Changing Stripes

I’ve just had an epiphany.

I’ve been sitting here watching a NatGeo TV programme called “Lost JFK Tapes/Assassination.” It’s not the anniversary or anything, so I’m not sure why it’s being aired today, the 13th of October. Next month on the 22nd it will be 49 years since that dreadful, fateful day in Dallas, so I would have thought this show should have waited another month. But anyway, here I am watching it now. And while my mind is going through ups and downs of emotions, giving me a slight headache actually, things are coming into focus for me.

I think it was the assassination of President Kennedy that changed my stripes.

My political stripes, that is.

I went from calling myself a Republican to a Democrat after this event. And I am just realizing it now, almost 50 years later.

Our family, mainly meaning my mother because my father never much discussed politics in our house, was Republican. They had loved Ike (remember I LIKE IKE ?), well, they liked Ike. I can remember that there was a photograph of Ike Eisenhauer, our President, on the front page of our Encyclopedia Brittanica books, and my brother and I would always be pulling those books out and reading them about some subject or other that we were studying, and there he would be, smiling out at us. Ike. We were Republicans in that house.

I can also remember that “we” (again, my mother more than the rest of us) did not particularly love Catholics. And when Kennedy was elected, she bad-mouthed him all over the place. I was taught to hate him. I never really hated him, but that sentiment was instilled in me and so that was how I leaned.

The funny thing was that my mother, at the same time she espoused a hatred for this new Catholic President, never failed to tell anyone who would listen that she knew him, in a social setting. She worked in Boston and each morning my mother would go to a little coffeehouse near where she worked for coffee. She would sit up at the counter there and inevitably a young Boston politician named Jack Kennedy would join her and her friends there and they would all joke around and chat before going off to their respective jobs around Boston. This coffeehouse was very nearby the State House where Kennedy worked. My mother worked in a bank nearby.

In 1963 on that horrible November day, I was a sophomore in high school. It was the end of the school day and I can’t remember if we got a notice to return to our homerooms or if it was just time to do so, but we went back to our homerooms just before being dismissed for the day and when we were all gathered in our seats, I remember our homeroom teacher, Mrs. Block, standing up very near me down at the front of the room and giving us the news that President Kennedy had been shot in Texas.

I can clearly remember the gasps from the 30+ students in our homeroom, and I can also remember my initial reaction to this news which I have been ashamed of since that day almost 50 years ago. I turned around to my friend a few seats behind me and gave her the “thumbs up” sign. Like I was happy?!? Oh my god. Yes, I did that, and I have never forgiven myself for it. I think I was reacting to the news the way I thought my mother would have reacted.

After we were asked to pray for the President if we wished, we were let go for the day.

I had choir practice that day at my church. My parents were not church-going people, both of them had been Baptist in early youthful days but no church in my memory for them. When I got to my teen years, my mother told me to try out a few churches in town and pick one I liked and I could join it if I wanted.

I had friends in different faiths in town, so that is what I did. I attended the Catholic church and the Methodist Church and even one of the several Jewish Temples. I attended the Old North Congregational Church of Christ on Washington Street in old town and it was love at first sight for me and that church. I joined it after going to classes and joined the choir, as well. I sang in the high school choir until I was old enough to join in with the adult choir. I loved those years.

So on this dreadful day in November 1963, I left school with some friends with this horrid news in our heads but still not knowing if the President had died or not.

I remember walking the 3 or 4 miles down to our church very slowly, and stopping all along the way through town in open doorways of various establishments to hear the news coming from radios and television sets that were turned up louder than usual. From the time we began walking down to the church until the time we actually arrived there, I think he had died. Because once we got to the church, Mrs. Learoyd, our church secretary, broke the bad news to us there. By that point we were all pretty down and out about this. Some were crying, I was not. He had not been “our” President (but he really WAS!) so I did not cry then.

I cried later, though. And I cry for him and his family at least once a year whenever the whole story of his assassination comes up again in the media. Like today.

I do not hold the belief that Jack Kennedy was a god, or even close to one. Over the years I became a big Marilyn Monroe fan after reading a couple of books on her life. The Kennedys were quite involved with her and, in the end, from what I’ve read, I came to my own conclusion that she died because of that family. But I won’t go into that now.

After high school, I was never close to my mother again. I had friends she didn’t like. In fact, all my high school friends were now Catholics! I eventually married a man she hated. I became a Democrat and worked to (unsuccessfully) elect George McGovern while attending Indiana University in the 1970’s. My first husband, Bill, was a Viet Nam vet and he was going back to college for a Ph.D. in Soviet Foreign Policy. So our lives were filled with politics. But mainly I worked to support us and he went to school.

