There’s an interesting thing that happens with early childhood memory. It becomes infused and confused with memories of later events, with family photos and home movies, with other media. Memory can be heavily influenced.
I think that’s what’s happened with my memories of the day John F. Kennedy was murdered. I couldn’t really remember it, right? I was only two years old.
What I think I remember is being with my Mom in the little den or “TV room” of our house, and that the room was full of a heavy and palpable sorrow.
That’s pretty vague, as memories go. But it has always seemed like the best first reaction and it has served me well as years have gone by. It was right to grieve because a lot was lost, most poignantly not just a president; two men died that day, both fathers.
For the record, there’s no way Oswald shot Kennedy from the sixth floor of that building. An impossible shot, and Kennedy was hit from the opposite direction. Oswald killed the policeman, and took the fall for killing the president.
I’ve heard it said that the nation’s innocence died that day, but I wouldn’t say that. This nation has never been innocent. Naive maybe. I would say the murder of our president was a serious blow to our self-image, and that what followed was a crisis of identity. A kind of schism, not unlike the personality disorder we’re experiencing now. But I digress.
The single image of those days that has remained with me for fifty years is not the First Lady on the trunk of the car, or Johnson taking the oath on the plane, or the cortege in the streets of Washington.
It serves to remind us that presidents don’t belong to us, they work for us. They belong to their families, just like everyone else. John Jr. was only six months older than me, you understand. I got to grow up with a loving Dad. And while I was let outside to play in just a little while, I have to imagine he never was.
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