All of this had a pronounced effect on his career. Some in the church hierarchy did not look kindly on a middle-aged minister who had a family but no wife, a minister without other means of support, a minister with lockjaw. Soon Theodore Mondale began sliding down the scale of pastorates until he was back in the tiny towns in southern Minnesota where population was numbered in the hundreds. The low hundreds.
His first priority was the family. It needed a mother. He remembered a blue-eyed girl he'd met once up in Jeffers, a Scottish-descent girl who'd saved her money and gone to college - at the age of 28 - to study music. He began writing to her at a small central Indiana college where she was teaching music. Soon she came home to see him. And to marry him. He was almost 50, and scrabbling for a living. She was 32 and thrilled. "She was single and she thought she'd be single all her life," says Clarence Mondale. "And that was a terrible fate for a woman in those days."
The marriage took place in 1925, Claribel Cowan Mondale inherited half of a ready-made family. Theodore's two oldest boys were grown and gone. The adopted daughter, Eleanor - Fritz' only daughter is named after her - was still with the family, and so was Buford, the youngest boy of the first tier of family. Then came Clarence, now 50, and Walter, and Morton, now 42, the head of an educational association in the Upper Midwest.
The changes in the various dimensions of Fritz Mondale are reflected in the years of his youth. "He was a clear thinker. He was an organizer," says Clarence. "He was always getting his playmates organized into marches or phalanxes or something." He was also a prankster. "Hallowe'en was always a big night for Fritz." (One of his favorite pranks: to blow the cover of the local bootlegger by hanging out a sign on Main Street that read "Bootlegger this way.")
He responded only partially to his mother's interest in music. He was a successfuly vocalist - he won an "A" at a state music contest - but he hated learning the cello. He took, he says, direct action: he kicked out the back of the cello. Clarence doesn't remember that. "My mother would have been scandalized; that would have been an outrageous act in our family," he says wonderingly.
Fritz Mondale's passport to acceptance was athletic. He needed it. He was born in Ceylon (pop. 7,487), then moved to Heron Lake (pop. 777), and then moved to Elmore (pop. 910). In Elmore, he was one of the top men on the football team. (He was called "Crazy Legs," after Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsh, a dramatic running back on the 1942 University of Wisconsin team.) He was also on the track team and that had its own significance: he pulled up and quit his last race - a 220-yard dash - when he was far back in the field; some would remember when he would pull up and quit in a longer, harder race, for the Democratic presidential nomination, some 30 years later.
All these years, the Mondales were at the low end of the economic scale but didn't know it. "We lived in houses most people wouldn't consider habitable." Morton Mondale has said, "but I never considered myself poor." Clarence can remember when his father was earning $5 a day - $1,500 a year. That was supplemented by the money his mother got for giving music lessons and from what the boys got from working. Fritz became a pea-lice picker at the Green Giant canning plant in Blue Earth, north of Elmore, where he inspected each pea that came through for infestation.
It didn't bring much money into the house. "Dad had to go around and ask parishioners for money," says Lester of the lean years, "and this was very humiliating for him." To this day, Fritz has said, "I am uncomfortable asking people for money" - which is the message of survival for a politician.
His father grew up when and where it was reflexive to vote Republican. "His first vote was for McKinley," said Clarence. But one disaster after another - disasters of a kind shared by his neighbors, disasters in which society and government had no interest - began to turn him around. "I believe his thinking became radicalized. He was always a thoughtful man," said Clarence. "He'd never gone past eight grade but he read widely and randomly and he found answers in the "Nation-New Republic kind of liberalism." His electoral dilemma came in 1932 when the issue was not simply right-left but also wet-dry. "Roosevelt was 'wet' and my father was 'dry' all his life," said Clarence. So? "My mother and father were the only people in town who voted for Norman Thomas."
Over dinner the conversation was of the tragedies that could be dealt through life. "We had a vague idea that between the Divine Plan and liberal politics, we might see an amelioration of the human condition," said Clarence Mondale. "'Politics could help' - he was excited about furthering that."
Walter Mondale himself remembers it this way: "My father . . . strongly adhered to what is called the 'social Gospel.' The notion that there are things that impose a social responsibility on us, to be concerned about the problems of others, to help them in any way we can. And I had that drilled into me from my first days."
The elder Mondale furthered it by direct action - by talking with politicians and by exposing his children to politics on the national level. About 1938-1939, he got a flat-bed four-wheel chassis and built a living enclosure on it. "I don't know how he did it," said Lester. "He was not a great man with his hands." But he got the dresser out of the bedroom and the oil stove out of the kitchen and he loaded them on the "trailer" and headed east.
