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Mom plus 10. JFK plus 50.
November 19, 2013 - Paul Giannamore
Today would have been my mom’s birthday. We haven’t been able to celebrate it since 2003. And, though most of the stages of grief have been gone through for me over the ensuing decade since we last sang “Happy Birthday” to her, this year it’s hitting me just a little bit.
Because Mom was a JFK’phile. I mean, she could be moved to tears on any Nov. 22 in my lifetime. She was upset that I didn’t remember watching any of the coverage of the events of those four dark days in history, from the assassination to the funeral. I was all of 14 months old.
But I do remember when I first discovered her stash of JFK stuff in the bookcase when I was about five or six. I remember the first time I looked through the incredibly high-quality “The Torch Has Passed,” the Associated Press hardbound coffee-table book (we didn’t call them that in the 1960s as far as I knew) with pictures of JFK’s presidency and a focus on the Dallas trip, the assassination and the aftermath.
I memorized the photos of the motorcade, LBJ being sworn-in, the ambulance picking up JFK’s coffin at the airport in Washington, John-John saluting, the riderless horse, the caisson.
I’m not sure at that age I fully understood, but there was an impact. And, upon closer inspection as I got older, I realized Mom had plenty more stashed in that bookcase. Another book of pictures of the assassination and the trip to Dallas. The Warren Commission report. “Profiles in Courage.” “PT-109.” And just about everything else ever written about JFK up until maybe the late 1970s. And, thus, so did I as I got older.
I don’t think she ever bought into the conspiracy theories per se, but she often said she suspected maybe LBJ. She never really seemed to like President Johnson.
She watched all the Kennedy movies. My father’s take always was, “Can’t they let that poor man rest?” End of discussion with him.
I remember watching the CBS special five years after the assassination. And the one 10 years later. And the one 25 years later, all with her.
And, though I am one who was alive on Nov. 22, 1963, I have no story to tell of where I was during that day when I got the news. I assume I was in a playpen or on a blanket in front of a TV with Walter Cronkite taking off his glasses and wiping a momentary tear from his eyes before getting back into serious newsman mode. Maybe it's why I loved Cronkite through the years.
Kennedy’s impact on my life hits me a little differently. I was a space program junkie. And I don’t really know when I first heard JFK’s speech made at Rice Stadium 15 days before I was born, nor when I really recognized the impact of the president’s drive to beat the Russians to the Moon before Dec. 31, 1969. But I know it now. And it’s been driven home time and again. And I have stated it time and again that I think the achievement of the lunar landings was the highest accomplishment of the government started by a patriotic bunch of rebels in the 1770s. It’s all been downhill since.
So, yes, JFK impacted my life and because of my mother, whose birthday would have been today, I learned a lot about JFK in the way we used to Americanize children. First you learn about the heroes and the legends and the courage and the leadership. Save the lessons about womanizing and politicking for when the kid is older and knows what a true muckhole life is.
If he provided a certain level of idealstic patriotism for a generation of kids, then this week I remember him for that.
But I still don’t have my mom around to sing “Happy Birthday” to.
And that’s where my mental clock hangs up on the 50th anniversary of JFK’s death.
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