I still remember the look of disbelief on Grandma’s face that evening at the dinner table. It was a Sunday evening in the early fall of 1956. We had just finished our first course, homemade chicken noodle soup, and Grandma had pulled the beef roast from the oven and set it on the platter in the center of the dining room table. My father had already started on his salad. We usually gave him a five minute head start on the lettuce and other veggies that were in his salad bowl since he chewed his food so thoroughly that not giving him a few extra minutes meant that we would have finished our meal and had to wait for him to polish off the rest of his food before we could begin on dessert.
Mom and Grandma had cleared the main course dishes from the table and were in the kitchen scooping out the ice cream. Normally, Grandma would have baked a cake or pie, but we had gone to Tyce’s Farm in New Jersey on Saturday and she had purchased a half bushel of peaches. That afternoon she had spent the time after church peeling them, making a sweet syrup and putting them into containers so that they could be frozen and we could enjoy them during the winter.
We had a relatively small refrigerator with an even smaller freezer compartment on the top of it. She needed to make room for all her soon to be frozen peaches, so the Dolley Madison ice cream which was in there had to go. Hence our ice cream dessert that night. We had two of the three flavors that were generally available then, those being vanilla, chocolate and strawberry, and I requested a little of each of the first two. I would then moosh them together and turn them into a lovely light brown soft mixture which I relished as I took each teaspoon full.
As we enjoyed our ice cream, Dad mentioned an article that he had read that morning in the Sunday “Herald Tribune.” The presidential race was getting into full swing and he noticed that President Eisenhower was being honored at a fifty dollar a plate fund raising dinner to be held at The Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. That caused my always frugal Grandmother’s look of shock as she paused with her spoon of ice cream between her bowl and her lips.
“Fifty dollars for one meal? What are they serving to be worth fifty dollars a person? This entire meal for the four of us cost about six dollars – and we have leftovers.”
“Well, for fifty dollars you probably get chicken. If you want roast beef, I think they serve that at the hundred dollar dinners,” my father replied.
My grandmother’s look was so filled with amazement that you would have thought that she had just seen a ghost. There was no way that she could process either how someone would have the nerve to charge fifty dollars for a meal – or anyone stupid enough to pay it. She had only a basic grasp of the political process – although she was always one of the first people in line on Election Day to make sure that she would make her voice heard.
My parents and she had voted for Ike in 1952 and would do so again – although my father played with the idea of casting his ballot for Adlai Stevenson. He admired Stevenson’s intellectual prowess – but dad was a practical, bottom line person. He might have admired Adlai’s intellect – but he knew a lot of very bright people who were unable to translate their genius into anything concrete that actually worked. And he, together with many others in the country, remembered Eisenhower’s part in eliminating the Nazi threat from Europe and the world. In addition, the country seemed to be moving in the right direction under Eisenhower’s administration. And Dad didn’t believe in changing horses in midstream.
There was one other factor that played into my father’s thinking. He didn’t have a great deal of faith in members of either party to fulfill their campaign promises. This was not merely a matter of a contumacious agenda on their parts. But there were the realities of political machinations, deal making and such, which might preclude even the best plans from being enacted to the nation’s benefit. Perhaps it was cynicism – or perhaps it was just a clear perception of the way things were. Overall, the checks and balances that the Founding Fathers had written into the Constitution were both a good and bad thing.
There was one other thing that played a part in my dad’s thinking. Unlike today, the person for whom you voted basically was pretty similar to the person for whom you didn’t. It was a little like ordering ice cream. Whichever flavor you ordered, you still got a chilled dessert. And things today haven’t changed that much. The only real difference is that there seems to be only one flavor available for the devotee – and that flavor is Rocky Road.