I had my left hand on the door handle at home, and my right hand held my flute. The black telephone rang and my mother answered it. “Who is it?” my father asked. All my mother said was, “The President has been shot.” I will remember it the rest of my life. We all remember what we were doing when we heard the news. There is nothing new in that. But, there is something I want to say, and that is that there has never been a moment when I was upset that I was getting older and I wished I had been born at another time. I want to have remembered John F. Kennedy as President of the United States. There was a boyishness to him.
I remember listening to him on the radio when he made an address or spoke to the press and I could not get over what an interesting and impossible to understand man he was. Impossible because I was taught to pronounce my “r’s” and he did not. I remember the Cuban Missle Crisis and the day that my father brought my older brother Tom and I into the kitchen to listen to the stand-down speech he made when the USSR ships turned around. The look on my father’s relieved face was priceless. I did not understand what I was doing there listening, but it remains a major block of time in my life. I could not understand most of the words, due to the Kennedy accent, (and there was a difference between a Kennedy accent and a New England accent), but I remained there at my father’s behest because I knew somewhere deep down inside me that this was important.
I remained in front of the television for three days as the funeral was on, and I was supposed to watch Oswald get moved and then shot by Jack Ruby but I went to church at that time and I have only seen it in retrospect. I learned what a twenty-one gun salute was, I learned was assassination meant, I cried repeatedly during the next decade when we went from lackluster President to lackluster President, Johnson, Nixon, Ford. All were pale lights next to the illumination that was John F. Kennedy. Bobby Kennedy was important but what I remember best about him was, “Let’s go to Chicago and let’s win there!” He never made it out of the hotel.
In my 3,000 book library, I have books written during President Kennedy’s life. “Presidential Government,” by James MacGregor Burns; “Through These Men” by John Mason Brown; “Times to Remember,” by Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, and many others. They all bear out Kennedy’s tremendous vitality and strength. I have “The Glory and the Dream” by William Manchester as well as his more folksy ‘life and times’ books. All of these show an America that shared a dream. I have the original “Life” magazine’s section on the space race and John Glenn and John Kennedy’s role in the space race. I got to accompany John Glenn in his walk through Lowell in 1984 when we met up with a then ailing Paul Tsongas. I remember someone thrusting the book, “The Right Stuff” at us, and John Glenn gamely grabbing it and signing it. That was the closest I ever got to John Kennedy. I was a young nine year old from Coralville, Iowa in 1963. I am glad I got to witness history, but I never want what happened that day to happen again.