|Yorba Linda History|
|Home | Donations | Digital Collections | Map of Yorba Linda Historical Sites | Reproduction Policy | Timeline | Links to local historical societies | Yorba Linda Star index|
Merle WestInterviewed by Robert Davis
This is a slightly edited transcription of an interview conducted for the Oral History Program, sponsored by California State University, Fullerton. The reader should be aware that an oral history document portrays information as recalled by the interviewee. Because of the spontaneous nature of this kind of document/ it may contain statements and impressions which are not factual.
Scholars are welcome to utilize short excerpts from any of the transcriptions without obtaining permission as long as proper credit is given to the interviewee,' the interviewer, and the University. Scholars must, however, obtain permission from California State University, Fullerton before making more extensive use of the transcription and related materials. None of these materials may be duplicated or reproduced by any party without permission from the Oral History Program, California State University, Fullerton, California, 92634.
Copyright (c) 1977
The Oral History Program
California State University, Fullerton
CALIFORNIA STATE COLLEGE, FULLERTON
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Richard M. Nixon Project
Richard Nixon as a Relative
by Robert Davis
CALIFORNIA STATE COLLEGE, FULLERTON
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Richard M. Nixon Project
INTERVIEWEE: Merle West
INTERVIEWER: Robert Davis and his class
SUBJECT: Richard Nixon as a relative
DATE: No Date Given
D: This is an interview for the California State College, Richard M. Nixon Oral History Project. Professor Davis is interviewing Merle West.
W: (tape begins in mid-sentence) . . . when the country was with no trees, no windbreaks and such. This was before I was born, although I'm not sure. But he grabbed all the kids and hauled them out in the grove. That's the way they measure, but it goes down fairly deep. He stuck all the kids in the . . . [It] was a board and batten two-story house where one-to-twelves go up to clear height, I think, and bats between and the thing kind of twists and squirms. But it must have been fairly well-built because it's still standing today. I can still see that house right where I was born, so that was the type of country it was. As far as being a place where children grow up, as I remember out there, it was wonderful because we knew everybody in the area. There was nobody we didn't know and everybody knew us. So kids could roam; not that we roamed too far, perhaps, before that age. I know later on when we were in the second or third grade, we would take hikes up in the hills, take lunches and go off up in the hills for half a day, such things. But we knew everybody's house all along so everybody could get a report if we were missing. We said, "Hello" to this one, this one, and this one. They saw us clear as we went up all the way out. So, this, in this respect, was great to be able to wander around and know everybody. My father was the superintendent of the water company there. I don't know what Dick's dad did at that time out there. I suppose you know more about  what he did. Was he a railroad conductor out there on the Pacific Electric? Was that what he was doing? Well, I didn't know if that was back in the East or here on the Pacific Electric, but the P.E. did come out each day to Yorba Linda. There was a railroad out there. It came out there to pick up the cars of citrus that were packed. Also, they brought out ice cream from Los Angeles packed in big round deals, chock-full of ice, you know, and that would come out on those. We would sit out there and Mr. Cameron would come over and pick up the ice cream and take it over to the drugstore. That came from Los Angeles in those days and it, also, brought the paper out [here], the Herald, it was the Express, in those days. [It] came out every evening. I guess the Times came out in the first morning run and that was distributed.
D: When were you born?
W: March of 1912. Dick was born in January of 1913. Our grandfathers were brothers. My mother was a Milhous, as was his mother; their fathers were brothers. So Dick's and my grandfather were brothers.
D: So you were related to the mother's side of the family?
W: To the Milhous side of the family. There were about three brothers. My grandfather was Jesse Milhous. Frank Milhous was Dick's grandfather, who lived right down here where the Quad is now, which is where his ranch was. My grandfather was out on Russell Street, just off of Whittier Boulevard out by Whittwood and then a jog left on up the street there about two blocks. The other brother, Charlie, was on up toward the county line in Orange County, where he had his grove. So, actually, the reason my father came out here and probably the reason why Frank came out was because the wives' fathers were both out here--my mother and Dick's mother's parents were out here. So they probably came out because there was somebody out there. They probably helped in getting jobs, and, perhaps, even financial assistance from them--although I don't know that they did, my grandfather could have helped them getting started out here. I think we lived in his house when we first came out here. I don't know where Frank landed when he arrived here.
D: What relation is Jessamyn West to you? Is she your sister?
W: Yes. She called last night. She calls a lot on the phone now. She writes letters. I seldom write letters to her, occasionally. I'll call her during the day because I can charge it to the business. (laughter) She calls me at night, though.
D: Where is she?
W: She's in Napa. She just got back from speaking somewhere in Kansas. She went to Denver and hopped another plane somewhere. She had a miserable trip.
D: What part of the country did your family come from originally?
W: Frank Nixon, Dick's father, was from Ohio. But the Milhouses came from Indiana. I am the only one in my family not born in Indiana. Jessamyn is the oldest. She and my brother and sisters were born in Indiana. They came out here and I was born out here. Dick had an older brother, Harold, and I don't know where Harold was born. Harold died by tuberculosis. I knew Harold very well. Harold didn't die until he was in his twenties, twenty-seven or eight. I knew him real well out here in East Whittier because Nixons had a store--you've read about Dick working in the store--well, this is where Dick worked in the store, out there in East Whittier. It was where Santa Gertrudes, by the Whittwood shopping center, right on the corner where the Union station is. I had a service station opposite the Nixons that I had leased from the Nixons for a time. Then there was quite a break in the parking area and then the store. Nixon's house was right where the back of that service station would be going down and faced on Santa Cruz where the Nixons lived. So this is where I got to talk to Dick a lot and be with him a lot later after he was here in Whittier. He was going to Whittier College at that time. I ran that service station. So I'd see Dick usually mornings and evenings when he was going to school. So we went around there Saturdays and Sundays. We both attended Sunday school in Yorba Linda together and also here in Whittier at the East Whittier Friends Church.
D: (question inaudible)
W: I don't know, but he did buy a car later, because I went with him into Los Angeles shopping. I owned a car and service station. So I drove Dick in shopping for a car, and Dick--what year would it be, 1932 or 1933?
D: He graduated in 1934.
W: So it could have been 1932 or 1933. He bought this 1930 Model A Ford cabriolet (laughter), which is a soft top--which isn't really soft but has the "S" thing, you know, on the side, a little sportier job. I went with him to help him buy that. I drove him up when he bought it and he drove that back. He took me along because [it] was likely I was a better mechanic, anything in that line I probably had better knowledge than he did. He was a bookworm more than an automobile man where I worked in a  service station and knew something about it. (laughter) So, price and all, we shopped and agreed this was a good buy and, I think, it cost maybe $325 or so.
D: Did his brother go to college?
W: Don? I can't remember. I don't know where Don did go to college if he did. I did not. I never went to college. I'm the only one in my family, I'm the black sheep. (laughter) I went into business. I've been in business for myself all my life except for a couple of short hitches between things.
D: Was Don very outgoing?
W: Well, Don is an extrovert. You can't say Don isn't if you're around him any. Don is much like Frank. Frank was real loud. Bam! Bam! I've been out there in the service station and I've heard Frank holler out "Don!" Don would holler back at Frank in the store. (laughter) spoke out, he wasn't afraid. I think Dick was probably sharper and smarter and didn't do it much by out-shouting Frank. He probably out-maneuvered Frank but Don would just try to out-holier him at times. It would be real interesting. (laughter)
D: When you talked with the President, many times did you ever have the feeling he was an introvert?
W: No, no. I never felt that way. I mean, this is something I am sorry about the idea that--well, he is serious minded--but Dick is full of fun. He used to raise a little hell at times, too. He wasn't all that serious and . . .
D: We'd like to know what kind of hell he raised. (laughter)
W: I double-dated with Dick. We went out on dates together and he was very normal. (laughter)
D: Did he date a lot?
D: Not a whole lot. No. I don't think he did a whole lot. I know his date was a friend of the girl I was going with who set up the date for Dick. I remember that. She's still around and still pretty happy about this whole thing of Dick's presidency. She had a date with him back when--but she lives in Fullerton. No, Dick was just one of the fellas.
D: This introvert assumption seems kind of a myth that Dick has grown-up with.
W: Well, yes. I remember Dick working in that store. I remember one morning over there in Don's department, the  meat department. Dick set up the vegetables. Boy, I mean, old Dick could peel those grimed-up leaves off the lettuce and tomatoes and make them look like new again. He would sprinkle them with water out of the sprinkling can and set them up and fluff them up and get the good ones on top. He would go into town, like four o'clock in the morning and drive down where the Grand Central Market or wherever--it wasn't the Grand Central Market, but down in the market area where the vegetables came in. He would go down there in that little old truck and come back with a truck-load of vegetables and set them up and go in and shower and clean up and go off to school. Many a morning, when I would be opening the service station, he would be coming back from Los Angeles. He'd already been in Los Angeles and picked up the vegetables. What I started to tell about was the time when Don was grinding meat and Dick was helping him. Dick, with a flourish, was holding beef and slicing it off, you know, and letting it drop in the chopper. He sliced a big slice in his finger and it was dripping down in the meat. Don was hollering "Catch his nasty finger." I told Dick it was probably the reddest meat he had sold in years. (laughter) So there are quite a few people in East Whittier with a little Nixon blood in them. (laughter)
D: You mentioned earlier that you went to Sunday school with Mr. Nixon. What was the religious situation like? You are Quakers, but what kind of Quakers?
