Nap time at my house was mandatory. Sis and I were required to lay down after lunch whether we wanted to or not. Sometimes we got into trouble for being too loud during nap time, and sometimes that trouble meant getting a swat with the yard stick. But many times we awoke from nap time to find a snack and a drink in our play kitchen refrigerator and we were always amazed that it was tasty and cold. However, there were times when we were separated at naptime - a technique I ended up using with my own children many years later. Being separated from sis was just boring and I would have no choice but to go to sleep and dream away my afternoon.
Separation was apparently the name of the game on November 22, 1963. I was taking my nap in the music room downstairs on the scratchy green couch. This couch was really a sofa bed, but it seemed silly to open it up just for a little girl to take a nap. So I was sleeping on the scratchy couch with its octagon pattern that left little impressions on my face and thighs that lasted for a little while after I got up. Some type of a sparkly thread was interwoven into the design and I remember touching those and occasionally trying to pull one out. Above the couch were pictures of family and friends of my grandparents. I remember looking up at the face of my great grandparents and trying to figure out which one was grandma and which one was grandpa -they were both so youthful, pretty and young and it was hard to tell. These were the things my 4-year-old self thought about as I lay down trying to go to sleep.
I was a heavy sleeper too - the kind of kid who always sweat profusely during an afternoon nap, usually requiring a new shirt at least upon awakening and a quick brushing of my hair back into pig tails or a pony tail. Grandma always made us do that when we got up.
On this particular afternoon I remember being in deep slumber and suddenly being swooped up by my grandmother who just started hugging me as as she cried deeply into my shoulder. This was unusual. Grandma chastised anyone who woke us up before nap time was over - and here she was breaking her own rule. That was my first thought. But then, noting the deep distress my beloved grandmother was in I started crying with her and asking over and over, "What's wrong grandma? What's wrong?" She couldn't tell me, she was sobbing so hard.
I remember walking hazily into the kitchen that evening when my grandfather came home from his factory job in Flint. He set his humongous metal lunch box on the kitchen table and then grabbed my grandmother and they were both crying hard in each other's arms. Something was clearly wrong. I was frightened and scared.
Mother's return from teaching school was less dramatic, although her eyes were puffy and swollen and she clearly had been crying. Uncle was somber and not talking much at all that I can remember. It wasn't until later that day my mother took me into the bathroom to tell me that President Kennedy had been shot and that he was dead. I had lots of questions. Did Jackie Kennedy die too? What about Caroline and John John? Mama assured me that they were all fine. I wanted to know if Jackie Kennedy would be the president now and she told me no and that she and the children would have to move out of the White House. I remember being very sad about that. It seemed bad enough to lose your father, but to lose your home on top of it just seemed even more painful to my mind.
My next memory of that time involves the next morning. My grandpa was eating his breakfast in the living room off of a t.v. tray - because being a family of the 60s, we frequently ate in front of the t.v. with trays! I was playing in the dining room and all of the sudden I heard a crash and my grandfather was yelling at the t.v. set. " They shot him! They shot him!" Grandpa had witnessed the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald on live t.v. A murder on television. I started to feel very scared.
At the age of four, what struck me the most about the entire tragedy was the strength and courage of Jackie Kennedy and I still admire her for what she was put through during that time. When I finally grew up and became 34 years old myself, I marveled at it even more. I have had to mourn and grieve many times in my life, and each time at least a fleeting image of Jackie conducting herself through those long days of November has crossed my mind.
To put it all into perspective now, this was a woman who lost an infant and then in three months time watched her husband's brutal assassination, while her own personal safety was also in jeopardy. Jackie did other things in her life that afterwards that bothered me, but most of it I can forgive or excuse because of what she went through in 1963.
As the years went by and we learned more and more about President Kennedy's womanizing and disregard for his marriage vows I became more and more disenchanted with him. After watching some specials about his presidency, I don't even know if he would be considered a great president if it weren't for the assassination. Perhaps he would have been more like a Gerald Ford or a Franklin Pierce - sort of a milquetoasty type of presidency.
With all the coverage of President Kennedy this week I think it's clear that the Democratic party that he represented is not the same in character that we have today, although perhaps he set that in motion when he made it clear that he was not going to use Catholic teaching to guide his decision making.
For the record, I don't believe Oswald acted alone, simply because so many people heard shots from the grassy knoll - I think it's important to listen to people who were actually there and I think it has become a bad practice in this country to not listen to the "lay" people or to dismiss their observations simply because they are not experts. That's another trend that has gotten out of hand in this country.
Some interesting posts on the assassination:
From Jimmy Akin