When he got to Washington, he called on Senator Henry Shipstead of Minnesota to talk over some of his ideas. "We were roaming through here barefoot," recalls Walter Mondale, indicating the high, ill-lit corridors "and they must have thought we were starving because old Henry Shipstead took us down to the dining room and bought us all the spaghetti we could eat." Fritz sat down with his feet tucked up under the tablecloth so that nobody could see his feet. Not that he didn't own shoes - "really sandals that I guess we figured should last for three years," he says.
And while they ate, Theodore Mondale talked politics: "My father badgered him all through lunch about what he was doing to the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party."
Back home, Fritz formed his first political organization in high school: the Republicrats. He went to Macalester College in St. Paul and got elected president of the freshman class. And he met up with the feisty, articulate, then 37-year-old Mayor of Minneapolis, Hubert Humphrey. He got into Humphrey's 1948 campaign for the Senate. He was 20 years old and, in their wisdom, the Humphrey people assigned the kid to the most hopelessly Republican area in the state - the second congressional district - figuring he could do no harm there. But part of this district was home to Mondale: Elmore and Ceylon and Heron Lake and Blue Earth. He carried the district for Humphrey by 8,500 votes. And Humphrey never forgot him.
This was, in fact, a time of transition in the influence on Fritz Mondale. It passed from his father to Hubert Humphrey, for his father died in 1948. The principles of Fritz Mondale's life were fixed, from what his father taught him; the opportunity rested with Hubert Humphrey. When Mondale ran out of money to continue at Macalester (he needed $40 more for tuition), Humphrey - who'd just helped organize the Americans for Democratic Action - offered him a chance to head the student arm of the ADA in Washington.
For 12 years, from 1948 to 1960, Fritz Mondale devoted himself to Hubert Humphrey's career as much as his own. For his part, he got educated (his law degree from the University of Minnesota), got married, got his service commitment out of the way (two years in the Army, mostly as a corporal) and got into private law practice. But he was so deeply involved with Humphrey that, when he fell in love and asked Joan Adams to marry him - in a whirlwind 53-day courtship - he could see her only once a week in those seven and a half weeks because he was helping Humphrey get reelected in the other six days a week.
The manner in which Mondale rose in public office is a clue to his personality. He was appointed state attorney general in May, 1960; he was appointed to the Senate in December, 1964; he was Carter's choice for the vice presidential nomination in July 1976. To be sure, he had to run for re-election in the first two posts, but he didn't have to fight an incumbent to get the job in the first place. It's been said that "Fritz Mondale would make a wonderful President if he could only get appointed to the job."
The next few years will see a test of the whole style, tone, and amplitude of Walter Mondale. On the one hand, he has a gift for the inconspicuous which is well-designed for the Vice Presidency: he spent twelve years in the United States Senate, becoming one of its most knowledgeable and thoughtful members, and emerged without a single major piece of legislation bearing his name. On the other hand, the particular situation in the Carter White House possesses the potential for a kind of conflict that may be hard to conceal.
The rapport between Carter and Mondale is one of the dazzling features of the search for Walter Mondale. It may be because they are both products of born-again experiences: Carter's in the peanut fields of Georgia, Mondale's through his father's mystical experience in the cornfields of Minnesota. It may also be because Mondale sees in Carter something that he wishes he could see in himself. "There is no problem with the Southerner saying what he feels abaout you," says one of Mondale's very close friends. "He kind of told me that he liked that. He kind of told me that he wished he could do it. And he can't."
His friends are a trifle upset when it is suggested that Walter "Fritz" Mondale is not a fully-dimensioned public figure. For they see him as a man of many dimensions - though they discuss him in single-dimensional terms: "gifted . . . decent . . . reflective . . . substantive . . . compassionate . . . possessed of a quiet greatness . . . a complete integrity . . . " - "probably brighter than any Democratic candidate since Adlai Stevenson" (Roger Morris, a former legislative aide), "after Bob Kennedy died, he became the nearest in the Senate to what Bobby Kennedy stood for" (Marian Wright Edelman, a public interest lawyer who has worked closely with Mondale on many issues).
Seekers after the "real" Walter Mondale see his lack of muscularity on some occasions as being - in the words of Morris, "the disease of the cynic." This theory suggests a cycle in Mondale of "enthusiasm, devotion and eventual indifference" to specific bills.
But Walter Mondale has spent his life working within the system and it has rewarded him. He stands now in the shadows of great power. He may one day emerge from the shadows. And in emerging, he may come to display the full dimensions of the man who has, for so long, remained triumphantly little-known.