W: When I moved to Anaheim later, there was no Quaker church, so I went to a Methodist. I went to a Presbyterian, at one time. At another time, a neighbor talked me into going to a Lutheran church.
D: It was quite a change.
W: That was a German Lutheran church. I was a pretty good joiner because I took catechism there, you know. I went to catechism on Saturdays. They had a contest for getting the most new members. I won a beautiful big Bible, but my father insisted that I should take it back when all my new members dropped out after a few weeks. (laughter) But there is really very little difference--I'm not that religious and I don't delve into it that deep. But I have friends, Quakers, as it was in the old days perhaps there is a difference but not so much now. I mean, I don't know if any of you belong to the Friends or not but there's not that much difference. Whether you're Friends or Methodist you could drop in one, maybe there is a little difference something in the robes they wear or this or that.
D: When you were kids was there a difference? 
W: No, no. I didn't know, it was just a good . . . [The] poor minister owned a goat and milked his goat, helped pay his way and feed his kids a little milk. It was rather, you know, a poor community out there in Yorba Linda for a minister. I think he would hope that somebody would invite him out for a chicken dinner on Sunday. It wasn't that big of a deal. Frank taught a Sunday school class out there. I wasn't in there, but my brother was in that. My brother felt that Frank was the greatest teacher. Frank would get more arguments going in the Sunday school class--I can bet he would, too. So my brother had Frank Nixon for a teacher. I had, or Dick had, my father. He was a Sunday school teacher in East Whittier. Dick and I went here to a class of high school, or it wouldn't be high school but young college students, but Dick went real regularly. I was coming home from that-- Dad and I walked down the street about two blocks, went into the house--and I remember him saying that, "You know, if I ever met a boy that I would say might some day be President of the United States, it would have to be Dick Nixon." He actually made that statement. He really made that statement back then. So I said, "Why?" and he said, "Well, his clear thinking, he is sharp." In the class my father ran, everyone had something to say. He didn't sit and talk to you, but it was a round robin deal and your opinions and such. Dick was able to speak out then, as well as now. Dick has always been a good speaker.
D: Would you say he was more or less religious or, just again, one of the fellas?
W: Well, he has a deep religious background, believe me. Now, if anybody knows Hannah Nixon, if there ever was an angel on earth, it was Hannah Nixon. I've never known a woman as sweet and who lived up to everything that you should live up to religiously and so forth like that gal. I never heard her speak a loud word, I never heard her shout at any of their kids--never anything but work, work as hard as she could to try to get them the things they needed, to do the things to keep the store going. Out there, she would bake pies on order. Now, that was one of the things in that store. You could order Hannah Nixon's home baked pies. She might have, you know, like ten pies to bake on order for the next day. Poor old gal, I don't know, Hannah might not get to them until midnight or so, but she would have those ten pies ready the next morning to bring in the store. They would be beautiful, delicious pies. This is just her work, but I mean hard work, but she had a heart just as big as a heart can be. She was always Hannah to me. Hannah and Frank was all I ever called them. I never heard a cross word from her. I never heard her not willing to help and not do what she could do, whatever your  problem was, she would do her best to help you out. She was a sweet gal. Frank was, probably, the boss of the family. I mean, I expect Hannah, if Frank said "go cut your head off," Hannah "would say, "what kind of a knife should I use?" (laughter) But he pretty much ran the family. He was a lot of mouth, the little rascal. (laughter) I mean he was good. Honest as the day is long. But he would argue with you and let you pick which side you wanted to argue on. You would make him happy if you argued on either side. He was just a big, old Irish, loud type. I don't know if he was Irish, but he was that type. By noisy, I think of a--there was a woman who lived in East Whittier, used to go to that store out there. Her name was Mady Woods, then. Her family is still around, but she was as stiff as a slap of thunder. Wouldn't bother her. She later got killed walking across Whittier Boulevard because she didn't hear a car. She walked right out in front of one. (laughter) Anyway, Mady walked into that store one day. She's a little old lady. There was a salesman and I was over there, I don't know why I was there. But this salesman was in there talking to Frank, and little, old Mady Woods walked clear over to this side of the store--she was trying to find something on the shelf--you know, and Frank saw her over there. "Look here you little old so-and-so, you quit digging around in those shelves," and this poor so-and-so fainted dead away. Frank screamed at her again. "Get out of there and stay out of the store and quit bothering around." (laughter) I thought, my God, talking to a poor, little customer, even though I knew that poor woman didn't hear a word he was saying. He had a wild sense of humor. There was something else funny about Frank. They had taken quite a little bit of money in that store and Frank didn't like to leave it in the cash register. So one day he buried some he'd stuck in a sack and rolled it up and stuck it underneath the door. Well, the sack got knocked on the floor and so Frank later went to get the money around four or five o'clock in the afternoon and the sack was gone. "Where's the sack?" He hollered at the boys, you know, I mean everybody around there. I was at the service station. So, Frank told them they had the money. So someone of them, I think it was Don, told him, "We swept up this place and threw everything out." They had a big pit out there, where they burned the trash. There was always some smoldering down underneath and they would just dump more. They started digging and they found this. I don't know how much, but they found a couple of hundred bucks in this paper bag. They finally found it out there in the middle of this trash ditch smoldering. It was a wonder it hadn't broken clean through and burned all up. But these were some of the odd things.
D: Who would Richard have been closer to, his mother or his father? 
W: Oh, his mother. I think his mother, the way Richard thought. Probably far more inspiration to him than Frank, I would say.
D: It is said that Nixon would go mostly to his mother with his problems.
W: Yes, that's right. Hannah would sit and listen to your problems, while Frank wouldn't know which way he might explode. (laughter)
D: It seems like he has a few qualities from both of them, like when he would have an argument he would take the opposite side.
W: Oh, yes. Believe me, if Dick just had Milhous in him, nice as we think they are, he wouldn't have had the go-power to go and put up with what he has through the years and come back as strong as he has. He wouldn't be the scrapper he is and such. It's some of that Nixon blood that did him a lot of good, too. He needed both.
D: How would you explain that drive, that fantastic drive he has?
W: I don't know. I can't explain that. I can't even understand it.
D: Was it there even when he was young?
W: I don't know if there was any chance for it to be shown when he was young. This is something, you know, you wouldn't know about.
D: How did he respond to criticism within the family? Did he take it well?
W: Well, I was never in the family and I don't know if there was much criticism. Why, I don't know, really, about any criticism that he might have had.
D: How did he accept punishment from his dad?
W: I never saw Dick too down in the dumps. He was pretty levelheaded and went along pretty happily all the time.
D: I have read it mentioned in one of the books that his brother usually got in most of the trouble. He had a way of talking his way out of it.
W: Well, I imagine that Dick was a better talker. That's what I say. Don would try to outshout Frank. He would just stand up and bellow at him right back, like two bulls, but I  never heard Dick do this, but Dick would speak up. Now, I've heard Dick talk loud. 1 heard Dick talk wild down there. Sometimes, you know, just to get a word in edgewise when Don and his dad were in a fight, you had to holler to get in there to have any words, so Dick would speak out loud, too, but he didn't normally. You wouldn't think of him as doing that.
D: Was he an average kid?
W: I would think he would be very average.
D: Did he ever daydream?
W: I don't think so. Although Frank didn't. I can remember Frank when we were swimming in the ditch. I lived on one side of the Anaheim Union Water Company irrigation ditch. We called it the ditch. I don't know. (laughter) It was a dirt ditch is what it was, it was a dirt ditch. When we learned to swim--we learned to dog paddle or mud paddle. We went swimming in bib overalls until we got a little older, you know, and could go down a little further and didn't have to wear anything. (laughter) That was just down below where the houses were blocked out. I have seen Frank mighty upset with the kids when they went swimming in the ditch. He would yank them out pretty severely. This bothered me because it seemed like he was overdoing it a little bit. Somebody had given the kids permission to go in and why he should go home and be so upset about it, I don't know. But he yanked them out mighty fast--Harold and, I think, Dick and I don't know whether Don was in or not, but he sure yanked them out.
D: Was he afraid the children might drown?
W: No, I don't think so. I think, probably, they should have been doing some little chore that he had for them rather than swimming. That's probably what bothered him was that they hadn't done the work they were supposed to because they did have chores and work they were supposed to do.
D: Work seems to be a very, very prevalent type of thing. I would like to post a two-pronged question. Was the Protestant ethic--you know, to keep busy keeps you out of trouble--prevalent and, also, how did the Depression affect the Milhous and Nixon families?
