Not deferential enough: It was 50 years ago today

Posted Sunday, November 17, 2013 in Opinion

Not deferential enough: It was 50 years ago today

by Gina Hamilton

This Friday, it will be 50 years since the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the first U.S. president in living memory to lose his life to an assassin's bullet.

I was two years old, and yet, infant that I was, I have some memories of the event, though they are tied up in childish self-absorption.

Being two, it was the first year I was likely to have any kind of excitement about Christmas.  My mother, who was pretty much still a kid herself, wanted a tree early.

And my father, who would have done anything for my mother, obligingly went out on November 15, or thereabouts, to fetch her a tree, which she duly decorated and was rewarded by my wonder and delight and a slight bit of fear about having an actual tree in the actual house.

However, the tree dried up and had to be replaced, which I suppose could have been predicted by either or both of my rather brilliant parents.  Maybe they knew it and didn't care. 

The tree unfortunately died on the same day that John Kennedy died, and my father and mother took the decorations off in tears as the news repeated the grim announcements, and my father took the tree out of the house before it caused a fire.

I cried too, but I was crying because I thought Christmas was over.  I assumed people cried when Christmas was over.  And in an odd way, I guess I thought Christmas was canceled because the president was dead.

I didn't have a clue that my parents were mourning the young president on whose campaign they'd worked, or that my mother had actually met him.

My mother, a political scientist, insisted I watch the funeral with her, three days later, on the black and white TV we had.  I was two.  She said I'd remember it forever.  I have.

She explained what was going on, who the young woman and the children were, why there was a horse-drawn wagon, who the old man walking in the procession was.  "That's Mr. Johnson.  He'll be the president now," she said. 

"Why did the other president die?" I kept asking.

"Someone killed him," my mother said.  "He was shot with a gun."

I had no idea what that meant, but it didn't sound good.  It still doesn't sound good. 

My parents waited a full week before they replaced the Christmas tree.  They assured me that Christmas was still coming, and that Santa would be here soon.

"Will the lady and the kids on the TV have Christmas?"

"Yes, but it will be a sad one," my mother said.  "Their husband and father is gone."

I tried to imagine my father being gone and not coming back, and failed.

"But when will he come back?"

"Oh, honey," my dad said.  "He can't come back.  He died."

"You won't die," I said confidently.

"Not for a long, long time," my dad assured me.

My parents must have had a discussion about how two-year-olds, no matter how bright they seem, can't understand mortality, because that was the last discussion we had about the issue until much later, when we debated the possibility of a second shooter on the grassy knoll.  By then, of course, I knew perfectly well that Kennedy was killed because of actions he took with regard to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

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