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But childhood is something that cannot be fit into the election cycle. The Vice President gets angry and defensive over many accounts of his upbringing, the ones that cast him as the hotel-dwelling, private-school prince. That's partly because the hotel where his family lived in Washington was not the posh place it is today; the reason the Gores rented a two-bedroom apartment there was that the relative who owned it gave them a break on the rent. His parents sublet the place every summer, when they set off for Carthage, just to get the income. He shared a room with his sister Nancy and wore a cousin's hand-me-downs. The family farm in Carthage where he spent his summers and made his closest friends was at least as important an influence as his Washington prep school. It's where he had fun, skinny-dipping, playing pickup football games, trying to hypnotize chickens, sneaking out into the woods at night.
In the Washington hotel where he spent nine months a year, says Gore, "I felt like I was on temporary assignment." Young Al never wore the neatly pressed St. Albans school T shirts his mother packed in his suitcase when he headed back to Carthage. It was a life he never talked about during his blissful summers in Tennessee. So separate were his two worlds that when John F. Kennedy was assassinated, the kids in Carthage were amazed to see the televised image of 15-year-old Al filing past the casket in the Capitol Rotunda with the VIPs. His parents, still shaking off the dust of Possum Hollow and Cold Corner, rode the social circuit in Georgetown and on Embassy Row but seldom made it to nearby St. Albans to see the captain of the team play football.
If he had any resentments, he kept them to himself. "He never wanted to be the person to make an unhappy noise," his mother once said. "Al was an easy child, very sensitive to our feelings. He wanted to do what we wanted him to do." Al later wrote, "I grew up in a determinedly political family, in which I learned at an early age to be very sensitive--too sensitive, perhaps--to what others were thinking." He was an amenable child, but not really a child at all. Pauline and Albert Sr. were formal people, not the hugging kind. Pauline's supper table was a policy forum. "I selected guests for us," she once said. "If it so happened there was a great guest who was a good conversationalist and the issue was proper for me and my son, then I would see if I could wedge Al in." When she read Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, the book about the invisible danger of DDT became the "dominant topic" at dinner for weeks, Al says, and Pauline insisted her son--then 12 or 13--read it as well. "Those conversations made an impression," Gore later wrote in his own environmental manifesto, Earth in the Balance. But in the same book, he used dysfunctional families as a metaphor for dysfunctional civilization and wrote how a child of such a family "doubts his worth and authenticity" and "begins smothering spontaneity, masking emotion, diverting creativity into robotic routine, and distracting an awareness of all he is missing with an unconvincing replica of what he might have been."