W: Well, sure the Quakers were all hard workers. I mean, this was a part of their religion. You do hard work and you do keep busy and you don't get into trouble. You won't get into trouble if your hands are busy with good honest work. But the Depression, I don't know, it affected my family. They had, at the time of the Depression, that store out there.  That store did pretty good. It was out there far enough away. They had a good contact, too. They sold groceries on a wholesale basis, some on a wholesale basis to the Leffinqwell Ranch. At that time down on Santa Gertrudes there was a Leffingwell Ranch. The Leffingwell Ranch had a lot of Mexican pickers. A lot of them were young fellows who lived in a dormitory. A fellow by the name of Cotton, as I remember was down there. They had a cook shack or a dining room and fed them. A lot of them were paid so much a day and board and room. So they sold to them. There were the people who lived on the ranch. Also, there were many families on the ranch and on Murphy Ranch, plus the people up in La Habra Heights and all out on East Whittier that bought from the Nixon store. They did well. The Depression, I wouldn't think it hurt them as bad as it did many others. Well, I can think of a house--my father was a little nutty at times--but he had a house he had been wanting and it was a beautiful home. We bought it in Anaheim. I had no idea what it cost, maybe $8,000. It was a nice house and had three bedrooms, hardwood flooring, and a big fireplace. During the Depression he would rent it. He still had some payments on it. He bought it just before the Depression, but he owed about $2,500 on this house on a corner. He was getting $25 a month rent and he was having a hard time keeping it rented. He just threw up his hands and gave it back to the loan people. They would take back at that time and so he just gave it back rather than pay $25 a month on it. It was that hard to come by money. He just felt that it was a break-even thing and that he was just trying to rent it and keep it up, so he did that.
When I was going to high school; two summers I went to Hemet and worked up there in avocado dry yards. I made thirty-five cents an hour both those summers. Then the Depression hit. I skipped about a year and went back up there with another fella to see about working there after the Depression was actually on. There were hundreds of families camped around waiting for that fruit to ripen for jobs at ten cents an hour. They would have taken the jobs--the going pay was ten cents an hour. A dollar for a ten hour day. There were families all camped around. I don't know what the poor people were living on. We stayed up there for a few days and nothing was breaking. I had been there enough to pick fruit and I had a secret device for picking fruit faster than anybody else could. (laughter) The fruit didn't ripen, so we had to leave finally; we couldn't stay alive. Actually, what they did up there--and I worked up there two summers--these poor jokers would shake the fruit off the tree and it would fall down. The groves were kind of sandy, loamy soil. That sand was hot as hell in the summer, you know, 110 degrees in the shade. That fruit would fall down in that stuff and bury itself halfway. They would go around scooping it with their hands. We had made  big canvas seals that went clear around the tree. We were going to hook these clear around the whole perimeter of the tree and shake around the trees and pour it down the center. We were going to pick fruit faster than these people could pick it out of the hot sand. We figured we had it made, but the fruit wouldn't ripen at the time and we got hungry and had to come home.
D: It seems as if the Nixon family and Dick had a car. Did he really need to work that hard while he was in school?
W: Well, I'11 tell you why they did fairly well is because they didn't have any outside labor. Everybody in the family worked in that store. This was one of the things. You can get along pretty good if you got the whole family working in the store and you're able to buy your groceries wholesale, (laughter) This helps out. I don't think any of them drew terrific salaries. Dick got what he needed here to go to college, perhaps, and Don at high school. Along that type of thing was the way it worked more than that they made money. But Dick needed the car. He was out in the country quite a ways and there were things to come to school to. It certainly was easier for him to get back out to work in the afternoon. If he had a car, he could stay there in the morning, he didn't have to depend on catching a bus--which ran from here to Los Angeles. It wasn't Greyhound.
D: Did you have the Red Line . . . ?
D: The streetcar.
W: Yes, there was the streetcar, but it went down below a ways. I suppose we could have gone because I rode that going back to Yorba Linda later. I was there, Dick moved away from Yorba Linda before I did. We moved out on Rose Drive out east of Yorba Linda, now wait a minute, west of town--must be. I tell my kids it was at least three miles, but maybe it was two, a mile and a half. (laughter) I walked to school from there every morning and got up and walked into school, down the railroad tracks, down the road and the railroad tracks and on across the town to school. In the afternoon I could go over to the depot. It cost me a nickel or something like that and I rode a streetcar out to where they stopped where the steam engine train track crossed that--they always stopped and looked both ways--and I got off there and walked. It was fairly close. That was out there and it did go through La Habra and down south where, well, I suppose it had to come in close to the Leffingwell Packinghouse, because that's how all the fruit was hauled. But in Yorba Linda, when you got a little older . . . Oh, what grade would I be in, I left there when I was  in the sixth grade or so. But I worked in the packinghouse some evenings and would go over and grade fruit. Fruit would come along and you would pick out the dark greens, and light greens, and the silvers and yellows and put them in boxes and take them out to the packers. You would sort them out for the packers after they have been washed and come along. I know when I was a kid, I could go over there and get some work easy. Yorba Linda was principally people who worked in fruit or had a little store in town. Very few drove very far away because the roads were bad in those days--Model T Fords--when we first went out there, the water company used teams and wagons. My grandfather, I remember him hauling all his fruit down to La Habra from East Whittier with a team wagon.
D: What was Whittier itself like, in terms of roads?
W: Well, I don't know. I don't remember. (laughter) Whittier Boulevard was a two lane road. That service station was a pretty good thing to have because they had high pressure tires in those days. You fellas, you don't know about 30 X 3½ on the Model T, and 33 X 4½ on some of the bigger cars, but they were high pressure, they were not soft. Then came the balloon tires. Those things would blow out on hot days. Boy, I would sit there in the service station and would hear the beautiful sound of bang (laughter) and bomp, bomp, bomp coming down the road and I'd sell a tire. This was a nice deal that I would hang on for. I made a living out of the service station. Of course, I was not married at the time and I didn't have to have too much of a living. If I made three dollars a day, in those days, I could go down and buy . . .
D: Was Dick's car just a plain and economical thing like a Volkswagon Bug or did he have a little fancier taste?
W: Well, the only fancy thing was that it was a sports cabriolet rather than a hardtop coupe. But there was as many of those or more and it wasn't considered very fancy. He didn't put on mag wheels or anything of that type. (laughter)
D: What was a sports cabriolet?
W: Well, it had a cloth-type roof. It was like a hardtop only it was covered with a cloth, where you now have it covered with a vinyl.
D:Oh, but it wasn't a convertible?
W:Oh, no, it wasn't a convertible.
D:Did it have a rumble seat? 
W: Yes, I suspect it did. (laughter) Most of them did. That was par for the course to have a rumble seat. You've seen pictures of the thirties. They're still driving them around. My son had one when he went to La Habra High School. A 1930 Model A Ford coupe is what he had to drive to high school.
D: Do you remember very many family get-togethers? Did you get-together at Thanksgiving, Christmas or other holidays?
W: Not too much. Mostly our own families would get-together. If you'd get the Milhous tribe all together . . . There was a horrible big mess of them around here. So it was mostly families. But I remember I was always up at Uncle Charlie's or Uncle Frank's or my granddad's. They would drop by and visit each other, certainly. But as far as getting together for that sort of thing, I don't remember too much.
I can remember in Yorba Linda some of the things we would do. Well, I can't swear that Dick and his mother were along, but very likely they were. I can remember getting a water company team and wagon. I would drive some of the women and the kids down by the Santa Ana River with a team of horses and a wagon. We'd swim in the Santa Ana River--all of it that deep. (laughter) But we'd swim there. The women and kids picked some, I believe, elderberries off the trees. It wouldn't be blueberries, I think it was elderberries to make elderberry pies and such, but this was quite a great experience. Another thing we did--now some of the women would go along--we would take walks up on a hill there where there was a reservoir. It is called Reservoir Hill, it's still there. The kids ran around and helped pick flowers and such. Jessamyn used to be a great one. I used to go with her a lot. She was a great, little flower picker. She used to like to hike up there. She's approximately ten years older than I am. This was great for me. I would wander up in the hills. Later, of course, my older brother would go with him hunting. He'd take a .22 and go up and shoot rabbits up in the hills and I'd follow him around. There was a lot to do in Yorba Linda. There was not much to get in trouble out there. It was a great place, as I say, to grow up and to be around. I still think it's a nice community although it's certainly changed.
D: Where did your sister, Jessamyn, come up with the more traditional Quaker ideas that she puts forth in her wonderful book Friendly Persuasion? I take it that's a little bit different than the kind of Methodism that you grew up in.
W: She's a student. She talked to my grandfather. She talked to Uncle Charlie and Uncle Frank and Aunt Allie and Aunt Rose and such. She talked to these people. She talked to  Hannah. She gathers and reads old letters. She read these old family letters. I don't know what she paid to have some woman set up a book with a copy of all these letters. This was later, but earlier she read. A lot of the names in the Friendly Persuasion, for instance, are names I've heard. Most of the names of people are names I've heard mentioned in my family, those families back East. Most of those are real names. Now, she may not get the first and last name together, but most of those are real old families that were back there. She picks up these names and such. Many of them are incidents that I've heard told about. She embroiders on them, too. She's a fiction writer, of course.
