My mother got remarried in June of this year, to George Mikhalapov, a White Russian twenty years her senior. We spent that summer at his house in Maine, then moved to New Jersey, where each day I rode a yellow school bus home from the first grade. It was a presidential election year, Dwight D. Eisenhower and his vice president Richard Nixon running for a second term against Adlai Stevenson and Estes Kefauver. I remember an older boy (a second grader?) teaching me this ditty on the big yellow school bus:
Whistle while you work,
Stevenson’s a jerk.
Eisenhower’s got the power,
Whistle while you work.
That evening, I sang it for my mother and stepfather, who rolled their eyes and tried to explain something to me about politics. They both hated Eisenhower, and they both voted for Stevenson, but Eisenhower won, carrying all but seven states and winning over 450 electoral college votes.
The memory of that election and that song were still vivid in 1978, when I was working on my first color story, on fox hunting in Unionville, Pennsylvania. Nancy Hannum, née Harriman, was the money behind the hunt—she owned and paid for the pack of hounds and persuaded local landowners to let the dogs and horses run through their fields. She and her husband were lifelong Republicans, and these photos of Eisenhower and Nixon were on their front hall table.
It was also in New Jersey in 1956 that I took my first photographs, of my beloved Ukrainian nanny Roxanne. She was from the same city, Kiev, as my stepfather. I don’t know what the connection was between them or their families. My sister and I adored her; she lived with us from this summer and through my first, second, third, and fourth grade years, and she left at the beginning of my fifth grade year. I don’t remember the day she came, but I remember the day she left. I watched the car heading out the driveway with her inside, an incalculable loss to my ten-year-old self.