The Unsmiling Child
What starts the process, really, are laughs and slights and snubs when you are a kid.
— NIXON, TO KENNETH W. CLAWSON, 1974 1
MARY GEORGE SKIDMORE, Nixon's first-grade teacher, remembers him as "a very solemn child" who "rarely ever smiled or laughed." Hannah Nixon said he never went through a mischievous period: "He was thoughtful and serious. 'He always carried such a weight.' That's an expression we Quakers use for a person who doesn't take his responsibilities lightly." One elementary school classmate, Allen Gaines, said, "I don't recall ever hearing him really laugh." And this continued. A friend in the Whittier Little Theater group, Hortense Behrens, said, "I have never heard him really, honest-to-goodness laugh out loud. I don't think he does." Tom Dixon, who managed his radio campaigning in his early elections, was struck by his inability to laugh, except on cue. 2
Whence came the "weight," the burden of control? Jessamyn West described Harold Nixon, who was three and a half years older, as "dashing and bold," but said that Richard as a child was "not a cuddly sort of thing you'd want to pick up. He didn't want to be picked up, didn't want to be cuddled. He had a fastidiousness about him." 3 Elizabeth Guptill Rez, the Nixon "hired girl" in the Yorba Linda years, confirms that Richard was always "clinging" to his mother and was very unlike Don, eighteen months younger, whom she described as affectionate and "so easy to love." 4 Arthur, born in 1918 when Richard was five, was also a shy child, but indulged as the baby. Edward was not born until 1930. Nixon has told us that Harold was the favorite of both parents, and his aunt Olive Marshburn states that Harold was also the favorite in the larger Milhous family. 5 There is considerable evi