D: In other words, she was sort of portraying the Quakerism that your fathers grew up with in Indiana in the sixties [1860s] rather than what would have been found in California?
W: Yes, it is very different.
D: What was Whittier College like?
W: Well, I remember . . . I came up here when Jessamyn was here in 1920. I remember--when was she here, 1920 or 1922?
D: I think she graduated in 1922.
W: Well, she lived in a dormitory, the old wooden dormitory in a gully.
W: Yes, a Redwood dormitory along here in the gully. I say gully, I don't know really what a gully is, but there was a main building. We drove up around it and went down and maybe across a little. This was an old, old building.
D: Well, it's been restuccoed.
W: Well, it sure has, because that building was falling to pieces. (laughter) I remember that about Whittier College, but there wasn't much more than that one main building. That was practically where everything was up in the center.
D: What did the people think about the college in the town?
W: I don't know.
D: It was just kind of there or . . .
W: I don't know why she went there. It's a Quaker college. She lived down here. Part of the time she stayed down here with Aunt Allie and Uncle Charlie. She lived down there in that house which was right down at the end of Painter--just  down at the end of Painter and a little bit to the left where the Quad is. She stayed with them for awhile. She would pick up Quaker from them. In this family there was a whole mess of "thees" and "thous" if I can remember.
D: Oh, you grew up . . .
W: Why, yes, they used that old Quaker form and . . .
D: But you, yourself, would you have used that form?
W: No, no I never did.
D: Julie and David Eisenhower, at their wedding, I heard, used "thee" and "thou, " and "I'm taking the bow."
W: Yes, that could be, but I heard it a lot. I heard my grandparents and relatives and, I guess, in the church when I was younger.
D: Would Hannah Nixon have used the "thee" and "thou".
W: I don't think so, but she might have.
D: It was one generation back?
W: Yes, I think it was. Her folks used it, but I don't think it followed through because my mother didn't use it.
D: In the Kornitzer book, there is a chapter devoted to Grandmother Milhous and the fact that President Nixon seemed to have a very warm relationship with her.
W: With his grandmother?
D: Grandmother Milhous.
W: Well, this would be Frank's wife, Aunt Abby. Is this who it was, Abby Milhous?
D: Yes, that's right. Did you know her very well?
W? Well, I knew her.
D: What kind of woman was she?
W: Oh, she was a little, old, hard-working woman. She was a thrifty, little, old woman, too, believe me. (laughter) The fruit would have to be clear spoiled before you weren't supposed to eat it. (laughter) If it looked spoiled, it still was all right. I don't know how old she was when she died. I remember her around out there picking up fruit under the trees and getting oranges to squeeze. I don't know whether she'd squeeze them for orange juice. Maybe, she ate them peel and all, I'm not sure. (laughter)  She was a hard-working old lady. That little old gal hustling around out there, working with a hoe digging around her flowers and such. When I was a kid, she looked like a million years old to me. (laughter) But she was a hard, hard worker.
D: Was Grandmother Milhous alive then? Eliza?
W: Yes, the one who was the . . .
D: Yes, the minister. What was she like?
W: I don't know. I can't remember my own grandmother. She died when I was very small.
D: She was supposed to have lived until 1927.
W: We just heard stories about her. (laughter) We just heard about her in Friendly Persuasion, Eliza and the organ.
D: Have you had much personal contact with Nixon in the past few years?
W: Well, I'll tell you. Back in 1965 I wrote to Dick and asked him if he'd be a speaker at the National Institute of Rug Cleaning Convention. Dick wrote back and said he was going to be out of the country at the time. That was going to be in January of 1966. Then about three months before that Dick called and said, "My plans are changed, I think I'm going to be around. I know I'm too late to be a speaker, but maybe I can get down and visit you in Washington when you're there." The convention was to be in Washington at the Shoreham Hotel. So I said "Fine, Dick, be happy to see you. " So, one afternoon I went up to our room and the red light was on, which means there's a call for you. I called the office, and they said there was a call from New York. So it was Dick's office. Dick had called. What he wanted to know was if it would be suitable if he came out the next afternoon and spent the afternoon with his wife and be there and at the convention. And so I said, "You'd better believe it. It would be fine." So they told me what flight and so forth. Dick came out and spent an afternoon. He flew out on his own. He was not paid anything. He flew out, came out, and wandered around there at this convention of rug cleaners. I later introduced him. When we found out he was going to be there, we announced it. It worked out beautifully because it was a free afternoon and those who wanted to see him, if they would stick around, that he would be down in the exhibit area. So they had a buffet lunch down in the exhibit area the next day. There were about three hundred people who stuck around to meet Dick and talk to him. So he did come out on his own, and I saw him then. Of course,  I saw him at the inauguration and such. It was fun--I have a picture here--I just happen to have a picture of my wife and the youngest. (laughter)
D: How many children do you have?
W: Three--there' s my oldest boy as a lieutenant just out of the Army. He's down in the business now, on his way. There's a picture of Dick and I, as you can see, there. That was up on the speaker's stand where this happened. I was the president of the National Institute of Rug Cleaning at the time. I had introduced Dick. One thing, I was very surprised in the introduction. I stated that I didn't want to introduce the Dick Nixon they knew but rather the Dick Nixon I knew from Yorba Linda, Whittier and so forth. I reminisced a little. I was very surprised to see women--who I knew had worked real hard for Dick in his election, I mean, when he was campaigning and such had worked real hard--sitting in the front row. I knew some of them. One woman from St. Louis and another from Virginia that had--oh boy--I mean, they just tore up the countryside for Dick. But during this introduction they sat down there with tears in their eyes, just seeing him, just hearing him, just looking at him. I didn't realize what a terrific emotional impact he could have on people meeting him, face to face with him, until I saw it happen there. It really does--he really has an effect. He has a dynamic personality, I think. Those people loved him. They really liked him. There were a lot of people there who could care less about Nixon, but not after meeting him and talking to him and hearing him talk. Dick was very generous. He got up and, after the introduction where this picture was taken, made a few opening remarks. He said, "I'm here today to pay tribute to Merle who is a president in Washington, which is something I never achieved." (laughter) I stood up there then when they took that picture and I said, "Dick, I have friends in Chicago counting the vote for me." (laughter) So that's when that happened. But, of course, I have seen Dick through the years when he lived at various houses up in Los Angeles. I've been up to his house when he lived up in Whittier and when he lived in Los Angeles up at the Trousdale Estates up there. He even called me on problems on his rugs; he'd call me here and ask me what to do for this and that, and what kind of fiber he should buy and so forth.
D: How would you say he has changed?
W: He has changed in the fact that he's so darn busy and has so many things on his mind. He can talk to you but you still get a feeling that while you're talking to him there's another problem going around and around in the back of his mind. 
D: He was more relaxed when you knew him?
W: This is true. I think there are people he can completely relax with. Probably this Rebozo or somebody is one of that type--the type of person he can relax with, that's why he liked him--that he gets together with. I think it's hard for Dick now to ever completely relax. Of course, he gets away and does undoubtedly, but I haven't seen Dick. I saw Dick down in, after he was elected, down at . . .
D: San Clemente?
W: No, down at the Anaheim Stadium, not at the homecoming deal. I blew it there. I was supposed to introduce him, I mean, I wasn't supposed to. They called and asked me if I would. They scared me out of it because they said, "We want you to realize that there will be national television coverage, so all of the newspaper media will be there; there will be 12,000 people there. Will you introduce him?" And I said, "I think you better get somebody with that line of work; someone who has done it a little oftener. I'm a rug cleaner in Whittier and I rarely talk to very many people." So they said, "We won't throw it out." I later found out that Dick had asked for me to do this introduction; that he had liked the introduction I had given him in Washington. In fact, he told me afterwards he wanted a copy of it. He said, "I wish I could get you or Jessamyn to introduce me every time I speak." (laughter) But, apparently, Dick had asked for me and I blew it. Were you there?
W: And Paul Smith introduced him.
W: I was so damned upset, I could have wrung Paul Smith's neck (laughter) I mean Paul talked to him about college or anything and that was about it. I had taken the trouble, you know, I had written the introduction.
D: What would you have said?
W: I had written an introduction. I had it tied in with the whole thing. I supposed that they were going to really ask . . . Well, you know, the homecoming deal that the Sierra Nevadas are his mountains and the Pacific Ocean's his coast and even though he lives here and there and such, about this really being his home.
D: Would you consider that he sees the Whittier or Yorba Linda  area as his home? Does he feel a real strong tie here now or is he a Washington man?
W: No, he's a Californian, believe me. He'll never be anything but a Californian living here as long as he did. He's a Californian. I don't know how he could consider Yorba Linda as his hometown. Yorba Linda is his birth plane but I think Whittier is his hometown. Here's where he grew up, here's where he went to practically his whole grammar school. He went to high school both here and Fullerton, I believe, and to Whittier College. Whittier is his hometown.