Over all these years, I have slowly come to realize the differences between the Republicans and the Democrats. When I met up with and then married Paul, I had to juggle my incredible love for him as a man with his being a Republican. That was hard. I always say that I don’t know how James Carville and Mary Matalin could have gotten married, but I guess I do know now. They love each other. I love Paul – Paul was a Republican. He was even a member of the Republican Town Committee in Marblehead and I attended a few meetings with him at first. But not many, and they weren’t for me at all.

I’ve been a registered Independent now for many decades, and funnily enough, so has Paul. It’s still true for him that Democrat is a bad word and he wouldn’t want to be called one at any cost, but he won’t go so far as to call himself a Republican any more, which does my heart good. I can accept “Independent.”

So today I realized that it was Jack Kennedy’s assassination that turned me around. And I never even knew it until today. So you can change a person’s stripes; I am living proof of it.



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19 Responses to Changing Stripes

  1. Bex says:

    Oh Reenie…you never!

    My boyfriend between the ages of 16 and 19 was Gary R. and he had a red Corvair. Oh that car saw some fireworks from time to time… when I saw that little car coming up the drive at school to pick me up, my heart went all aflutter….


  2. Reenie says:

    I was in the back seat of a Corvair on my way to school – we had a long commute.


  3. SANDY from Iowa says:

    There is BEST SELLER book inside you just waiting to get out …you must do it before I am gone so I can read it and get a signed copy 🙂


  4. TopsyTurvy says:

    Maybe England would grandfather people in as having citizenship in both countries, if Scotland and England split.


  5. Bex says:

    Knowing firsthand how the Scots feel about the English, I think, if they think they can do it, they should go for it.

    Of course, tennis player Andy Murray will have to go back to being from Scotland rather than Great Britain from now on. Wonder what that will mean to him monetarily since the UK pays him substantial monies now. But when we visited Scotland on a few occasions, when they heard we had been staying down in England, it was rather frosty, so I say go ahead and separate… but don’t come crying when you need stuff from south of the border.


  6. TopsyTurvy says:

    Speaking of changing stripes, Bex. Did you see that Scotland is voting on a referendum to become independent from Britain?

    Scots vote for independence


  7. t.s. says:

    Hi Bex!

    Great journal entry! There was so much tumult in the 50s and 60s. After Vietnam I became pretty much apolitical, not trusting anybody in DC…Still feel that way, but it’s the corporations that own the government, and we all must eat from their hands. I’m thinking Green Party this time around…

    I saw Bobby Kennedy speak in downtown San Jose in a public park a few months before his assassination.

    I think you should write a memoir! I hear an interesting life story developing.


  8. mz. em says:

    I can remember I was in the fourth grade and at recess when we learned of President Kennedy’s death. We lived in Florida then. Everyone was devastated.

    In our house we were staunch Repubs. My Great Aunt Lish donated lots of money to the party. She nearly had a heart attack when I said I was a Demo.

    After that we never talked politics. This was okay with me. I’m more of an Indie now only none of the Indies I have voted for never made it for the position they were running for. Which means to me that it is still a two party political ground.

    I shall always wonder what would have happened if Kennedy had lived. He wasn’t the best of men but he gave us hope.


  9. nilky says:

    I was a junior in HS when JFK was killed… I’d just bought my first car, a ’51 Ford. I remember crying so much that I couldn’t drive home without stopping several times.
    I remember Ike being inaugurated… I was in the first grade in Kremlin, OK and there was on e TV in the town and all of the kids in the school went down to the house of the richest people in town to watch. Everyone in the area was, and still are, republicans.
    What really got to me was MLK’s assassination. I was in the NCO club at Ft Steward, GA when it was announced on the TV. There were shouts of joy… over someone being killed. The usual clientele there was about 1/4 black, but three minutes after the announcement, the were no black people there at all. Some of them were my friends, and told me later that that crowd was a lynch crowd and they got out of there.
    Many of the blacks gathered in my barracks that night, they felt that it was a safe place… but I knew that there were, and are, no safe places. Not for them, not for me. No place is safe when that bigotry is that strong.


  10. Michael says:

    Well, okay, here’s my story. I was in ninth grade and on crutches after a junior high schoolground accident (okay, a bully pulled my legs out from under me and I tore a ligament). So I wouldn’t get run over by the other students, I left my classes early, stopped at my locker, and waited outside the next class. As I was roaming the halls I overheard teachers talking about the assassination, so when I got to class and my English teacher said he had a sad announcement to make, I already knew.

