Part 2: The Virginia Series: The Bob Dole Conversation
Bob Dole was in the news today, cracking jokes and showing emotion at the hanging of his portrait in the Capitol. I always liked him and I knew something long before the voters in his presidential run: He was funny. I actually kidded around with Bob Dole well before most Americans knew he had a sense of humor. I was in a hallway with him, and remembered to shake his left hand as the other was badly damaged from his war wounds. (That's why he always carries a pen in that hand.) I always tried to be funny around big-shots - for some reason I don't feel intimidated in the least, and am more likely to be shy around someone I've known for years. Anyway, I told him he looked a lot better than he did on C-Span surrounded by the rest of Congress, and that cracked him up. We had a fun conversation, and yes, it was weird knowing I had written some of the jokes about him on national TV - a fact I didn't mention. I also said to myself, "My God, why doesn't the guy show this side of his personality to the American Public?" Wasn't that weird how he assumed such a dour persona throughout most of his career, and then after it was over, he loosened up and became much more popular? It's a lesson to politicians and anyone in the public eye. He used to be lambasted on SNL for being grumpy and repetitive, and to an extent, it was accurate. I know he set an unbreakable record for the number of times he used the phrase, "In my view". But seeing him on the news today, brought back another memory from right after the talk I had with Bob Dole in the hallway. I was reminded of a conversation I had with my mother, Virginia, that said a lot about her as well as Bob Dole himself.
Now, you have to know that my Mom was the ultimate softie - she would literally apologize to a fly before swatting it. But she was a World War 2 Red Cross Recreation Worker so she was also the ultimate in emotional strength. Men don't have emotional strength like this. She could walk into a room and no matter how bad things were, you'd feel better. You'd feel stronger emotionally. So I asked her about Bob Dole and to my surprise she was not that impressed. She said, "I knew a lot of men who were hurt a lot worse, and handled it a lot better." Hurt a lot worse? First of all, do you know how long Bob Dole was in the hospital after he was wounded? 39 months. And Virginia knew a lot of men who were hurt more than that? It must have been horrific. But I was surprised when she said she had known a lot of soldiers who had handled it better. I said, "Mom, I mean the guy did go on to be a Senator. He did pretty well." But she was talking about his emotional recovery and she wasn't impressed. Now, you have to remember she was saying this out of total love. I mean these were the GIs of World War 2. Long before my brother and I came along, these were her boys. So I filed that comment away and every time I saw Bob Dole on TV it became clearer. There was an element of hurt there, that hadn't been addressed correctly. Now, it's not anyone's fault, and it certainly doesn't detract one bit from Bob Dole - a man we all should greatly admire. But I began to realize what she was talking about, especially when he would say things like he never looks at his body in the mirror. There are some bitter, painful issues there. I also realized something else. If only my Mom had been on his ward, he would have had a much better recovery emotionally. She would have sat there and talked to him, till he had worked it out. It would have been heavy doses of love, but also a lot of "You have got to shape up, young man." I've heard the voice. Bob Dole is an American hero but so was my Mom, and as well as Bob Dole did in life, he had yet to impress Virginia by getting over his wounds emotionally and moving on.