation,” about life after the bomb, women returning to the home, etc… It hadn’t been a huge deal. She had spoken for 5 seconds. For her mother to burst forth with such obvious skepticism of her daughter’s intelligence, and ability to avoid embarrassment arrested her enthusiasm with the force of a punch.
On a very deep level Rose knew that her mother was proud. Of course she was, but she was also nervous on her daughter’s behalf. Rose had long since recognized Mary’s habit of giving more space to her anxieties about a thing the longer it was on her mind. At the time it had angered Rose: to think her mother didn’t believe in her. Now she found comfort in the exchange. She had learned to dig deep for the kernel of praise buried under the layers of her mother’s cautious criticism. The whole country seemed to be reveling in a caricature of her. A cartoon secretary who’s only noteworthy quality was incompetence. But here, in this once painful memory was a moment of concern. True, it was a concern obscured by her mother’s insecurities, but it was there if you searched for it, and it was borne of love.
The fall in D.C. came early. Rose found herself walking more and more. She was never completely able to clear her head, but she continued to try anyhow. She didn’t mind the cold. Extra layers of wool protected her from the weather, and from the media.
She watched the leaves blow in the wind and tangle briefly in the close-cropped grass. A few here and there still quaked above her head, barely tethered to branches. Most were pooled around the buckeye trunks — giving one last warming embrace as they decomposed. They reminded her of home, the buckeyes.
Home. She thought about it often, and without reluctance now. Finally she didn’t mind her roots, her family, her fiancé gone 30 years; somehow no longer terrifying. There was a comfort in tragedy that happens to you, that she found missing from the current political crises. When she spoke it was with her mother’s voice. Testifying before Congress and the newspapers’ response had awakened a new timidity in her. But a timidity not the result of fear, or shame. It was an emulation.