Much of the first ten years of my life was spent on a hill above Broad Branch Road—the branch being Rock Creek itself, a clear, pure stream that rushed shallowly over rocks between wooded hills, a haven for salamanders and all sorts of fresh water life. Senator Gore owned three acres of woods above the creek where, shortly before my birth, he had built a gray stone mansion. Because of T.P. Gore’s anti-war and anti–League of Nations positions, the good people of Oklahoma had denied him a fourth term in the US Senate and so, from 1920 to 1930, he practiced law in Washington, DC, and built his house, now the residence of the Malaysian ambassador.
In the crash of 1929, Gore lost most of his money; in 1930 he returned to the Senate. Predictably, he fell foul of the new president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. By then, Gore was a populist turned conservative. He and the President quarrelled over whether or not the dollar should go off the Gold Standard. “If you do take it off,” said Gore, “you will have stolen the money of those who had faith in our currency.” Carter Glass, a senator present at the meeting, later told the blind Gore that the President had gone gray in the face. But Roosevelt took the currency off gold; then, of the half dozen senators that Roosevelt tried to purge in 1936, T. P. Gore was the only one to lose his seat for good.
I was ten when he was defeated in the Democratic primary. He was melancholy, to say the least, and somewhat bored during the last thirteen years of his life, practicing law in Washington as attorney for the Apache, Comanche, and Kiowa tribes whose lands had been stolen by the federal government. In 1984, thirty-five years after his death, he won a great posthumous victory when the tribes got a good chunk of the money owed them.
Rock Creek Park was very much my territory. The house itself was gray-yellow Baltimore stone. On one side, there was a steep lawn that over-looked Broad Branch Road and the winding creek while on the other side, there was the front door, approached by a circular drive at whose center was a small fountain. In those days, from the house, one saw only green woods, a rose garden, rows of flags, as we called irises, and a small vineyard of purple grapes. At the edge of the woods was a slave cabin, falling to pieces.
The main hall always smells of fried bacon, floor wax, irises, books—thousands of dusty books. There is a large dining room on the left, with a fire-place and a niche on either side in which there are two tall gaudy pink and gold Sèvres vases. Back of a screen, there is the door to the large white kitchen where the large dark Gertrude Jackson presides.
To the right of the hall, a living room with a large bay window framed by…
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