D: Are all his early friends from here?
W: Sure, all his school friends that he remembers are from Whittier. Well, the people that you hear about that he invited from here to the inauguration--not to the inauguration but went into the White House afterwards--were from here. I beat him to the White House. We got to go into the White House before he got there so we got to practically welcome him. He got all the relatives that were shivering out there watching the parade into the White House if we wanted to, so we didn't watch the full parade. We were freezing back there. (laughter) It was really cold, you know, and our old California overcoats weren't doing the job properly.
D: Does he keep close ties with his brother, Don?
W: Yes, oh, yes. Don phones and gets in touch with him for this and that.
D: Where does Don live?
W: Don lives down in Newport overlooking the back bay there, if you're familiar. You go to Costa Mesa and turn in at Costa Mesa to the left and back across toward the old bay, you know, where the old bay backed up in there. Where he lives would look out over that big hotel and across that bay. He lives up on those bluffs there, but it's just a nice big area, nice big tract. Don has offices out here in a bank building off of the freeway right near Washington Boulevard.
D: What does he do?
W: He's a president. (laughter)
D: Is the President close to the rest of the family? You and your sister and so forth?
W: Jessamyn and Dick have always been pretty close because they both came up and were very successful. Probably, more close than I am with Dick because they took turns here at  Whittier College, one spoke one year and one spoke another year. They have introduced each other here and there a few times and such, so they really are pretty friendly.
D: Do you remember Richard's brother, Arthur, the one that died when he was quite young?
W: No, I didn't know him, but when he was alive, I knew he was around.
D: Because I was reading the paper that Richard wrote about the death of his brother--this was more a eulogy of this brother, Arthur, I had a feeling that the family was extremely closely knit from that paper.
W: They worked together and they prayed together and went to church together and such. They would be, probably, more closely knit than a lot of families because they were working in that store together. They grew up working in that store.
D: Is Don the oldest?
W: No. Of the ones now, Dick's the oldest, then Don, then Eddie.
D: Which one was Eddie?
W: Eddie was the one who was in the Navy and had an appointment to a job he was well-qualified for in Alaska. He had everything and it required a lot of buying and such. But somebody on top of that . . . so down the tubes he went. He backed off fast and didn't make any fight out of it. I forget what the appointment was, but it was something, as I understood, he could really handle well. I think this was the general opinion of quite a lot of the writers, news people, that he could have done an excellent job.
D: Was Arthur the youngest?
W: Oh, I don't know where Arthur fit in there really now. I forget, I think he was the last one. Harold was the oldest. He was here in Whittier when he died out here. That was in 1932 or 1933 when he died. Arthur died in Yorba Linda when he was a little tyke or was it here in Whittier?
D: I think it was here in Whittier.
W: I didn't research this enough for you.
D: It must have been quite a traumatic experience to have your older brother die. Did you get any feedback on that? 
W: Well, no. Harold, of course, they knew the rascal was probably going to die, I don't mean this derogatorily. He was sick with tuberculosis, horribly sick with it. I had that service station and that poor guy would come from the house, a hundred feet away, there to sit. Here he was sitting there coughing and such, and now I find out it's a wonder I didn't get it. But he loved to come up there and sit and talk. So he would come up that little incline and it would take him ten minutes to come that fifty or sixty feet up around that. He would just go a little bit, just gasping for breath and sit there. So he had a bad case. They took him to Arizona, they did practically everything. Frank fixed a truck--one of the first--a camper bed on a truck type of thing, you know, built up. He bought a big old truck and built that on there. He had carpenters build it, I think, on there so he could drive him down to the desert. They did all they possibly could. They finally had to hire a nurse to stay with him. She was a practical nurse, not a trained nurse, to wait on him hand and foot. But old Harold did everything he shouldn't do. I mean he never slowed down. He couldn't give up and stay down like he was supposed to. Now, Jessamyn, too, had tuberculosis. She practically died and this is what started her writing. She was on her back so long, flat on her back, couldn't do anything so she started writing lying in bed. That's how she first started writing. She used the horizontal approach to it.
D: There seems to have been a driving spirit that Harold had when he was sick; he couldn't be kept down.
W: No, he couldn't. Do you think there was some kind of relationship between the President and Harold, they seemed both to be fighters?
W: Could be, but this was true of Harold. The guy wouldn't stay put; he was up and going until he was down, down, down, where he couldn't move. He was supposed to stay in bed, flat on his back. Not that guy, he was out dragging around.
D: Did you know Harold much more than you knew Dick?
W: No, I didn't know him much more. he would come up there and be around there. So I would, of course, get to talk to him during the day and see him.
D: Dick's studying so much rather intrigues me, because I studied a lot when I was small. But in a way, I don't really think it was normal for a boy to study that much. Would you have any feelings on that one way or another?
W: Dick's having fun now that I'm not, so that makes us even, (laughter) 
D: I know he was uncoordinated in sports from what we can find.
W: I guess he was pretty much. I wasn't acquainted, but I'll tell you a funny thing. Linkletter ran this thing down in Anaheim. He was the master-of-ceremonies on that homecoming deal. They had us all down there, that were going to be on stage, to a dinner beforehand. So Linkletter could see us and meet us and ask us. He had these things on what they wanted to talk about. One of the things, I had made a statement that Dick and I had gone to the Follies together on Main Street, which we had. So this was . . .
D: What were the Follies?
W: The Follies--you can go to a lot of beer parlors and see far more than you could see at the Follies in those days, believe me. The topless bar, I think, probably would far outdo the Follies. The stripteaser didn't strip too far. (laughter) A lot of loud music, mostly, but anyway, it was on Main Street. It was the Follies Burlesque. It was a burlesque theatre. A lot of semi-dirty jokes and such that they tell on television now. It was pretty shocking to us then, but you see far worse, in my opinion, than you saw in those days. But, anyway, this was on me, but Link-letter had these little cards and was looking at them. There was about thirty people out there in the crowd and he was saying, "Here's one that this woman who spanked Richard when he was a baby" and who was that and so forth. Then he came to this one, "and this fella went to a burlesque with Dick when he was a kid. That baldheaded man over there is probably the one." (laughter)
D: If you wanted to send a letter, would it go through all kinds of channels?
W: Undoubtedly his letters certainly go through a million channels. I sent him a telegram after the election and put on it "Congratulations, Dick, I knew too, you would be a President in Washington someday." I just signed it "Merle," Well, I got a letter back from him right away. Now, somebody has to know. Either he's got them clued in on family names, first names and such that might . . . (tape inaudible)
Finally, I said, "All right, I will." So, I just wrote a letter and said I know of this woman and I know she's well qualified and so forth and sent it to Dick Nixon. I sent it to President Richard Nixon, I suppose. I got a letter back thanking me for taking the time to recommend this woman, she would certainly be considered. She didn't make it, but she came out in the final three.
Yes, I think if I wrote a letter to Dick, I think he would  get it. I wouldn't be sure when I got a reply whether it was Dick or somebody else. They could write and put his signature on very cleverly, I wouldn't be too sure. I think if it was something really worthwhile that I had to write to Dick about, I think he would probably answer it.
D : Of course, we're interested in meeting him, we were wondering if you had any idea whether he would spend Christmas in San Clemente.
W: I have no idea. I had somebody call me the other day. I think they were drinking or something. (laughter) They called me and wanted to know when the plane, what's the name of his plane?
D: Air Force One.
W: Air Force One was down here and they wanted me to arrange for them to get on and see the plane--that they were very interested in seeing that plane. I told them I might. (laughter)
D: It must have disadvantages being the President's cousin?
W: Well, I don't see him that often. (laughter) That's one of the things--I mean, I may never see him again until he's out of office, it's hard to tell. What he has done is on occasion have family gatherings somewhere. When he was senator, I know that sort of thing took place and when he was Vice-President, that sort of thing took place. He'd be out here and instead of trying to see individuals and such, he would have everybody over--"Come over, we'll have a buffet lunch and sit around and chew the rag a little."
D: What did you talk to him about? Did he talk about his children?
W: No, not much. We did when he was in Washington riding in the limousine that we got to bring him there. I got a chauffeur--a big chauffeured limousine to pick him up that night. N.I.R.A. [National Institute of Rug Cleaners] paid for it. I didn't have a car there, I flew back. So, I went to the manager of the Ritz, I needed a car to pick up Richard Nixon could I borrow a station wagon or something of yours, so he said, "Oh!" (laughter) So they had this chauffeured limousine to go pick him up. But we would chat a little bit, you know. But not too much. Really, as somebody very, very close to him told me, she said, "And I just don't have much in common to talk about." This was his sister-in-law. This could be true, you know. At his level, now . . . This was Don's wife, I wouldn't want this repeated--and this rat-fink is repeating it--(laughter) but for a change told me this. I know her real well. She was down in the  plant looking at some carpeting and she was talking about Dick. I said, "Have you got to see the house at San Clemente?" She said, "Yes, thank goodness, I got invited down there. I was there only about a half an hour. So when people say have you seen it," I can say yes, I have seen it. I was down there that one time, but Dick is so busy and so many people around him at all times that it's just hard to get him. He and I have very little to talk about, really." You know, at his level now, I suppose it's hard for him to unwind and come down to the family level when you're figuring how to stop the war and get all these people off your back and such. It's a wild deal, believe me.
