I recall in December 1961 an unlikely conversation between my father, a stockbroker, and Gerald Gelpi, a New Orleanian of the first order and an antiques dealer, reminiscing of their location when Pearl_Harbor was attacked. I sat in the corner or on the floor in our Broadway apartment fascinated by the tales and life experiences that appeared to have radiated from that historic episode.
It feels, although faintly, that this President’s assassination was a watershed moment for those nearly my age. To think that his astounding murder would characterize a decade of television amplified deaths from the individual, King and Bobby Kennedy, to the collective, race riots, including foreign, Vietnam. How nearly wonderful to be an oblivious teenager amidst the 1960s roller coaster.
We returned from noon recess at Holy Name of Jesus Elementary School. I was 11 and lived for sports at lunch. As the all-boys in khaki tramped up the stairs to our 6th grade class, Shorty Gay, a 7th grader, held the door open from the staircase. “the President’s been shot,” he said. We all watched Combat on tv and played army after school. Still, do President’s get shot?! Home at 3:30, my mother and sisters crying in front of the small black and white tv. JFK -we don’t use initials any more- visited New Orleans one year or so earlier. My mother with her 4 children and her friend, Jean Anne with her 7 (staunch Catholics for sure), carted us to the corner of Carrollton Avenue and Walmsley Boulevard to join the throngs gathered to see the presidential motorcade swoosh by. Can’t imagine the same today for a parade of presidential SUVs.
Our home was stunned and grieved over the weekend. Vivid is the ever-presence of Walter Cronkite detailing the multiple threads of concurrent events: new President, who shot the former President, plans for the funeral service, suppositions of foreign plots and haphazard interviews. Then Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald on television. I’ll never forget that sight. Those were still the days when families brought television sets to school to watch space launches and capsule recoveries. A live murder on tv was shocking. Then the funeral, John-John’s salute and the seeming loss of Jacqueline Kennedy as well.
The country stepped-back from its hopeful emerging self, from Eisenhower and the vestiges of the World War 2, to a modern future filled with promise for all as embodied by the Kennedy couple. Just a collective dream as we look back. In the present economy and with all of the immediate sources of news and opinions, it is hard to imagine the collective mood at that point in the 1960s. Naive, perhaps; confident, for certain. Then LBJ and a seeming return to a too near past. Then Nixon. then, then, then to the point where the President is nearly a side-show in the national wrangle to get something done on behalf of us all.
I sort of make my living talking in public, usually to corporate executives about technology patterns and trends. I realize now this aptitude was initially cultivated as I became interested at age 12 in all things alluding to an assassination conspiracy. My first public speaking class presentation was a book review of Mark Lane’s Rush to Judgement. As an adult, I’m persuaded that Oswald was the lone gunman, although I wonder why Jack Ruby was compelled to shoot him.
Camelot is past; so many Kennedys suffered tragic consequences to end their lives; just yesterday, the nephew of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, Michael Skakel, was paroled after conviction of murdering a neighbor in his youth and sentenced many years after the crime.
I’m certain that the past is best left to the past and what could have been was never a probability.