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Volume XVII, Issue 47 ~ November 19 - November 25, 2009

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Bay Reflections

46 Years Ago This Week

The Day They Buried JFK

by Jane Elkin

I have always believed, secretly and guiltily, that President John Kennedy was canonized by his assassin. I intuited this from my parents’ many comments about the pretty boy from their home state; the liberal who would have gotten himself in trouble if he’d been around long enough; the womanizer with the funny looking wife who everyone said was so beautiful; the brother of that drunken murderer Teddy. They acknowledged that, Yeah, it was a shame an’ all how some whacko killed him, and they felt sorry for his wife and kids, but he wasn’t as great as everyone made him out to be. That’s just some of what I heard over the years. Here’s what else I remember.

It was three days after my fourth birthday when everyone started acting funny. My brothers came home from school bursting with the news. Billy, the oldest, had just turned eight the day after my birthday, and we were still high on cake and self-importance. We all ate dinner that night on TV trays, my parents shaking their heads in disbelief at what this country is coming to.

The next three days were a prolonged extension of the usual Sunday routine at my grandparents’ house, the place where all my father’s brothers and sisters congregated with their families to smoke, drink and bicker.

There was Uncle Jacky with the big nose. He could whistle like nobody’s business and knew the most about what was happening because he had a drinking buddy who was a state representative. Jacky talked like a big man and liked to throw his money around. He always paid me to sing for him, which my parents said he could afford because he didn’t have a family to support. Something was odd this time, though, because he didn’t ask me to sing. No one did.

Aunt Marie, the velvet-voiced chain smoker with the bouffant hairdo, adored fashion magazines, and she kept gushing about how great Jackie looked in the matching coat and pill box hat before it was all spattered with blood.

Uncle Jacky in a lady’s hat? I wondered. That didn’t make any sense.

Aunt Connie and Uncle Bing Crosby were there. She was always nice about letting me brush her silky flip, even though Mama told me not to because I would mess it up. But I didn’t brush her hair that weekend as the women sat around the kitchen table, smoking and talking in subdued tones. It was almost like I wasn’t there.

Instead they talked a lot about how much Aunt Joyce looked like the First Lady. Aunt Joyce was a really pretty woman, so I couldn’t figure out why Mama had said, when the rest of my relatives weren’t around, that Mrs. Kennedy was funny looking. It was something about her eyes being too far apart, but my aunt’s eyes were normal.

Other aunts, uncles and cousins came and went. Grammy kept making tea and hot cocoa for the women and children while Grampy poured his special brown drink in tiny little glasses for the men … all except Daddy, because Mama wouldn’t approve.

Everyone kept repeating what a shame it was, talking about sending flowers one minute and arguing about politics the next, yet it was a calmer version of that house than I was accustomed to.

That Monday I didn’t understand why my brothers didn’t go to school and Daddy didn’t go to work. Instead we were at my grandparents’ house again. I went into the living room to see what was so important that everyone had left the kitchen, and there, on the TV, was a horse walking down the street with backwards boots in his stirrups and no rider. The horse was pulling a big box with a black tablecloth on it. Then the camera focused on a little boy about my age. The announcer said it was his birthday, too, but he didn’t look like he was having much fun standing there in that suit with his bare legs on a chilly day, saluting a horse.

Mama died five years ago of brain cancer, the same disease that killed Teddy Kennedy in August, and I wonder what she would have to say about all the hubbub today if she were still alive. In old age, she was more conservative than ever, but also softer and more forgiving in many ways. I think she might have seen past human foibles and “misguided politics” to admit that all the Kennedy brothers worked hard to do their jobs the best way they knew how, in a fishbowl.