D: Did you watch him on television?
W: Of course, I always admire him and I think he is right. The talk he gave back in Washington when we were back there in 1966 was why Johnson had to follow through in the Vietnam War--why Johnson had to go through with this., there was no way out. Even at that time they were planning to stop the war and why are we over there and such, but it hadn't got to such proportions as it has now. But he defended Johnson and why Johnson was there.
D: Theodore White in his book, The Making of the President 1968 I think is pretty much favorable to Nixon. He pointed out he thought at an earlier age, Nixon had been fighting against being a poor boy trying to make good and that when he made good as a New York lawyer, this somewhat relaxed him and even his nervous motions kind of went down. Did you notice anything of this kind?
D: You don't see a new Nixon?
W: No. He's just Dick Nixon to me, really. He doesn't startle me, scare me or frighten me in any way. (laughter) He's Dick Nixon. When I see him I say, "Hi, Dick." I saw him after he was President and I said, "Hi, Dick," you know, "glad you made it and how are you and so forth." Jessamyn was along. She had an operation and so he got Jessamyn along side me and he was telling her about this new dog he had and what I can name this new Irish setter--I believe it was an Irish setter he had. She said, "Dick, you know, your ancestors came from county so-and-so in Ireland and you might name him after that county." So that is the name the dog has--after the county. He took her advice and named that dog.
D: Robert Finch suggested, before he made it on the national scene, he perhaps needed approval quite a bit. Did you ever have that feeling--that he wanted people's approval? Now, Finch  felt he just wanted people's respect but then he wanted approval more.
W: Oh, I think everybody needs approval pretty much, it depends on what you're trying to do. I wouldn't know really. I'm not that well read on the books on Nixon.
D: Just your personal impression that he was not a person who seemed to want more approval.
W: I've always thought that Dick had the thickest damn skin to take the abuse he took. I always wondered how he took it, I mean, I couldn't take it. I couldn't hear Drew Pearson say some of the things he did. I'd find me a gun and go out and shoot Drew Pearson is what I would have done a long time ago. But I don't know how they do this. I can't understand.
I have a very good friend, who I just a week ago saw, who became Commissioner of Health and Welfare of Alaska, the first appointed. Once it became a state he was the first one appointed Commissioner of Health and Welfare and he quit in two years--he gave up; he resigned. He said, "The hell with it. All these people grabbing at you, anything you do, half the people think you shouldn't have done it, it seems. You always have the dissenters and you can't make them all happy." He just couldn't stand the political pressure. He resigned and went back to teaching. He started out--no, I won't go into this. This is a whole other story. (laughter) This was a man who had enough sense to stop working in a bank, to stop a couple of jobs and just quit cold and say, "This is not the kind of work I like. I'm not going to stay with it." He went back to college and got into teaching, went to Alaska, took his whole family up there on a little old frozen outpost where they were nine months--took three kids and his wife. Within the second or third year he was assistant administrator for the whole area. Then Alaska became a new state and he was appointed Commissioner of Health and Welfare. But this was a man who just had the guts--I started cleaning rugs and I've never given up. Now, he knew, I mean, he started doing things he didn't like and he quit. He went until he found his niche. Mine was being a rug cleaner, but his, I guess, was something else and he knew it and quit until he got into the right thing. I think too many people get started at something and think: I have to give it a fifty year trial at least before I know for sure.
D: When you were small, did you used to discuss what you might like to be, like a fireman? Did you go through that usual kind of thing?
W: I don't remember doing it with Dick Nixon. I can remember in  grammar school in 1920 . . . Was Harding running for President in 1920?
W: Was that Harding? I can remember walking back to school at noon. I think it was at noon, standing in front of the bank, Dick arguing or discussing politics in 1920. How old was he? And I was a little bit put out with him because . . .
D: About eight years old or seven years old.
W: He was discussing politics, why we should elect this man Harding, President. I suppose it was Harding that he was for. I suppose it was Republican he was for, but he was, even at that age, discussing politics. Yep, I can remember that, because I was so upset with him. I wanted to do something else and I was walking with him and he wanted to stop and talk to somebody. And I thought, of all things.
D: Would you think he related, perhaps, more easily to adults than to his peers?
W: How do you mean this?
D: Well, most children, I think, at seven wouldn't find it too easy to talk politics with adults. Would you say he had more facility to do this?
W: I would suspect he could. Yes, I would suspect at all ages he could talk to older people easier than most kids his age. I think he was always a little wiser than most of us.
D: To put it one further, would you think he got on easier with adults than with children his own age?
W: He may have. I, as a child his age, had no problems getting along with him. Although maybe he didn't have [many friends] I wouldn't be aware of this, really, how many friends he did have. I never heard anybody saying anything about Dick that wasn't pleasant or nice. I can't remember anybody saying, "I don't like that guy."
D: We find that a number of people from his college years saying that they thought he had a lot of close acquaintances, but they personally didn't think he had close friends. I take it you feel that you were really close friends.
W: No, I don't feel that I was really that close, I don't feel that way. I can remember back, Dick posed the question, I don't know why, he said, "Would you think it would be wiser to marry a pretty girl or a smart girl?" I can remember that question. I can remember the answers that I  gave him. I shouldn't have--but I wasn't true because I said, "I would rather marry a pretty one, because I can be smart enough for both of us." (laughter) So Dick did ask that question.
D: He dated, what was her name--Ollinger? Florence Ollinger, who was a pretty girl and smart. We had read that she had graduated way at the top of her class.
W: I don't remember Dick as having too darn many dates there. But, of course, I wouldn't know what he would do at night. I went my way a great deal at night and he went his way. I used to date gals that used to go out to that church out there some. I don't remember him going with any girl who went to church out there.
D: Did he have anyone you would particularly label as a close friend of his?
W: No, I don't know anybody. I would doubt that Dick was the buddy-buddy type really. I had a fella that I was very close to in high school and such. I don't think of Dick in that way, really. He didn't goof off that much to mess around. He had too many things on his own he was doing. He was studying and working hard.
D: Similar to the Quaker-Protestant ethic?
W: Well, it could be, but it was just that Dick had a goal all his life probably. He wanted to excel in school. He wanted to be in the top of the class. I think he definitely had that idea in the back of his mind that he wanted to be the best and so he devoted himself, he studied hard and he was a good speaker. When he was speaking, he wanted to be the winner in the debate--he just wasn't up there to talk.
D: I read a recent paper by a professor at Yale that suggested that President Nixon works very hard and wants to excel, but then he perhaps doesn't get as much satisfaction out of the accomplishment as the work. Did you ever notice that, perhaps, he's a little let down after having succeeded?
W: I wouldn't be that smart to try to figure things out. (laughter) I admit that freely.
D: Or maybe, to put it another way, can you remember what kinds of things seemed to really please him?
W: No, the relationship I had with him wasn't that close and such. I wasn't thinking of it in that way. I knew him quite well, but I don't think anybody was that real close. 
D: Was he pleased to get his car?
W: Sure. He would be tickled, he was full of laughs and jokes and such as that around that store there. Yeah, there was big guffaws and ha ha's and such and playing tricks on each other and running around. But he was pretty serious with it all. He was off to school and away he went. He sat and studied a lot at night. He worked long hours up there. I think he had a room up over the garage that was his room where he could be alone to study, I mean. He liked to be alone and study. They had fixed it up there with a desk and such up above the garage. You can ask Dick the next time you see him. (laughter)
D: He liked to read quite a bit?
W: Oh, yes. He was a [studious] boy which I wasn't. It put us on a different plane.
D: I'm curious about the kind of present he might have been given at Christmas or for birthdays or whatever. Was it usually a book? Do you remember offhand.
W: I have no idea.
D: Being sheltered by books, do you think that perhaps he didn't get along with the boys?
W: I don't think so. He was perfectly at ease in a gang of fellas around the service station there. People would come in there, neighbors, boys, and such and he would be right in the middle in the center. I don't think so. Although, again, I didn't know him that closely.
D: I wonder, before you leave, if there are any particular anecdotes about Nixon that you really think typify him--things other than you have said already, any particular incident.
W: I've gone through about all I know of. (laughter) I can't remember any more. I don't know, I don't know any.
D: What about ditch digging? I remember you said to me over the phone that you and Dick dug ditches together.
W: We swam in the irrigation ditch together. I don't know that we dug a ditch together.
D: Did you ever ditch together?
W: No. We didn't go to the same school. I ditched a lot--that's probably why I never went on to college. (laughter) 
D: You see, if you hadn't ditched, you might have been President. (laughter)
D: Do you think you just had a nonacademic bend or was the school pretty dull stuff?
