Icons hung at All Wool & A Yard Wide Democratic Club, Louisville, Kentucky
I was five years old when Kennedy was shot. I don’t really remember where I was when the news came. So many people claim to remember in vivid detail and no doubt do remember, but memory even of vivid, emotional events is the simply the story we tell ourselves about what happened, that, according to modern neuropsychology, is rewritten every time we recall it. If I ever did remember what happened fifty years ago today, the memory has long since been overwritten by all the endless replays of the film footage from the time.
I think I remember watching the funeral, the flag draped coffin on the caisson, empty boots backward in the stirrups, John John in his short pants saluting, all that, but, again, the endless replay and the nature of memory make me doubt that. I’m not sure I even knew who the President was, or what “President” was. I lived in my own kingdom of beholding then, even more so than now.
I find the paroxysmal seizure of solemn hoopla on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of Kennedy’s murder to be somehow unseemly; overwrought, more pained nostalgia for the never-was than mourning for Kennedy the person, who has become a sort of vessel for all the unresolved feelings of those who lived through the time of the assassins, and cathected secondhand by those a few years younger. I was of those cathected secondhand. I was alive then, though a little boy, and I am moved, listening to the clips of Cronkite and other reporters and witnesses, but I also feel that this feeling is foisted on me. Contrary to the Broadway song, there is not a legal limit to the snow here in Camelot.
What I do remember is my Grandfather died a few months later. My memory of the chronology is shaky and possibly wrong, but perhaps in early spring 1964 we drove from Oklahoma City to Luling, Texas, for the funeral, and we passed through Dallas. My Dad pulled the car over to the curb in Dealey Plaza, and we all got out and solemnly tromped around. I remember that vividly. I stood on the “grassy knoll” at age 5, a few months after the assassination. My feelings about the Kennedy assassination is all mixed up with Grandpa’s funeral, my memories of him, memories of the places in Texas where my father grew up, various relatives on that side of the family like Uncle C.P., stories they told, and so on. LBJ is the first president I clearly remember as President.
In March 1998 Mrs. Dr. Omed and I travelled to Dallas to see a Cirque du Soleil show, Quidam
. This was a treat for my fortieth birthday. The next day we had breakfast in the West End, near downtown, and then went to Dealey Plaza and tromped about just as I had done at age five. Other than the trees, which were bigger, and all the graffiti on the fence where the second shooter supposedly stood, the place had hardly changed at all, a little diorama freeze-framed in November 1963. The Book Depository now houses the Sixth Floor Museum
, and we took the tour. The thing I remember about that is looking out the same window where Oswald had his sniper’s nest and thinking, “I could have taken that shot.” Certainly, someone like my dad, who grew up in East Texas during the Depression and hunted game for food, could have shot Kennedy from that vantage. So I don’t really buy the idea that Oswald was just a decoy. I’m a skeptic about the conspiracy theories as I am about all theology, particularly this subgenre of perfervid theodicy.
The most pertinent conclusion I’ve drawn from all the coverage of this dismal anniversary has nothing to do with who killed Kennedy (when after all it was you and me
). The thing that strikes me is just how little difference there is between the atmosphere of right wing hysteric hatred of an east coast Catholic Democrat then
and the venomous spew of distrust and hatred of the Tea Parts for the Black “Kenyan Socialist” now
–That there is a certain subset of Americans that have learned nothing in fifty years, and taught it to their children. The only practical difference is that President Obama has much heavier security.