That Baby: Justice Jackson's Writings about a Grandchild, and Vice Versa

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As Justice Jackson's ("Grampa's") oldest grandchild (born in March 1946), I was able to observe him from a perspective that most people did not--from a crib, or from under the dining table, for example. Seriously, my younger brother Bob and I were fortunate to spend a good bit of time with him, and at his Hickory Hill home in McLean, Virginia, because my family lived nearby from 1949 until his death in October 1954. Of course, he was the chief inspiration for my legal career.

Grampa mused about becoming a grandfather, upon hearing in a letter from his daughter Mary--our mother--that she was expecting (me). He wrote back to her on the West Coast in September 1945, when he was en route to Nuremburg to prepare for the International Military Tribunal.

   Your atom bomb dropped on the house while I was at home
   and I am very glad to hear that I am to be a grand pappy. Of
   course it makes me feel a little ancient, but I have the feel
   anyway, so I might as well have the perquisite of old
   age--grandchildren. I know you have too much sense to get your
   heart set on a particular sex for the infant--just want what
   you get and be happy about it. Also don't let every damned
   hysterical old maid scare you about it. There is nothing to
   fear except fear itself as F.D.R. would say. (1)

Grampa added that if our father, Tom Loftus, M.D., who was in the Navy, was ordered to the Pacific before the blessed event:

   I shall try to substitute as well as my age and enfeebled
   condition will permit. I can walk the floor and worry as well
   as ever and confinement is really much more of an ordeal for
   a pa than for a ma--she knows what's going on and he
   conjures up the worst.

   Seriously I expect the Nuremburg trials to be over by that
   time but in any event I shall choose to be here if it is at all
   possible and if Tom can not be. Of course I shall spoil the
   discipline--just as my mother did yours. (2)

The trials he conducted would not end, however, until more than four months after I was born and our father was in the Pacific for the event too, courtesy of the Navy.

In May 1946, in a letter to his sister Helen from Nuremburg, Grampa noted reports about me and displayed his keenly skeptical legal mind.

   I hear great reports [about] Tommy Loftus III. I expect to
   get a letter from him any day now, for I gather from the
   modest accounts that he is bright enough to write any time.
   Great that every mother feels that way. Irene [his wife, my
   grandmother] and Mary seem to be having their own way
   about things with no husbands around to bicker or meddle.
   Anyway, I'll be glad to see the little rascal and see if he is as
   good as they say. (3)

After returning to his day job as a Supreme Court Justice, Grampa faced challenges balancing work and family. Once when I was a toddler, he attempted to carry me down the staircase at Hickory Hill in one arm, while toting law books in the other. As he reached the landing above the first floor, one of those loads must have shifted, because he lost his balance. He managed to deposit me gently on the carpeted stairs leading down, as he dropped to all fours, and I rolled all the way to the bottom. Mother and grandmother hurried to the scene, concerned that I might be injured, but I just broke into laughter and started calling up the stairs, "Dood it again Gwampa! Dood it again!" Everyone had a good chuckle about it.

At family meals, there often was spirited discussion of the issues of the day around the table--except for Grampa. I recollect that generally, Grampa would listen silently while family members bantered about their opinions. He would listen politely but not respond, giving no hint as to whether he agreed with any of it. (I don't recall anyone opining on legal matters he faced at the Court, and I am sure he would not have tolerated that. …