Sailing was a lifelong passion.

Sailing was a lifelong passion.

I need not ever remind myself of my age.  I am as old as the anniversary of JFK’s death. Over twenty years ago I realized that my very first cognizant memory was of my mother weeping while his funeral was broadcast on our  television, halfway round the world.  I was nearly ten months old and the child of US expats living in Melbourne, Australia.  An interesting spot to be in during the heat of the Cold War. It was the site of “On the Beach,” first a superb novel by Nevil Shute and then an excellent movie starring Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner. It’s a grim tale and says much about how scared people were in that profound way that art can sometimes do.   Nuclear annihilation was a very real threat.

The sound of my mother weeping, deep from the gut weeping, and the black and white images on the television made their impression on me. Perhaps I was toddling or propping myself up in a playpen but the images and sound of my mother are so vivid to me, even now. For many years I had assumed these memories must be of RFK’s assassination and funeral until I was in college and did the math, I’d  found some photos of our living room and television in Australia and realized that somehow I had remembered this as a baby, just ten months old.  

Each November I think about that awful day and have always wondered how different our country, and indeed the world might have been if it had never happened.  Of course leaders had been assassinated before and there had been awful consequences (Ferdinand – WWI), but not like this, a brutal bloody murder for all the world to see. Where before news might take weeks to arrive,it now took minutes. And by a trick of fate an ordinary citizen, John Zapruder, just happened to be using his new movie camera, and just happened to be there at the very spot where the assassination took place, AND managed to take pretty darn good footage of the whole gruesome event. What were the chances of that????  

Television had helped elect him and it martyred him too. The funeral for this young and handsome president with his beautiful grieving bride and precious young children was transmitted over the entire world. The pageantry and sheer deliberate ceremony of the funeral soothed the wounds of a nation.  It did not cure the pain but it managed it and helped to funnel the grief to a deeper place.  The world gazed on us and considered that our dignity spoke well of our nation.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

jfjjr_walking2 Year after year the Kennedy saga continued with a series of further tragedies beginning with the assassination of  Robert Fitzgerald Kennedy, again on television, when he was just months from being President himself. Further  tragedies vexed the entire family but until the 90s it seemed that JFKs family might be spared further grief, but it  was not to be.  Jacqueline dead too young at 63 of lymphoma,  but mercifully not here to grieve the death of her son  just a few short years later. Not yet forty, his death seemed to rock the entire country, and we froze in disbelief for days as the impossible became the probable. He would be forever John John. The  cute little boy immortalized by the photos in Life magazine hiding beneath his father’s desk had grown into a charming prince. Our fingers were crossed that life would be fulfilling and long, that he would be not only granted beauty and intelligence but length of years as well.  His ashes along with those of his wife and sister in law were  scattered from an  aircraft carrier  bearing the name of his father, a ship christened by sister Caroline, in Nantucket Sound.