    It didn’t make it any easier to take. I had been in sixth grade when JFK was elected, and he was the first president in my lifetime that I had been aware of as both a political and personal presence. He was the first media president, and his charisma drew in even his opponents. It felt like a very personal loss, the same kind of experience my mom describes when talking about the death of FDR.

    Eisenhower was the president of my early childhood, and he was more of a mythic presence than a real person to me. In those days the president was respected just because he held the office, but Ike was a good guy and everybody liked him. We just didn’t love him as we did Kennedy.


  11. Nina Camic says:

    Bex — you can write it slowly and release it later. It takes a while to put it down. And I don’t believe in B rated lives. (Maybe because I’ve seen and participated in my share of drama, though like you, not in recent years.) The reason I think you would write a fine book is not necessarily because of the life you’ve lived (after all, I don’t know much of it) but because of the eloquence and honesty with which you approach each day. It’s quite special!


  12. TopsyTurvy says:

    I do remember when Kennedy was shot, very clearly. That’s surprising as there isn’t much else that I can say I remember clearly at only 6 years old. But like Wendy, I remember the riderless horse. And I remember JohnJohn standing and saluting. My family actually bought a book that showed many pictures from Kennedy’s funeral. I remember paging through it when I was a child.

    I like the way that you talk about the book in you, Bex. I think you’ve had a lot of important things shape your life and you’ve definitely come through them and learnt from them to become a good and thoughtful person.


  13. Bex says:

    Nina, you would not believe how many people have said the same thing to me, about having a book in me. Ah yes, I do. Sometimes I tell bits and pieces of my story in here, sometimes I just tell it person-to-person with friends. Sometimes I don’t tell anyone a lot of the bits because of the shock factor or the hurt factor. My life has been lived in many aspects like a B movie… or worse. Some parts of it have been like a fairy tale, the bits to do with Paul. The B movie bits are all in there, probably yearning to get out but I don’t know as I’m close enough to my end to spill those beans yet. I need to be closer to the end for some of it.


  14. Nina Camic says:

    Woe… so many thoughts as I read your post. A beautiful post. It’s late, I haven’t written my daily one yet, so let me just say that you have such strength and compassion and empathy — I admire most people who can step out of their heartfelt convictions and understand the other side. You’ve done that.

    I’ve see the spectrum. Communist, socialist, democrat, independent and my current entrepreneurial guy who questions everything. So long as you’re willing to listen to the side that’s not yours, you’re okay.

    And you’re more than okay.

    I think you have a book in you. Care to write it some day?


  15. Ericmayer says:

    When Kennedy was killed I was in history class. Our teacher came into the room and said “Kennedy’s been shot. If he lives he’ll be unbeatable in the next election.” At the time of his election, which was not decided until morning, our fifth grade teacher told us, “Kennedy’s been elected. Now we will all have to take orders from the Pope.” Yes, I lived in a very Republican area.

    Hey, if you were an Eisenhower Republican today’s Republicans would probably have excommunicated you from the party for being a veritable socialist.


  16. WendyNC says:

    I was in the second grade and remember the announcement coming over the school’s public address system that the President had been shot. I also remember watching the funeral (as I recall, school was closed that day for the event) and can see that darned horse to this day.

    For me, the seminal moment was the morning I awakened to my clock radio broadcasting the news that Robert Kennedy had been shot. My first personal reaction was, “The course of my life has just changed.” I still believe that.


  17. l'empress says:

    I was in college during the Kennedy election and a couple of years after. We would not be able to vote, but we recognized a difference between Jack Kennedy and other politicians. He made us care.

    It was enough to know that he taught us to think about politics and the government, those of us who had paid little or no attention before. Even when I supported Republicans, I was aware that I would not have done so if Jack Kennedy had not run for President in 1960.


  18. Bex says:

    Yes, Rhu, you said that well. I know that half of this country think the Kennedy name is evil and they cringe when confronted with it in any shape or form, but I have always been impressed with the dedication of so many from that family to work in public service and not for personal enrichment either. I believe this is the big difference between the Blues and Reds…one works for the good of all and the other for the good of themselves.


  19. Rhubarb says:

    A very touching story that seems to me to be so true for many of the generation of the 50’s and 60’s. We were Eisenhower Republicans–Ike had a profound view of the good of the whole country and saw the dangers to us from the military-industrial complex. He was so different from the Tea Party Republicans, that I really don’t think they should have the same name.

    Then things changed after Eisenhower and many people say that Kennedy’s death was a wake up call for them, as you have so eloquently written, a turning point.

    Like so many turning points, more easily seen in hindsight.


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