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22 November 2013

November 22, 1963 -- The End of Camelot

Where were you fifty years ago today-- November 22, 1963?

I'm not going to write a lengthy post filled with biography and history. For that you can read many books on John Fitzgerald Kennedy, his life, his career in politics, and his brief term as President of the United States, cut short by an assassin's bullets.

I would rather that this post be a memoriam. A place to share my recollections of that day and invite you to share yours, without snark or political bias. It was a hopeful time then, the early 1960s, the dawn of new eras: the Space Age, progress in civil rights (which would begin during the presidential term of JFK's VP, Lyndon Baines Johnson). It was a time when Americans were called to action, to service, both at home and abroad. For years now, I've wondered what happened to the ethos "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."

My family answered the call in their own way. My father was active with the Anti-Defamation League, fighting the rampant institutional anti-Semitism that was a holdover of the McCarthy era. My mother was active with the League of Women Voters.

It was an age of youth and glamour. And I was a child born into a family of Kennedy Democracts who campaigned for Jack in New York State. The first song I ever learned was the Frank Sinatra version of "High Hopes" on a 45 (I can't remember what was on the B-side of the little vinyl record), which served as JFK's campaign song. I used to dance around our living room in the Bronx, singing along with  Ol' Blue Eyes, "C'mon and vote for Kennedy, vote for Kennedy, and he'll come out on top! Oops, there goes the opposition, ker-oops there goes the opposition, ker-oops there goes the opposition, ker-plop!"

I should mention I was pre-school age at the time. And JFK was my hero. Even then I thought he was impossibly handsome and dashing. I always did like older men. I used to schlep a newspaper clipping of him around with me.

I recall my mother, slender and dark-haired, dressing to emulate the First Lady, if not consciously so. I remember pointy-toed pumps and purses that matched them and pillbox hats. Men and women wanted to look chic and sophisticated.

And then, on an autumnal day in Dallas, the hope and promise of a nation was shattered by gunshots and a leader in the prime of life was taken from us before his dreams for us were fulfilled. As shocked as the rest of us, my mother, about to give birth any day, went into early labor. It might not have happened that way, but I was just a toddler and that's how I remember it. I don't recall whether I heard the horrible news of my hero's death on the news or whehter my parents broke it to me gently. But I became hysterical and crawled under my bed, bawling as if I'd personally known the president. My parents brought me down to my maternal grandparents' apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, where I remained until after my mother was delivered of girl on November 26. My sister wasn't given a middle name, but my parents gave her a middle initial: K--for Kennedy. Ironically, my sister is the only member of the family who is apolitical.

So--where were you on November 22, 1963? And how do you remember it?

6 Comments:

Blogger Isobel Carr said...

Alas, I have no Kennedy memories. I wasn't born yet. My first political memories are of having an argument on the playground about Ford/Reagan (even as Californians, we were not Reagan supporters).

10:40 AM  
Blogger SidneyKay said...

I was in study hall when an announcement was made that the President had been shot. At first I thought they meant the president of the student council, then it sunk in. We were sent home early that day. I remember bits and pieces of that weekend. Mainly I remember watching everything on television with my family. I remember the drums in the funeral procession. And, I remember the quiet sadness.

1:38 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

Like Isobel I wasn't born yet - my first political memory is the Nixon/McGovern election. But I remember asking both my parents where they were on this day 50 years ago (my dad was in a meeting, my mom in a coffee bar near the Ferry Building near where she worked). They were married on December 7, 1963, so they were engaged and planning their wedding at the time of assassination. As I child, when time seemed to stretch longer, I never thought how close their wedding actually was to the assassination.

3:58 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

SydneyKay, there's a marvelous line from Jack Heifner's comedy VANITIES, a show I've performed twice (playing a different role each time). It's about the friendship of 3 women, beginning when they are high school seniors in TX on November 22, 1963 and follows them into the second act when they are in college together in 1968, and when they reconnect in NYC in 1972. When a voice comes over the loudspeaker in Act I and announces that the president has been shot, the girls, cheerleaders preparing for the big game, register the same shock you did: "The president of the student council has been shot??!"

5:47 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

I did the first act of Vanities in high school, Leslie! I so remember that line.

5:51 PM  
Blogger SidneyKay said...

Now you make me wonder if that was my memory or was it one I picked up along the way. I have a memory of Walter Cronkite taking off the glasses, but I know that's not possible because I was in school. Anyway, I was in the school auditorium in study hall when the announcement was made...and I'm pretty sure I had a question as to just what president they were talking about. Memory is a tricky thing.

1:04 PM  

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