FDR’s eldest grandson nostalgically recounts his childhood growing up in close proximity to his charismatic grandparents.
The author’s mother Anna, FDR’s only daughter, was in the midst of a divorce in 1933 when she moved with three-year-old Curtis and his elder sister into the White House. The siblings instantly became darlings of the press as “Sistie and Buzzie.” Roosevelt captures the delight of living at the White House from the perspective of a child given access to presidential marches, receptions and afternoon teas. But it was also a lonely time: He had a hands-off upbringing ruled by strict routine and spent more time with his nannies than with his mother. He contrasts her approach with that of his great-grandmother, Sara Delano Roosevelt, whose “love was unreserved” during summer vacations at her 1,500-acre Hudson Valley estate. Like the rest of his family, the author was in awe of FDR, whose presence generated “a kind of electricity in the air” and who “was, and remains, my father image.” The drama intensified when eight-year-old Curtis was forced to leave the White House to follow his mother and stepfather to multiple residences in New York and Seattle. He pined for the importance and prestige he felt in the rarefied White House atmosphere, finding respite only when visiting for Christmas celebrations. The author cryptically links his growing apathy and lack of ambition as a teenager to his overbearingly famous family lineage, hypothesizing that he was “suffering from growing up in the orbits of my grandfather and grandmother.” The memoir reveals, however, that Anna, a peremptory and distant mother focused on her famous parents and her love life, was more directly responsible. She sought career opportunities for herself through FDR, eventually undercutting her own mother’s role as his confidant, but denied her son such opportunities as the family’s traditional private schooling. In fact, the author never got as close to FDR’s sun as his mother did, though he longed for it.
Bittersweet window into a privileged yet insecure upbringing.