W: For me personally?
D: Or was it the fault of the teachers or yours or both?
W: I was smart enough. I reached my level when I got up in high school. I'm trying to keep my sixteen year old from having a car. I had a car, I had money and I had a job. I worked after school; I worked Saturdays. When I was a sophomore in high school I had a car. I think this is wrong--it's too easy--you can go to the library and be driving down to the library in the evening, but you go to some girls house instead of the library. All this and gradually it gets to be more of a chore. I got through high school real fine without studying hardly any. I made my grades all right, but I don't know, I just decided I wanted to go to work.
D: I guess one of the most important questions, as historians, that we have in mind is how, Richard Nixon having grown up in Yorba Linda and Whittier and the kind of very pleasant life you describe, how would that perhaps affect him as a President or make his value systems different from someone who has grown up in Chicago or New York.
W: This is deeper than I can go into but I know it must make a difference between he and Rockefeller, for instance. Their environment and background must have a big difference in the way they think and feel now. It seems to me that the fellas who were from wealthier families are more for spreading the wealth around. Whether they have a guilt complex, I could never figure out why they want to take everything, you know. Kennedy wanted to give, give, give--Roosevelt did, Rockefeller did. I'm a stingy man--I work hard and I don't want to give it to everybody. I'm willing to share a little but I don't want to throw it around. It seems like these people that had it so easy feel guilty because they inherited all that, you know, because they never had to work for it. I think maybe somebody that has to work hard for it isn't as inclined to be as generous about it--they think somebody else ought to work for it a little, too. I don't think Dick has promised blue sky, pie in the sky, so much as these other guys do--the Kennedys the Roosevelts and you can go on back.
D: The hard work ethic then would be one thing that would have really made an impression? 
W: Well, I would think so.
D: And then the religious background, although not great, would still be there.
W: Well, you're asking questions I've never given any thought before. This could be true, too. The Quaker believed in working for it, you know, but I think most people do. Not just Quakers, everybody. I think, your Presbyterian or whatever or Catholic or whoever--I think you've got to work for it usually.
D: When you say Whittier was a Quaker town in the 1920's and 1930's what would that mean to you?
W: Well, of course, you know this Quaker church right over here is the largest Quaker church in the world. It was settled by a lot of Quakers. A lot of Quakers did arrive in this area here. Such a group will tend to join together. So there were a lot of Quakers. The Milhous tribe itself did pretty well in populating this area and their families and friends and so forth. They were all Quakers and so other Quakers came in and I suppose you would have other areas that are Mormon areas. You have Anaheim that was settled by the Germans in the vineyards creating a lot of Lutherans down there, I guess, German Lutherans. Anaheim still has a lot of Lutherans, so that would be a Lutheran area or a German area settled down there with their vineyards and such.
D: Would there have been less drinking, dancing, smoking because of that?
W: Oh, there was less drinking, dancing, and smoking.
D: Was there any for respectable citizens?
W: You mean drinking?
W: Well, you know, I grew up during Prohibition. So I never even learned to like beer. I'm not saying I don't drink--I don't mean that--I didn't grow up knowing what beer was. For many college students, this is their drink now. I had a son who went to San Jose State. Beer was pretty common around there. When I grew up you didn't have liquor around. I had to work hard at it to learn and catch up on all these things. (laughter)
D: What about smoking and dancing?
W: Smoking and dancing--from the Quaker point of view--I didn't adhere to the line that close. 
D: But in the town as a whole?
W: Well, I didn't hang around this town. I got out as fast as I could. I had a car so I didn't have to stick in town. There was nothing in Whittier, there was nothing to do in Whittier. It was no livlier then than it is now. (laughter) We went to Balboa, to the pavilion down there. When there were big bands down there, we used to go down there and dance on Saturday nights and such things.
D: What about Santa Monica?
W: Well, yes, but I never went in that direction--being from Anaheim, I was Balboa bound always.
W: Yes, I had gone to Catalina when the pavilion or casino . . .
W: Yes, I've gone over to the casino. Yes, I've gone over there on Saturday nights by boat. At one time, they had gambling boats off the coast. They tried to start gambling. Did you know that? They would anchor them off the coast and you could go out there. I don't know, they didn't ask for identification cards. We'd get out there and get a free dinner and get to get out there and wander and never gamble a penny and then ride back.
D: Where would the usual date be with a girl? Where would you take her?
W: Well, if I had a dollar in my pocket, I could take her out and buy her a hamburger and to the movie. (laughter) But for that same buck, I had to work pretty hard.
D: Talking in terms of expecting other people to work pretty hard--when the great Depression came, many people just couldn't get jobs.
W: That's right. I know a family in Anaheim--a family that was very well-to-do, retired, owned a big home in Anaheim, owned a home on Balboa on the bay. They gave their son, as a graduation present, when he graduated from high school, a Jordan Playboy--a Jordan was a pretty classy car. They, when the Depression hit, had stocks. They lost their home in Anaheim; they hung onto their home in Balboa. She began making candy and set up a sidewalk candy stand and sold candy to the people that were down at the beach in the summer. I don't know where they finally ended up. I know an automobile dealer that was closed out, failed miserably. He owned a nice home, had a nice distributorship  and ended on a W.P.A. [Works Progress Administration] project as a foreman type--digging ditches--making a little odds and ends in public works. But, it was rough, it was very rough. I started in business for myself in Anaheim in 1934 in this business that I'm still in, rug cleaning--it was dry cleaning and rug cleaning and such. I started with about a hundred dollars and I took over a plant that had gone broke and owed a lot of money to a building and loan. The building and loan agreed: pay as you can, no definite payments, just when and if you get a little money. They were happy to keep it going rather than just have it fold. That's how I started in business and I worked long and hard to make eighteen dollars a week. This was the goal I'd set to get so I could make eighteen a week. I didn't make that much to start with, but I gradually got better. It's a rough deal.
D: What did you think of the W.P.A.? Did you think it performed a valuable function?
W: Well, it had to perform a valuable function. As much as I didn't like Roosevelt, he did get things moving. He darn near broke us. We're still suffering paying off the debts that he got us into. But he did get things moving and the country was in a deplorable state, it was really rough in those days with the lack of money, when I think about it we had as much fun with practically no money as you can have with a lot of money. I mean we had Depression poker. We used to have Depression poker games where you'd never go broke because you'd get in the game with fifty cents. You could play poker all night, and such things as that, but everything was cheap. You could buy gasoline; I sold gasoline out here, eight gallons for a dollar. It was ten gallons for a dollar down here at Ulrich's. So, we could get along. I don't ever remember anybody that I knew really suffering. We could get some kind of job. Before I went down there, I had the service station and I sold my lease on that. I was out not knowing exactly what I was going to do, so I had a job picking lemons. I went down to the packinghouse and talked them into letting me have the job. I picked lemons with all Mexican pickers.
D: That's hard work, isn't it?
W: You better believe it was hard work. It was especially hard when they're all speaking Spanish. Here I am out there all day sweating, dirty and hot, and up in the tree getting scratched up with all these Mexicans like a bunch of birds singing in the trees around you. You couldn't understand what they're saying. But you know I could make $2.50 to $3.00 a day picking lemons, so that was an interim job until I found something that was better. 
D: Was there any misunderstanding or cultural gap between Mexicans and Anglos at this time?
W: Yes, this is hard for me to believe. There was a cultural gap but there was also racial discrimination of the worse sort. When I lived in Anaheim, up until I was in grammar school, high school, too, they had what they called the city plunge, which was the big swimming pool. They had no filter system apparently on these plunges, because once a week they drained all the water, and they pumped it with new water. They just put new water in and washed it out. They drained the water on Friday night and had new water for Saturday. Friday was Mexican day. They did not go in the plunge any other day except Friday and whites did not go in. Whites had Saturday, Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday to get it dirty, so the Mexicans could swim on Friday. This was true.
D: It was a Quaker town?
W: No, this wasn't a Quaker town--that was a German town--those dirty Germans. (laughter)
D: Would you say there was less racial antagonism in Whittier?
W: No, I suppose it was about the same. I don't think there was a great deal of difference. There was some reason for this situation, because most of these Mexican pickers and their families had no bathing facilities, no bathtubs; probably a lot of good old grime rubbed off when they jumped into the swimming pool. That was probably a bath to them, too, probably. There were probably reasons for it, even though they were supposed to take a shower before they went in and so forth, but their living conditions weren't too good.
D: A person growing up in a town like Whittier might not then have as much knowledge of minority problems as a person growing up in New York.
W: Well, no, they wouldn't. There's no resemblance to speak of. They're here in our schools now, many of them. When I went to high school, there were no Negroes. We went to school with Japanese and Mexicans and thought nothing of it. In grammar school, I went with lots of Mexicans and lots of Japanese. There were lots of them around. I played ball with them, played baseball, everything. When I'd go out with a gang of fellows--the Mexicans and Japanese on the football team--we'd go to shows together. There were no mixed dates--the Japanese went with Japanese girls and the Mexicans went with Mexican girls.
