Oh Pat, oh Thelma Ryan (Pat) Nixon, do you feel the love, the waves upon waves of love from this, your only fan club in the whole United States?
Because they do love you.
Never mind that there would have been more of them had Barry Goldwater held his tongue on "60 Minutes" last Sunday night.
"Oh," mourned Silvana Jelesnianska, president and founder of the Pat Nixon Republican Women's Club, "why couldn't he have just said it was all passe, oh, why did he attack him so mercilessly . . . why did he do that?"
"That" was Sen. Barry Goldwater's remark on "60 Minutes" suggesting that how Richard Nixon hurt the country could not be forgiven.
Silvana Jelesnianska ("Call me Silvana," she instructs everyone, fortunately) sighed again. "Why we'd have had 90 people . . . at least 22 canceled after Sunday night . . ."
It was not the first crisis the Pat Nixon Republican Women's Club has weathered.
The fact that it made it to last night's sixth celebration of the birthday (Monday, actually) of Mrs. Richard M. Nixon, former first lady, is nothing short of a miracle. And the miracle is Silvana Jelesnianska herself, a chic brunette bolt of Italian lightning who adores Pat Nixon with unbounded Mediterranean passion. "We all need to look up to someone," she said. "She is a lady I can look up to."
It was not so long ago that there was a move to Change the Name. Silvana Jelesnianska shivers as she recalls it."They wanted to call it the Betty Ford Republican Women's Club.
"We were taking such abuse when we called people, all sorts of abuse, so I did all the calling. I believed. We loved the lady. It was so bad, so many people calling us to say 'drop dead,' that I'd pick up the phone and say 'the same to you' before anyone had a chance to speak."
Jelesnianska clasps and unclasps her delicate hands. "Oh I am getting emotional," she says, rather unnecessarily.
But it got worse. "The Republican Federation of Women's Clubs revoked the charter. They didn't even tell us." Now tears well up in the brown eyes.
"It was at a fund-raiser for Governor Dalton and he didn't read out the name, 'Pat Nixon Republican Women's Club.' When I asked why, a woman behind me said -- I'll never forget it -- 'Silvana, you're defunct!'"
"Defunct," she remembers repeating, "What is defunct?"
"Well, I was sick. My Italian temper was really getting up there. But this is love, and we go on . . ."
About 40 loyal Pat Nixon club members joined Jelesnianska last night at the Capitol Hill Club for the combination St. Patrick's Day/Pat Nixon birthday party. Mrs. Nixon will be 68. She herself has never attended one of the parties, but she has responded warmly over the years with notes and signed photographs. Jelesnianska and most of the members were White House volunteers during the Nixon years. And once, before the Nixons vacated, the club was invited to a tea in the Rose Garden.
Last night Pat Nixon was represented, in a way, by her former press secretary, Helen Smith, just returned from a stint as press officer at the U.S. Embassy in London and presently social secretary at the Saudi Arabian Embassy.
"I know she will be delighted to hear about this," Smith told the group.
Former Nebraska senator Carl Curtis, 75 years old (today) and still practicing law, was the evening's main speaker.He praised Pat Nixon for withstanding all the "criticism, disapproval and charges, and towering above the throng." But his main thrust was that Watergate (which were unmentioned all evening long) was blown out of proportion and that Nixon was wrongfully and cruelly victimized by the perfidy of the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation which gave out the impression that the president had been trying to cheat on his taxes -- in Curtis' opinion, the main thing that swung public opinion away from Nixon.
He also had a few things to say about:
The "stupid" fellows who broke into "McGovern headquarters."
The "boys who are writing books and becoming millionaires."
The "double standard" of American justice. "Where," he demanded, "will Abscam be in four years?"
The audience loved it.
In the background a guitar and an accordian played "Carolina Moon," "Tennessee Waltz" and, inevitably, "Wild Irish Rose."
There were, indeed, a high proportion of green dresses, and name tags were shamrocks.
Dessert was creme de menthe parfait.
And there did seem to be an unusually high proportion of birthdays. In addition to Mrs. Nixon's and Curtis', yesterday was the first birthday of Nixon grandson Christopher Cox, son of Tricia and Edward Cox.
And it appeared likely that either yesterday or today would be the birthday of Silvana and Chester Jelesnianska's first grandchild. As her husband arrived at the dinner, Silvana greeted him with, "Stefan [their son] called and he said, 'It's coming, It's coming, we're going to the hospital!'" (At 11 last night, Fairfax Hospital reported that "she's in labor and delivery," but that was all.) And when Silvana Jelesnianska realized that it was Chris Cox's birthday too, she said, her voice breaking, "Oh I don't know if I can stand it!"