I was alive when it happened, fifteen months old, actually.
What did that toddler do on the day the president was assassinated? No idea. Don't remember anything. I'm gonna guess there were lots of hushed phone calls and crying behind closed doors while I watched Tennessee Tuxedo sitting cross-legged on one of those braided throw rugs.
Here's the only thing that rings a bell about that era:
I remember the haircut because I had to stand still while my mom shellacked my JFKut with Aquanet.
Okay, time to fess up. I just felt like putting myself next to Jack. Long lost Kennedy spawn in red suspenders? You decide.
Years later, my mom would tell me how she, along with the rest of the neighborhood, town and planet cocooned itself in a blue blanket of grief for months. All of those images—Walter Cronkite dabbing his eyes, John John saluting, Jackie's pink pill box—still raw in the nation's consciousness in 1969, when I first learned of that November day six years prior.
My first grade class sat at the feet of the librarian, her Marlborro baritone reaching even the cheap seats. On her lap balanced a stack books about JFK and the assassination. Did any of the pages she poked out at us display—how shall I delicately phrase this—head pizza?
I'm afraid I can't say no.
In the ensuing months, my fellow seven-year-olds and I absorbed with curiosity the tragic streak of Kennedy current events: Teddy was still hunkered in Hyannis Port after Chappaquiddick; Bobby had been shot just a year before.
Peggy—my mom—love, love, loved the Kennedys. As soon as I'd shown just a crumb of interest, she downloaded me with the whole story. It was like I'd just thrown a hanging curve right into her wheelhouse. My brother Tom was also obsessed, but mostly with the Zapruder film. He would watch it frame by frame, analyzing bullet angles at points of bodily impact. For years he was a conspiracy theorist, but I believe he's back to the single gunman.
Oh, and while I'm thinking about it, Tom just wanted you to know that prison went well, and if anyone's looking for the best eye tattoo artist west of Walla Walla, he's your guy.
Even after I'd grown, I couldn’t escape the Kennedy spell. My wife was a devout JohnJohnist. Oh, man, did she like that guy and his shirtless badness. He seemed like a cool guy, though, you know?
I know he had a few skeletons, but they were mostly trivial exvertebrates. Everyone talks about where they were when they heard about his dad, but I'll bet you remember where you were when you heard John, Jr. was missing. That one hurt and it lingers with me a little, like John Lennon.
Fifty years it's been. Fifty years since the plug was pulled on Camelot.
At least someone plugged it back in in time for the Beatles.