D: Did Richard Nixon have any relationships or friendships with  the Mexicans or Japanese that you know of?
W: Well, I would think he would have, although you didn't have them on this same level as they try to push nowadays. They were each in their own field. There were many Mexicans down around the Leffingwell Ranch around that store, that came into the store. Dick talked to them, but you know, you weren't pals with them--you didn't try to say we were blood brothers.
D: During World War II, they put the Japanese in concentration camps here in California. Did Nixon ever say anything about how he felt [about that]?
W: I have no idea.
D: Because I know of many people, who lived here at the time, who were terribly upset about it here in the community.
W: Yes. It was a horrible thing to do, but yet I don't think I felt too upset at the fact. I mean, I was ready to get me a Jap about that time after I heard about Pearl Harbor. I was at the age, I was ready to go in. I sold my business in Anaheim, I was supposed to go into the service, I never got in. I was ready and willing and I wanted to get a crack at them It was upsetting, really. No, I didn't feel that way about the ones I knew around here. As I remember, I wasn't shook up real badly about [sending them to camps] I figured, too, boy we'd better. The ones I knew I wasn't worried about.
D: Was that a part of the Quaker pacifist tradition?
W: I'm not a good Quaker. I want that understood, no I'm not
D: So then you and Dick had that connection. Dick did enter the service. You both wanted to enter the war then.
W: I was ready to go, although I later decided that they would have to draft me, but I did sell my business, my house and the whole bit. Then I got to talking to people who had been in the service and said, "Don't go until you're drafted, you'd be a fool, stay out as long as you can." I had children at the time so it was this pre-Pearl Harbor children thing you don't know about, but this was the issue. If you had children before Pearl Harbor, you weren't as likely to go. I did have children that were just pre-Pearl Harbor.
D: During the Depression, were there many W.P.A. or federal work projects in Whittier?
W: I wasn't in Whittier, I was in Anaheim. 
D: Oh, I see, yes.
W: They were everywhere, but I don't know . . .
D: Did you see them in Anaheim?
W: Oh, sure, they were all-around, you bet. That was a pretty good thing. They did a lot of things. I remember there was a C.C.C. camp--the Civil Conservation Corps--where young fellows could go and get jobs. Rather than be an eighteen year old and out of work, you could go and do forestry work and build firebreaks and live in the C.C.C. camps, they were called. There was one up above Redlands. I remember up there, there was a big C.C.C. camp. They had these in various places, so they had these going on.
D: The reason I ask, I remember reading Theodore White's book on Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson came from a poor section of Texas. The federal government really seemed to make a rescue of Texas during the Depression. But, apparently in California, in your experience, things weren't that bad so the government didn't make much of an impression.
W: Was there a dustbowl during the Depression, too? You've seen pictures of that. You have an idea that those people's situation if they depended on farming down there in this dustbowl situation that hit in the Panhandle. This was really wild. Of course, we did have people pour in here of all types, Okies and others.
D: How did you react to them?
W: It doesn't bother me that much. I hired some of them. If they wanted to help you, why let them help you. They'd help you for about thirty-five cents an hour.
D: Did you feel like you were exploiting them?
W: No, I felt like they were going to exploit me. It was hard to make those thirty-five cents in those days. I wanted a good hour's work out of them for it and they were willing. Most of them were nice. I certainly was friendly and took them into my home, and so forth. I met some real nice ones. In fact, I was thinking about going back there and buying a farm. It sounded like a good life to me. I'd hear them talk about how their rocky little forty acres down there and how they fished and hunted and didn't have to work to hard.
D: Is your orientation, then, toward the outdoors?
W: I would say it is. When I didn't get taken into the service I bought a dozen acres of avocados and tried to do a little  ranching. I found it was a mighty lonely existence out there after being in business and working with people. I wanted to get back in where I was around people.
D: So your orientation is to small business?
D: Do you feel today you're being squeezed out by either large government or union? How do you feel about this?
W: Well, yes, I'm getting squeezed, believe me, taxes are horrible. Taxes are getting so bad--property taxes, all kinds of taxes--and I'm not unionized. I would hope I never am union. I really have a deathly fear of unions. I think they're probably going bankrupt in the country someday, I really do. They keep getting more and more and more and more and working less and less and less. Boy, what's money going to be worth one of these days? You're going to have to take a wheelbarrow of it to get a loaf of bread if it keeps on. It's going that way all the time. Your unions don't seem to stop. They're going to kill the goose that laid the golden egg if they keep on. They want everything. They don't really care about the employer, about whether he's going to make out or not with their demands. I know a man in a similar business as mine up in San Francisco and he's about dead from the unions up there. But to hire a driver for a truck who has to go out and go into homes and talk to women about prices for cleaning rugs and cleaning upholstery--we sell carpet, too-- he has to hire out of a union hall. They may send out a big burley so-and-so down there that says "youse" and "dem" and "dese," and that's the kind of man he's suppose to take and send out to go out and give prices on rug cleaning and pick up rugs and go into homes? The prices he pays them and, you know, all their dental work and their whole family's dental work. And you know what dentists charge nowadays and doctors? They've got so darn many things. So my advice to you is never own a business of your own, but be a plumber or an electrician and get in the union and go.
D: You described this early childhood of yours--it sounds very nice. How would you compare that with today? What values or things would you like to see retained or do you feel that we've lost from the earlier period?
W: Well, I was in a small community. Of course, you might be able to get back to it if you're in a small community, but I've moved from Russell Street, where I built a house, and I've gone to La Habra Heights. I bought three acres up there. I sold it because the taxes got too wild, but I've tried to retain a little bit of the country. I've got sheep up  there and cattle, dogs and cats and so forth around up there. But my son is growing up now, my sixteen year old--lordy, he's a problem, now I've got to worry about that boy. He's been gone for two days showing sheep at Great Western. But the kids do what they want to do. They take their sleeping bags and spend the night there because they've got to be there early in the morning to take care of the sheep, so they say. So, I'm not sure, maybe I'm an evil old man--I don't know.
D: Well, I was wondering that in terms of morality or law and order or any of these traits, what values do you see slipping that we should try to hold onto?
W: I can't answer that, because I wasn't a very moral person myself, maybe.
D: Are there things about America, other than unions, that particularly concern you?
W: Well, yes, these boys with long hair. Of course, that's not my age now. I can look at these fellows here and this can perturb me a little. I have one fellow working for me with hair that comes down to his shoulders. You know, I can't send him out into a person's house on a job where we are cleaning carpet in the house. There is likely to be a complaint, not because he doesn't do a darn good job, but because older people just have a thing about long hair. They relate it to the hippy group or something. So we have more problems with this type. And I had one in today that wanted a job. I said that we go into homes and such and would you want to trim your hair up a little so it wouldn't come clear over your shoulders. He said not if he could find a job where he could work in the back. If he can't he said he'd like to come back and talk to me and he'd get a haircut then. He said, "I know the problem. I've faced this right along trying to get jobs." But I think morals are certainly more relaxed--I was shocked the other night. I hadn't been to a drive-in theater for a while. I was shocked at all these panel trucks sitting way in the back. I didn't go around with a flashlight or anything. (laughter)
D: Would you say that you are basically as happy with America today as say it was in the 1930's or 1940's?
W: No. There was not the pressures that are so horrible in my business--it's a pressure business. I live in a pressure cooker all the time. Every rug cleaner that gets tired of the East comes out here to Southern California and thinks this is it, boy, and I'll get me a scrubber and away I go. But that's my little business. It is pressure. I work hard, long. I start to work before eight o'clock. It's a rare  thing if I get away before six or six-thirty in the evening. I go lickety-split all day long. It is a pressure cooker, I think. I think most business men you talk to will tell you the same thing.
D: President Nixon worked that hard or harder when he was that young, didn't he?
W: No, there wasn't quite so much pressure back in those days.
D: Longer hours, but not so much pressure.
W: Dick worked hard; he put in many hours. I don't know as he had to go into town everyday. We lived a long ways away from the Nixons. I certainly am not the one to answer your question. Can I tell you a cute story I heard? I flew up to San Francisco Saturday. The pilot or the copilot, and I heard one of these once before in a plane which should have been a night club somewhere--but he told about this electrician who, for his kicks, hauled things down to the Indian Reservation. Social or clubs and the lodges would gather food and clothes to take down to the Indians. So he hauled the stuff on a Saturday. He got down there, and the government had run a wire in--a power line. They had just wired this big meeting place, where all the tribe met there on this reservation. So they brought the things in there and unloaded them. It was quite a celebration, new lights, and all this food brought down and clothes. But when he went to go to one of the outhouses, he could hardly find his way. Being an electrician he felt so badly about this, so the next morning, having some wire on his truck, he wired these outhouses and put lights in them. He well may be the first man to have wired a head for a reservation. (laughter)
D: (laughter) Thank you, Mr. West, for a very informative and interesting interview.
END OF INTERVIEW 
Top of page