Fifty Years

Growing up in my house meant knowing all about the Magic Bullet Theory, the Zapruder film, the grassy knoll, and the Warren Commission. I often joke to myself that when my mom got to Heaven, after reuniting with family and friends, she immediately went in search of three people: Paul Newman (her celebrity crush), Pope John Paul II (does this one need explanation?), and JFK (he was a Democrat, Catholic, and the fact that he was good-looking probably didn’t hurt).

My mom was 14 at the time of the JFK assassination, and although she never said it directly, I know it completely changed her world and her view of everything around her. I hate to use the word “obsessed,” but well, she was obsessed. She had at least two bookcases full of books about conspiracy theories, trajectories, the Kennedy family history, and pretty much anything even remotely related to JFK.

She would record anything on TV about him or the assassination and kept a catalog to organize all of her video tapes. Oh yes, we still had VCRs and shelves of recorded documentaries and specials. My dad and I finally made the executive decision last year to just dump them all. We kept the books but we’re not sure what to do with them; some are out of print and can’t be bought anymore, so we’re thinking we should probably just hold on to the whole collection.

Honestly, I never thought too much about the assassination. I knew it was a horrible thing, but it happened so far before my time, that I didn’t connect with it at all, the way my mom did. I watched the shows with her, and we had discussions, and I knew it was an important turning point in history. I guess I just didn’t “get” it.

As an adult, and especially as an adult who has experienced profound personal losses, I look at it very differently. Instead of it being The President died, now I see it as Someone’s husband and father died. Very, very different. I look at this picture of Jackie Kennedy and I’m moved to tears because of the shock and pain so clearly displayed on her face, even though you can just make out a small corner of her eye:

Thanks Wikipedia for the image

I mean, can you even imagine what she must have been feeling and thinking at that moment? Only hours before, she was the First Lady and her husband was alive, and now here she was, a widow, at the swearing in of the next President. Not to mention, she’s still in the clothes from that morning with her husband’s blood all over them. It makes me shudder just to think about it.

Then there’s this one, which I had never seen before today:

http://artmuseum.msu.edu/exhibitions/past/grief/

I can’t figure out how to embed a video, but here is the video of NBC news announcing the President’s death. Watch for the reporter’s wince and hesitation to say the word “died” — and if you watch the entire clip, you see him wipe away a tear at the very end.

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4 thoughts on “Fifty Years

  1. It is terribly sad to think about how she must have felt, especially being right there when it happened.

    Not to mention the pain all the conspiracy theories must have added over the years.

  2. Posted too soon. It’s often overshadowed by the assassination, but did you know that they also lost their son Patrick after only 2 days just 4 months before? Not only that, but he was the 3rd child they lost. She had a miscarriage and their daughter Arabella was stillborn both before Caroline was born. That poor woman has had so much tragedy.

    • It’s funny, as I was writing this one I was looking up photos of the family and I kept thinking that they had more children. Now that you mention it, I do remember hearing about Patrick and Arabella. It’s a shame that those losses are forgotten about because of the assassination, but I understand why I guess. You’re right – she experienced a tremendous amount of loss and tragedy, and in such a short span of time. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like.

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