Friday, November 22, 2013

Never The Same Again

Fifty years ago. That sounds like Abraham Lincoln, not John F. Kennedy.

The very look of that name in print calls up images of cool, clean '60s...Route 66, not Tobacco Road. Young now, not old, like presidents were before him. He had a beautiful wife in the time of Barbie. No more Mamie Eisenhower, with no chin; and Eleanor Roosevelt with...They were Excellent Women, but, Ladies, You were no Jackie Kennedy. The Kennedys were youth and beauty and elegance. They stoked the dreams of little Catholic girls like me.

Although I was only in third grade when JFK ran for president, the election was a big thing at our small Catholic school (at its peak, 800 kids, K-12). He was a Star and he was Ours. I remember calls of "Kennedy, Kennedy, he's our man! Nixon belongs in a garbage can!" from one side of the playground, and the Nixon supporters answered on the other side. They must have been the Rich Kids...

I had a scrapbook of clippings of The First Family, which was just the three of them then, with Perfect Caroline perched prettily on their laps, and her little pony. Yeah, I was a little jealous.

The short reign of Camelot was, through my little girl eyes, a succession of beautiful color photos in Life Magazine.  Of presidential balls, evening gowns, and tours of the White House on TV with Jackie showing us how pretty she had made it for us.

There was a day when I recall riding down the street in the car with my mother and a family friend. The street was noticeably quiet, with no other cars on the road or people outside. One of them commented that people were scared...Later I realized that was during The Cuban Crisis when everyone expected Russian missiles in their living rooms at any moment.

I was in Sister Theophila's sixth grade classroom that morning in 1963. Suddenly the intercom from the principal's office was on, static and sounds of tuning a radio ripping into the quiet. Somehow the words came together:  The President had been shot. Sister's hand flew to her mouth, and I, sitting in the back of the room, started bleeding from my nose.

I dashed from the room to the restroom across the hall, followed by a friend who had seen my dilemma. We still talk about this moment we share. Our little piece of history, only for us.

The days that followed were dark. I watched Jack Ruby kill Lee Harvey Oswald live on TV at a friend's house. I said, Good. But I was told, no, it's not good. Now we won't know what really happened. But nobody said, A young girl shouldn't say such things. Shouldn't feel such things. Shouldn't ever have to know about such things.

The funeral was the worst. Watching The Beautiful Jackie shrouded in heavy black veil. Any brief glimpses behind that curtain revealed such pain, you had to look away. Walking the funeral procession with Bobby, his brother and best friend, shrunken but protective beside her.

And the children. Caroline was perfect, but you knew she was old enough To Know. That hurt. But that little boy and his salute to his father's coffin as it rolled past...

I did have a moment of glory when a poem I wrote was considered good enough to parade me in front of the Older Grades to recite it. I only remember the beginning:

                         Three shots ring out into the air,
                         People in the streets are weeping,
                         And in Parkland Hospital,
                         Doctors their vigil are keeping.

I know. I was eleven. There was more...maybe I'll find it somewhere..

Life really was never the same afterwards. The shift from "America's Royal Family" to Beverly Hillbillies was cruelly sudden. LBJ was not pretty, and Lady Bird was another Excellent Woman.
He conducted business with the toilet door open, not yachting at Hyannisport.

Then came the riots. The assassinations. We were numb. At my Junior Class Picnic, we got word that Bobby Kennedy was dead. Another brick in the wall.

Skip forward to the 25th anniversary of the assassination. I watched an entire day of coverage as it happened on November 22, 1963. The ancient equipment, black and white film, crewcuts and all. I cried the entire day. I sat by myself in front of the TV and watched the whole day unfold just as if I were there again, and I cried non-stop.

I still idolize JFK and Jackie. I know that time has revealed human frailties in both of them. But on my daughter's much-anticipated Golden Birthday, she was upstaged by 9/11, which happened on her 11th birthday. I wondered in my daze, should we have the birthday party? I thought, WHAT WOULD JACKIE DO? You may recall little John had a birthday just a couple of days after his father's murder, and Jackie went ahead with the celebration to keep some normalcy for the children. Party went on as planned.

And he was so young and handsome. Sigh.

But I've steered away from the media coverage for the 50th anniversary. Too much. Still too sad. And 50 EFFING YEARS AGO.

Who needs to be reminded of that?