My mother remembers Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s salutations as a warm “My-y-y-y friends.”
History says the opening to Roosevelt’s regular Fireside Chats was closer to: “Good evening, Friends,” but my mother was a child at the time, and this is what she remembers.
Just as my mother recalls lying on the floor scribbling in her coloring book during Roosevelt’s Fireside Chats, all of us will remember where we were and what we were doing during Election Week 2012.
Moments in our nation’s history tend to freeze our own lives for a moment, and cause us to remember.
For me, Election Day 2012 will always be linked with the end of seven long weeks of radiation therapy.
During a conversation with my mom about the latest election, she began talking about her own memories growing up as a child during World War II. Something made me pull out my pen and paper as she spoke, and begin taking notes.
“Roosevelt’s fireside chats were a big deal,” my mother said. “We always went over to my grandparents’ house.”
My mom and her sister grew up in Toledo, Ohio, a city of broad shoulders among many cities of broad shoulders in the rust belt. Ohio—the working class state that proved to be so crucial during an election more than 65 years later.
My grandfather was a tool and die maker for Chrysler in Detroit. My grandmother, Lucretia, was a housewife.
Everybody was a Democrat .
Roosevelt was close to a god in her family. A fireside chat was an event. Everybody clustered around the crackling radio and turned up the volume to hear the latest on the war.
“I lay on the floor and colored because I didn’t dare say a word when Roosevelt was talking,” my mom said.
My great-grandfather William sat in an easy chair in a white shirt and suspenders, drinking straight up Canadian Club. My mother remembers his brown slippers at eye-level from where she lay on the floor. My great-grandmother Rosannah sat by the bay window in a shapeless, calf-length dress and an apron, nursing her teacup. The teacup was an indispensable ritual from my great-grandparents’ native England.
“Then Roosevelt’s voice would come over the radio with ‘Myyy friends.’ If he wanted to tell us something, but didn’t want to really take credit for saying it, he would go ‘I don’t know, but my dog Fala thinks the Japanese are on the run…'” my mom recalled.
Years later, my mother would learn how historic those fireside chats were, and the precedent they set for other Presidential radio addresses.
She learned a few other things, too.
“I found out later that was straight gin in my grandmother’s tea cup,” my mom said.