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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