Like so many who grew up in the Depression, his fear of poverty colored his life. He could not stand personal waste. If one of my brothers or I forgot to screw the cap back on the toothpaste tube, my father threw it out the bathroom window. We would have to go outside, even in the snow, to search for it in the evergreen bushes in front of the house. That was his way of reminding us not to waste anything. To this day, I put uneaten olives back in the jar, wrap up the tiniest pieces of cheese and feel guilty when I throw anything away.
But in our family’s spirited, sometimes heated, discussions around the kitchen table, usually about politics or sports, I learned that more than one opinion could live under the same roof.
Sometimes I had talked about how the spread of communism was threatening our way of life. But the Cold War was an abstraction to me, and my immediate world seemed safe and stable.
I grew up in a cautious, conformist era in American history. I had enough adolescent vanity that I sometimes refused to wear the thick glasses I had needed since I was nine to correct my terrible eyesight. My friend starting in sixth grade, Betsy Johnson, led me around town like a Seeing Eye dog.
I was considered a tomboy all through elementary school. My fifth-grade class had the school’s most incorrigible boys, and when Mrs. Krause left the room, she would ask me or one of the other girls to “be in charge.” As soon as the door closed behind her, the boys would start acting up and causing trouble, mostly because they wanted to aggravate the girls. I got a reputation for being able to stand up to them.
My sixth-grade teacher, Elisabeth King, drilled us in grammar, but she also encouraged us to think and write creatively, and challenged us to try new forms of expression. It was an assignment from Mrs. King that led me to write my first autobiography. I rediscovered it in a box of old papers after I left the White House, and reading it pulled me back to those tentative years on the brink of adolescence. I was still very much a child at that age, and mostly concerned with family, school and sports. But grade school was ending, and it was time to enter a more complicated world than the one I had known.