Forgive me if I go “Ancient Mariner” on you, but I am a boomer, and as a product of my generation, I am compelled to tell you where I was on November 22, 1963.
I was 5, and after a morning of kindergarten (While I was very good at nap, I wonder if Mrs. Goldstein was effectively modeling individualized instruction and/or the development of 21st century skills?), I was in the living room with my mom, watching Bob Barker’s “Truth or Consequences.”
Years later I can only wonder if there was a correlation between spending so much time with Bob Barker and my future SAT scores?
When the news flashed (Was it Walter Cronkite or, like so much else, is that memory something that has been implanted and embellished through the years?), my mom gave me a directive: “Go down and tell Mrs. Bradley that the president’s been shot.” Mrs. Bradley was the other Irish immigrant on our block. (Did ethnicity seem to matter so much more in the early 60’s?)
I still remember knocking on Mrs. Bradley’s door, waiting for her to answer. I can remember the feeling, a feeling of almost pride, an awareness that I knew something important, something that Mrs. Bradley couldn’t possibly imagine, and that I was soon to be a revealer of significance.
The rest of the day was a blur of black and white television, a day of parents and grandparents, and Mrs. Bradley, all huddled together in our narrow row house living room. There was such sadness in that room, in part because we believed that JFK was one of us. It was as if someone from our neighbourhood, our tribe, our block, had suddenly been cut down. It was all so profoundly unfair.
Years later, after I’d had a chance to see Hyannis and Choate and Harvard, it would eventually occur to me that, while the Kennedy’s and we may have been from the same tribe, we were surely not from the same neighbourhood! And, as it turns out, even Bob Barker, a man blessed with the second best name in game show history (Who could ever top the great “Wink Martindale”?) wasn’t who he seemed to be either. Despite his Vitamin D enriched, whole grain goodness persona, Bob was, as they might have said in the 60’s, “something of a ladies’ man.”
Fifty years is a sobering chunk of time, and I marvel at how, despite massive social, economic, and political changes, some things have actually stayed the same – especially in my mom’s living room. Despite all that has been revealed about the recklessness of the Kennedy’s, my mom remains a believer. Somewhere in our house, there is still, I’m sure, that old painting of JFK’s sowing olive seeds with the Pope.
When I recently confessed that I am reading “The Patriarch,” a decidedly balanced biography of Joseph Kennedy, JFK’s dad, my mom’s automatic reply was, “Well, they can write anything they want about him, now that he’s dead.”
It’s clear that some dreams never die. Some torches never get passed. Even after half a century.