Wooden Box Part III
1964 Prologue Part 1: "Wooden Box" Part III
President Kennedy was killed on Friday, November 22, 1963, (the same day our letters to Santa were due at home). Dad was torn about leaving us, but went on his annual deer-hunting trip to the Upper Peninsula Saturday. On Sunday morning, Oswald, Kennedy's alleged lone assassin was gunned down while in police custody, and the President lay in state at the Capitol. Our school was closed on Monday, the day of the state funeral. We watched it all day long. Three days later was Thanksgiving, and five weeks after that the ball at Time Square ushered in the year 1964.
The decades to follow have been a blur of praise and condemnation for JFK's personal and political life, strewn with talk of a "Kennedy curse" and the endless conspiracy and cover-up theories about his assassination prompted primarily (we later learned) by the numerous groups (at home and abroad) who wanted him dead and were capable of making it happen. More disturbing than these unproven speculations are the well-documented accounts of his shameless lifestyle and compulsive infidelity to the First Lady and their children whom the nation adored.
For this reading, however, I would ask us to remember that during his brief presidency little of that sordid information was publicly known, and what became known wasn't talked about.
At this time, America’s respect for the office of President transcended personal politics. The cruel art of "caricature" and hardball politics had been around forever, but the post-Kennedy need to mock our leaders through sardonic commentary and endless lampooning (a la SNL, Late Night, The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, etc.) requires a level of cynicism that had not yet begun to fester and was years from finding network or viewer support.
Call it innocence; call it ignorance, but it was a different world.
Kennedy's three predecessors had seen us through a World War in which over 400,000 American soldiers died in what was rightly celebrated as a victory. The young Kennedy had served in that war on a boat called the PT 109. America had seen the PT 109 movie, and my brothers and I were still singing Jimmy Dean's 1962 hit song “PT 109."
Think of it this way: In the 30 years before Kennedy's death, there had been only three other presidents in the White House (FDR, Truman, and Eisenhower). The 30 years after his death saw seven different presidents (Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton).
Looking back on it now, it may be hard to imagine a time when a nation’s perception of the Commander-in-Chief could be influenced by glowing newsreels, Hollywood biographies, and a hit song. It's hard to imagine, but it's true. It was a time when America believed in happy-endings; a time when we chose to think the best of those we trusted; a time when doubt came slowly.
Note: The end of the 63-64 school year brought an end to something else in my life. It would be the last year that Kathy, Paul, Dave, and I all attended school in the same building. The next year, Kathy went to Burton Junior High. By the time I got to Burton, Kathy and Paul were in the high school. (Dave and I attended Burton together for one year.) By the time I got to high school, Dave was a senior and Kathy and Paul were in college. The fact that we would never in school together again did not occur to me at the time.