What is so special about June 17?

After graduating high school in June 1973 and prior to settling into a college start in the fall,  I went to work as a nurse’s aide at the Interlake Manor Nursing Home in my hometown of Bellevue, Washington.  It was my first full-time job, and I got paid precisely the minimum wage – $1.60/hour.

The value of those 10 weeks far exceeded any financial gain. My nurse’s aide summer came to define my adult character more than any subsequent college learning. It was the time of my coming of age, both morally and politically.

My father, Arthur, had been a director of a nursing home in the 1950’s and early 60’s. His institution was exclusively for geriatric residents.  Interlake Manor had a geriatric wing and a non-geriatric wing.  I worked in the latter area with younger people struggling from muscular dystrophy, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, and other neurological, developmental and physical disabilities. Some of the residents were faced with progressive diseases. Others had longer, more stable futures.

As I was making beds, cleaning bedpans, and assisting with feeding and other essentials of daily life, I was also developing deeply and mutually caring relationships with residents. Their lives, their personas, filled my days.  A few folks – first names only here – became life-long memories:

Billy had muscular dystrophy, a progressive disorder.  He was described to me as also being developmentally disabled.  But the latter wasn’t so! Even as his body failed him more and more, he maintained a delicious sense of humor, an extraordinarily positive outlook on life, and a kindness to others that inspired many.

Norm was Billy’s roommate. He had cerebral palsy – which was not progressive.  He was a thoughtful and gentle man who was supportive of Billy.  Seven years later, I happened to see Norm in downtown Seattle. Technology had allowed him to escape nursing home life, and he was in a wheelchair, being lifted onto a Metro bus.  He remembered me with a great smile and a warm handshake. He proudly told me he was living independently, with some assistance, in a family home.

Marty was developmentally disabled, moved incredibly slowly along the corridors, talked in a slow, hushed tone, and seemed withdrawn from life at the nursing home.  But then, all of a sudden, he would straighten his back, break out into the most expansive smile of all time, and yell out at the top of his voice, “I love you Mrs. Mitness, ya cow!”  Marty, who was talking about the head nurse at the home, proceeded to let out a flourish of guffaws. And then, just as quickly, his back humped down again, his smile turned to catatonia, and he slowly shuffled quietly away.  I loved Marty… ya cow!

Sheryl was the most severely stricken person at the home with cerebral palsy.  She could not walk or talk.  But she could type letter by letter with her head hitting a keyboard attached to her wheelchair.  She was a beautiful young woman, and while I was there, she announced that she was getting married to a well-bodied man who had been her caregiver at the nursing home.  He was a sweet and caring soul, and their vows were pure beauty.

Patricia was blind, and developmentally at a one-year-old level, I was told. Yet she had a dignity about her which was unmistakable.

As I was caring for people, throughout the home, the television was tuned to the greatest political show on earth – the Senate Watergate Hearings.  I would sit glued to those hearings during breaks, before my shift, and after my shift. Committee Chairman Sam Ervin – just a poor country lawyer with twitching eyebrows.  Howard Baker – what did the President know and when did he know it?  Daniel Inouye, with the world’s most resonant voice (and doppelganger for my dad’s colleague Professor Cal Takaki). Lowell Weiker, the “liberal” Republican from Connecticut who turned out to be on Nixon’s “enemies list”.  And yes, of course John Dean, his wife Mo sitting behind and to the left, and his even-tempered description of the cancer growing on the presidency. It was all mesmerizing. 

But so were the whole cast of characters we came to understand as intimates in a morality play put into real life.  Haldeman and Ehrlichman, Nixon’s high-level henchmen. Egil “Bud” Krogh, who headed the “Plumbers” unit. He later recanted his role in the administration, moved to Seattle, and was a seen as a “nice guy” years later by my legal assistant female roommate. He may have been a nice guy, but he also directed the bugging of Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office (I later worked for Ellsberg, but that is a different story).

As an 18-year-old man-child all this was mind spinning stuff.  Working intimately with vulnerable people and dedicated, caring professionals in the nursing home.  And at the same time, seeing the machinations of the powerful and unethical.  The combination of events and observations of that time dug deep predilections into my moral universe.

Why I fixated on the date of the Watergate break-in, June 17, 1972, I’ll never remember.  But it was during that extraordinary summer of 73’ I committed to telling someone, anyone, on June 17 of every year for the rest of my life, that “this is the xxx anniversary of the Watergate Break-in.”  And with nary a miss, I have kept that promise.

Most younger liberal/progressives now see Watergate as a distant event, and Nixon, while an evil man, as causing less damage to the United State polity, than the sinister consequences of Trump’s particular combination of psychoses and phenomenally successful “cultification” of a political party.  Yet, as I watch the January 6 Hearings, it all feels like a re-enforcement, not a new set of insights.

And it IS June 17, 2022, after all.  What’s that?  Why it’s the 50th anniversary of the Watergate break-in.

12 thoughts on “What is so special about June 17?

  1. Thanks Daniel, good reading as I travel from Wales to England. I have been following the hearings to and it is a reinforcement to me of the Watergate lessons. Presidents will sometimes try to bend rules to stay in power.

    Brian Hovis ________________________________

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  2. Wonderful in many ways. Today is my brother’s yahrzeit — 1973 so 49 years. He’d have turned 68 this year, surely have retired by now, and, and, and. I wish we’d gotten to know each other as adults. Lighting my candle.

    Judith

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  3. Dan great reminder of those days….hoping at that time that it would never happen again…AND HERE WE ARE AGAIN!!! Most important of all is. The formative experience that shaped you as a fuller empathic person.  Thanks Dan for sharing.  

    Sent from Yahoo Mail for iPad

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  4. Daniel! I continue to learn so much about you from your blog posts – thank you! And thank you for the reminder that today is the 50th anniversary of the Watergate break-in. The Watergate hearings have certainly been on my mind as I’ve listened to the January 6th hearings this week. What a world we live in!

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  5. I wish I had a many strong memories of events or things that affected me. I have a few vignettes but not clear stories Diane

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  6. Just read your June 17th blog, Daniel….my first! I never knew you worked with disabled folks. Of course, I perked right up when you mentioned Billy with Muscular Dystrophy. My brothers were often referred to as mentally retarded, which raised the hackles on our backs. Pat was intelligent and creative, loved science fiction, drew pictures of far-off planets and would patiently explain to me about the details of each planet.

    I look forward to reading more of your posts…..

    Thanks.

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