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2 Family Tales by the Eisenhowers : David Writes Ike's Story; Julie Details Her Mother's Life

September 14, 1986|ELIZABETH MEHREN | Times Staff Writer

DAYLESFORD, Pa. — The description dogs him, a kind of family brand. It's a label that sticks, follows him everywhere, like "tall," "blue-eyed," "jug-eared" or (increasingly, these days) "thin-haired."

"Ike's grandson," Publishers Weekly called him right up front, in the first two words of the first major review of "Eisenhower at War 1943-1945." Wrote his publisher, Random House, in the about-the-author blurb at the end of the 977-page book: "David Eisenhower is the grandson of Dwight Eisenhower and a son-in-law of former President Richard Nixon."

At 38, author, law school graduate, University of Pennsylvania lecturer and father-of-three David Eisenhower is arguably getting a little old to spend his life being described as somebody's grandson or son-in-law. On the other hand, he said, "I don't mind that. . . . I'll say this: Were I not this man's grandson, I don't know whether I could have mustered the energy and concentration to carry this book off."

'Really a History'

Added his wife, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, "You know, Dave's book is really a history. It's a political history, the war from a political standpoint. It goes so far afield from biography."

At this point in their publishing careers, biography seems to be more Julie's turf. Her book, "Pat Nixon: The Untold Story," is due out from Simon & Schuster on Nov. 10.

Clearly, hers is also a family story. With both Eisenhowers out with books, published within months of each other, it is as if after scanning the literary skies, they landed right at home, right in their own famous-family backyards.

It makes sense, Julie contends. "You have experiences and remembrances and perceptions and insights that no one else does just because you are a member of the family. And if you want to write, certainly at some point in your life, if you are a writer, you want to do something with what you really have as your strongest perceptions, and the most to offer.

"I wanted to write about my mother's life," she said, "because it covers a 30-year span in the public eye. I majored in history at Smith. I'm fascinated with history. I wanted to tell an incredible story." Now Julie sounded intense, almost fierce, reminiscent in her clear-voiced, clear-headed way of the daughter who was President Nixon's most fervent defender in the last, dark days of Watergate. The Pat Nixon story did not fall to her, she said: "It's what I chose to do. I really wanted to tell it.

Travels of Pat Nixon

"I mean this is the woman . . . you know, the (Alger) Hiss case, the '52 election, the stoning in Caracas, the campaign. She's the most widely traveled First Lady in history: 75 nations. She's led an incredible life and I wanted to tell that story."

With their lives entwined since childhood, traces of that story abound in the adult lives of Julie and David. A "Mamie Eisenhower Avenue" street sign, which was "liberated" by one of David's Navy pals, sits above a window in his study, not far from an old chair of former President Nixon's. Former First Lady Mamie Eisenhower's favorite painting, "The Garden at Versailles" ("painted in 1951 by David's grandfather," Julie said), hangs in the living room of their rambling brick house, as does an oil painting, which once graced the Nixon White House, of the golden California hills. Because his wife considers it one of his grandfather's lesser works, a portrait of a gangly young David shooting baskets has been banished to the new author's study. Another work by former President Eisenhower, a portrait of wife Mamie, earns higher marks and hangs in the dining room.

"We think she looks a lot like Mamie," Julie remarked as youngest child Melanie, 2, bounced playfully from parent to parent, skipping about on the big Oriental-type rug Pat Nixon bought when her husband was vice president.

'Cookie Rug'

"My mother called it her cookie rug," Julie said, "because Tricia and I brought our friends in and ground cookies into it. It's wonderful! It doesn't show anything. You literally vacuum it once a week."

A 1950s-vintage American knockoff of a Persian-style carpet is flowered, like so much of the furniture and extensive knickknacks in the Eisenhowers' living room. There are beaded flowers in a vase on the window sill, flowers on the ceramic lamps atop the end tables, ceramic flowers in another arrangement on a bookshelf. The two-piece sectional couch is flowered. The teapot is flowered. Little clusters of fresh-from-the-garden flowers sit on nearly every available surface, and a basket of blooming fuchsias hangs above the kitchen table. The above-the-mantle oil painting is a giant burst of flowers, and between the living and dining rooms are sketches of irises, watercolors of primroses . . . flowers, flowers, flowers.

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