Showing my age, I was 3 when John F. Kennedy was assassinated.
I was sitting there happily enjoying some sort of cartoon show on the black and white TV, in the center of the long, low hi-fi console in the living room of our three-bedroom, one-story house in Findlay, Ohio, about 100 miles south of Detroit, which I had not heard of yet.
I still remember that tall chair with the upholstered cushion and padded arm, and how out of place it seemed, somehow old fashioned in a postmodern room, but how it soaked up sunlight through the long window, so it was sometimes warm, and sometimes too hot to sit in.
I certainly had not heard of Dallas.
But I did know who Mike Nelson was. He was the “frogman” on Sea Hunt. And any time I saw the commercials for Newport cigarettes, with the boat out in the middle of the sea, I thought Sea Hunt was about to begin. Mike Nelson was even more important than Mighty Mouse.
And if I had heard of the President of the United States it went in one ear and out the other.
Suddenly there was the looming, sun blotting figure of Mary Nydick, our next-door neighbor with the too-tight curly hair, who had the pear tree in her front yard.
I didn’t like pears; they were too pithy.
Like some crazy animal she shouted out that someone had shot the President. Actually, I had no idea what she shouted. All I knew was my mother switched the TV to some other channel.
I put up a fuss and, then a bigger fuss. For the first and perhaps only time in my life, my mother slapped me across the face, and dragged me to my bedroom and threw me inside.
I had no idea why this horrible thing befell me. But soon I was recovered, amd sitting on the lower of the bunk beds, I returned to my cartoons, on a very small TV with rabbit ears, which was on the chest of drawers in the room I shared with my older brother, Lee.
I was blissfully unawares of what had just happened to cause such a disturbance in my routine.
Only this past week did I see a documentary on PBS about Jack Kennedy that explained the depths of his serious physical ailments. We all learned long ago that he had back problems and was in pain, and had to wear a brace. But I had no idea of the extreme disabilities he had to overcome just to survive out of his twenties – made all the worse by swimming 3 miles to an island with a badly burned sailor on his back, after his PT boat was rammed in two by a Japanese destroyer. But then his father and many others took great pains to make sure nobody knew the extent of his issues and the drugs he took just to get out of bed.
Warts and all, the man withstood a lot to live beyond the chances doctors gave him, and to make it all the way to Dealy Plaza and go out the most powerful man in the history of the world.
Much has been said about his life, and his death, and people will continue to discuss and decide what matters most regarding both. For good or ill, his life changed the world, and so did his death. Not many can say as much.
Is fifty years too soon to see what it might all mean, if it really shakes out to mean anything at all in the long run?