Letter from the Editor: We all witnessed history Wednesday

  • Vice President Kamala Harris, shown here with her husband, second gentleman Doug Emhoff, was sworn in Wednesday. Politics aside, it was a historical and exciting moment: A female vice president! I wasn't entirely sure I'd see that in my lifetime.

    Vice President Kamala Harris, shown here with her husband, second gentleman Doug Emhoff, was sworn in Wednesday. Politics aside, it was a historical and exciting moment: A female vice president! I wasn't entirely sure I'd see that in my lifetime. Associated Press pool photo

  • Melynda Findlay-Shamie

    Melynda Findlay-Shamie

 
 
Updated 1/20/2021 11:11 PM

Politics aside, we all witnessed history on Wednesday: A woman sworn in as vice president of the United States.

It's something I genuinely wasn't sure I'd see in my lifetime. Before any of you start typing an angry email or dialing your phones, hold up a sec. That's not a swipe at any of our institutions or people or a political party -- it's something that was instilled in me as a youngster.

 

I've written here a time or two about what a political wonk I've been from an early age -- I can thank President Richard Nixon for that. He resigned just a couple of weeks before I started kindergarten. Long story short, 5-year-olds don't know there's a 25th Amendment or a vice president, and I was convinced "The Soviets" would be taking over and sending us to "work camps." I didn't know what any of that meant, but my neighbor's dad was pretty mad about "The Soviets" and talked about their "work camps," so I just assumed that's where the nation was headed since the president had "quit his job," as I understood it.

Imagine my poor mom trying to explain -- to a sobbing kindergartner -- the presidential order of succession and why I wouldn't be going to a Gulag camp.

Fast forward a couple of weeks. It's the first week of school. My teacher, Miss Gray (oh, I'll get to her in a minute. She was a PEACH.) was talking about President Ford and his golden retriever, Liberty. I don't remember why, other than it led to my precocious self chattering away about why nobody was going to invade us because the "Constitutional papers invented another president." (Why do I remember this? It was written in a note sent with me to the principal's office that day which, I think, is still in my mom's cedar chest. The principal was a friend of my family and got quite a chuckle out of the note, mostly because he always got a chuckle out of me.)

The big mistake I made, though, was telling Miss Gray that maybe someday I could be the president, or a princess, I didn't know yet, that I'd decide when I was 10. (that was also in the note as evidence of my "behavior" that day)

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WELL. Miss Gray was having NONE. OF. THAT. My 112-year-old, 17-foot-tall teacher bellowed at me "It is against the rules for girls to be president!"

I know that sounds like goofy talk. Kindergarten is supposed to be fun and encouraging and where we finger-paint with chocolate pudding and sing songs about rainbows and puppies, right?

For the kids in my class, though, kindergarten was weird and a little traumatic. To give you an idea: Miss Gray used to make us march in circles to "The Ballad of the Green Berets" and pretend to be wounded soldiers. (it was the Vietnam War era?) She'd yell at us for not acting wounded enough: "These soldiers were WOUNDED! They were injured in battle!" This would happen about once a week. We also weren't allowed to use pink crayons. There was never an explanation for that. Meanwhile, we had to listen to the class next door singing songs about puppies and rainbows. Oof.

So when now-Vice President Kamala Harris was sworn in Wednesday, I couldn't help but wonder what Miss Gray would think of it. Would she be clutching her pearls in horror over a woman being a heartbeat away from the presidency? Or would she have come around to thinking "Hey, maybe this isn't so bad after all?"

Well, a woman became a Green Beret last July -- also a huge milestone -- so maybe that might have changed her thinking about a woman's place in the world.

• Melynda has worked at the Daily Herald for 21 years, where she has been neither a president nor a princess, but she does wear a tiara occasionally when she's working from home anyway.

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