My maternal grandfather, Robert F. Rich, died the end of April 1968. I found out after a Saturday singing group jamboree at Mount Holyoke, Mother’s Alma Mater. I was with the Yale Spizzwinks(?). I remember seeing David Eisenhower with Julie Nixon before they married and before her father got the nomination. David sang with a group from Amherst. I had been working on a term paper for my NROTC Naval History class about the naval arms race between Germany and England before the Great War. Because I went to Woolrich for Baba’s funeral, I was able to get an extension on the paper. I was relieved—about the paper! Strange that I should remember that. Baba had the lead obituary in the New York Times on the page opposite the editorials. Today's obits don’t have so prominent a position. Admittedly, grandfather was featured partly because they thought him a crank. He had opposed every appropriations bill, denied a pension to Mrs. Roosevelt (he felt she didn’t need it, and was probably right) and proposed reducing funding for TVA from so many millions, to two cents. At least he had a sense of humor. (I hate to think that he might have been a supporter of the Tea Party today!)
Baba was a formidable man. He must have been a tyrant of a Father. Mother was in awe of him. One way he influenced her was his absolute stand on alcohol. He had promised his dying Mother that he would never touch a drop in his life. (And until just before the end, he hadn’t. Because of his heart condition, his doctor prescribed medicinal wine, though I’m not sure he knew what it was.) Mother had convinced me, though. I remember explaining her position to classmates my freshman year at Yale. Maybe drinking wouldn’t be a problem for me. Perhaps I would be able to hold my liquor, but the very fact that I might drink could lead to the irresponsible drinking by someone else – and in the greater web of civic obligations, I would be accountable for that other person’s irresponsible behavior – or some convoluted reasoning like that. As it was, my first drink was communion at Yale. I didn’t think that counted, so I was still determined to win grandfather’s platinum and diamond pocket watch. Then I joined the Spizzwinks. The rest you know. I became fond of Bourbon. Now I like only single malt Scotch— and, of course, good wine.
But I remember the spring of my Upper-Middler year at Mercersburg, when Mother and Dad came to pick me up in Dad’s new Ford and we drove to Washington to witness Uncle Elmer sworn in as Comptroller General of the United States by President Johnson in the East Room of the White House. Afterwards there was a reception at the Staats’ house in Spring Valley and we toasted Uncle Elmer with a bottle of champagne. Mother and I were the only ones who refused. Even grandfather took a sip.