Search This Blog

Friday, January 18, 2013

My Personal Watergate

Yesterday I was listening to word maven Patricia T. O'Connor on the Leonard Lopate Show (she's a regular feature), and she was discussing words that became popularized during the Watergate era, as it is the 40th anniversary of the debacle. The guest host talked about being required by her parents to watch Watergate on TV though she was only a child. She recalled being told, "This is history in the making."

My parents did the same thing. I was only 6 years old but they woke me up to come and watch Nixon resign. I remember lying on the living room floor in front of the television, falling asleep, and my parents prodding me to "Wake up. This is history. You need to see this."

Prior to Nixon's resignation I had a personal experience with Watergate. I was in the first grade. My mother kept us kids busy with activities like practicing the piano daily, and my father, who was an electrical engineer, traveled quite a bit and was often not home. One day when I was practicing the piano, I noticed some audio tapes sitting on the top of it. They were not professionally made tapes, but homemade ones. I asked my mother what they were but she just shooed me away, saying, "They're just tapes." My curiosity was piqued, so I continued to hound her about what kind of tapes they were, and she just told me they were tapes of my father's. Later I would learn that since he was away from the office so often due to his travels, his coworkers had recorded some meetings for him, but at the time of my asking, my mother was just irritated with my questions (she was undoubtedly busy with my other four siblings (at the time she was functionally a single mother of five--eventually she would have eight kids)) and she finally told me to stop asking so many questions about the tapes.

This was intriguing to me; I generally wasn't denied answers to my questions, so I began to be suspicious about those tapes. And suddenly it occurred to me--I had heard on the news that there were some missing tapes called the Watergate tapes, and I knew now where they were. They were on my family's piano. I knew we weren't supposed to have the tapes--everyone in Washington DC was looking for them, and I knew that the president of my country needed those tapes returned. I had to do something.

But what? Clearly my mother didn't want me to know about the tapes. My father shouldn't even have the tapes; I couldn't ask him. I thought about telling my first-grade teacher, Miss Bonsell, but what if that resulted in my parents getting arrested? Our family was in danger (our country was in danger!) and I didn't know what to do. I consulted my sisters, one in the 2nd grade and one in kindergarten. They also didn't know what we should do with the Watergate tapes (actually none of us knew exactly what the tapes were), but my sisters wisely felt that if our parents knew that we knew, they would have to do something.

So we decided to put on a news broadcast for our parents. This was not unsual; we did so many performances for our parents that they had built us a little wooden stage in the basement as our venue. Jennifer was the anchorwoman--she was the oldest, so she was always the anchorwoman. Jamie did the sports and I did the weather (I built weather machines in my dad's workshop until I was nine--all the neighbors used to ask my weather advice, and sometimes they asked me to control the weather, to ensure a good day for a lawn party or something--that always worried me). As the finale to our news broadcast, we interrupted our regular programming for a special bulletin, which my sisters insisted that I do, since I was the one who had found the incriminating tapes.

I remember being a nervous wreck. I wrote and rewrote my copy again and again, looking for the words that would convey the situation without getting us kids in trouble.

"Ladies and gentlemen, breaking news. The missing Watergate tapes have been found. They are on the piano at the home of the Goodfellow family, at 3603 Goshen Road in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania," I announced. My parents laughed. My sisters and I exchanged glances. What did this laughter mean? Soon my parents scuttled us off to bed.

The next morning the tapes were gone from the top of the piano. We never spoke of them again. I suppose the fact that my dad had just returned from a business trip and had the chance to pick them up was the reason, but at the time I was pretty sure that it was because of our news broadcast. Knowing that their kids had known about the tapes convinced my parents to do the right thing. Democracy was safe once again. And my personal Watergate was over.

No comments: