By Gerald Hausman
Bokeelia, FL, USA
Richard Nixon Dictation to H. R. Haldeman, 1970
I remember the night in 1968 when Richard Nixon was elected president.
I was having Viennese coffee with Gertrud Bondy, who with her husband Max was founder of The Windsor Mountain School where I had just been hired as a teacher.
Gertrud turned to me and said, "I saw Adolf Hitler on the street in Munich during the Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. It was one of those times, like tonight, when you did not know what was going to happen. But you felt the world was soon to change…for the worse."
Gertrud had a right to mention Hitler; her life spanned more than eight decades, she had been a student of Sigmund Freud, and later, Carl Jung and her nightmare with the Nazis was a story I would hear many times, and never forget.
She had been close enough to touch Hitler as he strutted down that crowded street. Later, when there was no place left in Germany to run a progressive school, Gertrud and her husband Max brought their students with them to Switzerland in 1937, then to Vermont, and finally, Lenox, Massachusetts where we were on the night of Nixon's election.
"We had a very close call with Hermann Goering," Gertrud continued. "His daughter was in our school in Germany. Goering personally threatened Max's life. "But I never thought any of this could ever happen again."
"Is it?" I asked.
Gertrud's hands were trembling, and it wasn't the coffee. "Nixon will be terrible for this country," she said. "There is no telling what may happen. He is a dangerous man."
President Richard Nixon, 1972
A year later, the world was still turning, but as a second year teacher I was earning just over 5,000 dollars. In the summer of 1971 our eldest daughter was born, and I was promised a significant raise.
Then, all at once, Nixon was touting an economic move that involved a thing called the Wage and Price Freeze. This was supposed to stop out of control inflation and set the country's shaky economy on the right track.
On August 15, 1971, salaries and prices were frozen. My raise, never a bird in hand, flew off into the ether.
In 1972, things weren't much better. We could barely afford to live. But we were getting good at living on the cheap, living with low expectations, not spending any money, finding new ways to earn money in addition to teaching. This was the beginning of a life-long cycle of teaching with three jobs on the side.
During the next five years there was one financial crisis after another, including a major gas crisis which crippled the economy so that staying at home made more sense than going to work. If you couldn't get gas, you couldn't drive. If you couldn't drive, you couldn't make a living.
Looking back now, it was rough going all along the watchtower, as far back as I can remember. But no memory stands out like that night with Gertrud. The way her delicate, gold-rimmed Viennese coffee cup rattled in its saucer as the night horrors of that election rolled in, one frightful state at a time.
Gertrud has been gone a long time but I wonder what she would say about the way things are now.
I can hear her coffee cup rattle as more dangerous men step up to the podium.