Two of my sisters and I were born in Annapolis immediately after World War II. My father, stationed at the Naval Academy, defended Naval personnel on trial for war-time petty thefts and black market racketeering. At night he drove the hour-long commute back and forth to Georgetown Law School in Washington to complete his final year. Upon entering the District of Columbia Bar, he moved us to a Georgetown townhouse and began his civilian law career. Powerful union boss John L. Lewis hired him as general counsel to the United Mineworkers. They held the same liberal political views but Lewis, a devout Mormon, and my father, a binge-drinker already in the first stage of alcoholism, had battling temperaments. Lewis suspended his zero-alcohol intolerance long enough for my father to write and implement the landmark UMWA 1950 Pension Plan, the first retirement benefits ever negotiated for American labor.
The backyard of our Georgetown townhouse abutted the garden of a young senator from Massachusetts, John F. Kennedy. After my father’s few successful years, we moved to a five-bedroom brick colonial at the corner of Fox Hall Road and Edmunds Street in Northwest Washington. Both of my parents had friends and relatives living, working and matriculating in the District. They all found an open door at our house. I never knew who would be joining my sisters and me at the breakfast table or who’d be passed out on the living room couch from all-night parties. No one ever cared where their cigarette ashes landed or bothered to clean up their spilled drinks.
One of my parents’ friends lived in the attic. I know he came out at night because all the adults told morning-after stories and he was a prominent source of laughs. I finally came upon him once in the kitchen. He was guzzling a bottle of orange juice standing in front of the open ice box wearing a buttoned up wrinkled trench coat and loafers, no socks, bare legs.
“Hi, I’m Ted,” he said.
“Hi. I’m Regan. It’s from Shakespeare.”
My mother taught me to tell everyone that so she wouldn’t have to answer how I got my name.
“Well, what’s your favorite thing to do, Regan?”
“I like monkeys,” I said.
“Want to go to the zoo?”
“Ok, get your sisters and get in the car.”
Ted had no car. He meant my mother’s car. The keys were always in the ignition.
We drove down Fox Hall Road toward the Washington National Zoo and crashed into a telephone pole. No one was hurt. My father represented Ted in court and got the charges dismissed but Ted had to pay for the telephone pole.
“Your honor, I have no funds and no income. I live off the bounty of my friends,” he proclaimed.
Ted would have gone to jail had my father not forked over the cash. My parents howled over this incident for all the rest of their days. All their friends loved re-telling the story.
There was never mention of the danger his drunken driving posed to the three little girls in the back seat.