Who remembers Senator Taft?

The Las Vegas I knew

The Baptist Las Vegas I knew

After my posting here two days ago about George Frederick Handel and Stuart Hamblen, my sister remarked, “You remember too much.”

That’s a fine way to speak to your brother! Someone else reminded me yesterday that I saw Jersey Boys (the musical) last year. I vaguely remember seeing it, but I can’t remember the plot. The songs include “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Can’t Take My Eyes off of You.” Those I remember. But not from the show. I remember too much?

But I remember July 31, 1953.

I seem to be surrounded by people who remember details of stuff of which I barely remember the broadest outlines. Movies, plays, novels, operas, paintings in museums. I’m intimidated when someone I love quotes a line from a movie he saw twenty-five years ago.  And my sister says I remember too much!!

Las Vegas, Nevada, July 31, 1953.

Of course, there are good reasons for my memory lapses. I didn’t have that good a memory to begin with. And my psychiatrist says depression (and taking meds to fight it) generates memory loss. Seizures (and taking meds to fight them) cause memory loss. I once asked my neurologist if anyone had done a long-term study of the effects of Carbamezapine, and his reply was, “You’re it” (32 years). So I shouldn’t beat myself up over memory loss.

July 31, 1953. Our family was vacationing in Las Vegas. No, not at a casino. The pastor of the First Baptist Church there and my dad traded preaching duties for a couple of Sundays, and both families got a little bit of vacation – we lived in each other’s parsonages, so we could afford the trip. We got the much better end of that deal! Las Vegas v. Scottsbluff?

My students are in the nascent stages of the semester’s research project.  They will invent (inventio, the first step in Aristotle’s process of rhetoric) their topics from an array of speeches about events leading to Pearl Harbor and FDR’s “date that shall live in infamy” speech.  No papers on the Sino-Japanese War or the conspiracy theories  in regard to FDR’s foreknowledge of and failure to prevent Pearl Harbor. Only the speeches.

Robert A. Taft (September 8, 1889 – July 31, 1953)

Robert A. Taft
(September 8, 1889 – July 31, 1953)

I was giving them historical background today.  One of the speeches is an “isolationist” speech, a speech against American involvement in war across either the Atlantic or the Pacific. The speech is by Senator Robert A. Taft of Ohio, leader of the Senate Republicans in the days leading up to World War II. A student asked a question about Taft, and as I answered, out it slipped. “I remember the day he died.”

Omigod! It’s true. I do remember. Standing in the living room of the Baptist parsonage in Las Vegas. The news report of Taft’s death had come over the radio. And I asked my dad, “Does that mean if he had been elected President, the President would be dead?”

My parents had wanted Taft to be The Republican nominee in the 1952 election instead of Eisenhower. Of course, Eisenhower was preferable to Adlai Stevenson, but they had wanted Taft.

With sixty years of hindsight, my question seems pretty silly. Obviously, if he were President and he died, the President would be dead.

But it’s not quite that simple. An eight-year-old boy aware somehow for the first time (perhaps) of both death and presidential politics—together, in the same moment.

Of course I remember July 31, 1953. I can’t remember the name of the actress who played Reno Sweeney in the production of Anything Goes we saw last night. Fantastic!—her every song (literally) a show stopper. But I remember the day Senator Robert A. Taft died.

Post script:

About memory. A student from last semester stopped me on campus last week to thank me for the research work last semester. He had been to Hawaii during semester break, and he wanted me to know how much seeing Pearl Harbor meant to him—how much more it meant to him than to his friends. I guess memory gets played forward sometimes.