I'd like to ask my father what he remembers of JFK's assasination--and how he remembers it. The whole world seemed to stop, back then. I remember he stayed home from church on Sunday morning, ill, and thus was a witness to one of the only live-broadcast murders ever to take place on TV, when Jack Ruby did in Lee Harvey Oswald with a handgun in Dallas. "I saw it," he said, when we got back home later that Sunday morning. "I saw it happen."
What I'd like to ask him was what he thought of JFK after that whole horrific ordeal because I know very well he didn't like Kennedy--not at all. On a Sunday night in the summer of 1960, when I was still just a kid, an uncle of mine came to our church to talk to whoever wanted to stay after worship. His subject?--how a vote for Kennedy was going to be a vote for the Pope, and why therefore, all good Christians shouldn't vote for senator from Massachusetts. Rome will run America, he said.
I was just a boy, and the speaker was my uncle, my father's brother, but I honestly didn't believe him, even though I wouldn't have dared to say that in our house.
And then there's this. In 1992, I was doing a writers-in-the-schools, week-long stint with a fifth grade class. Part of my gig included the students' having to write their way out of a short story I'd begun. That story was about Socks, the "first-cat," the Clinton's sweetheart house pet (unless you hate cats); and it went like this: Socks gets out, wanders off, and gets lost (my part), now you (my fifth-grade writers) have to get poor Socks back to Chelsea.
I didn't vote for Clinton. He wasn't my hero. I never really trusted him. But that day, when I read the first six pages of that story to the kids, then told them I wanted them to finish it, I looked at numbed eyes. I'd really thought they'd like the assignment; I'd used it at other Iowa Arts Council gigs, in other schools, and it had gone over well. But the kids in front of me seemed frozen. None of them were angry, but they seemed incapable of doing the assignment.
I may be wrong, but I felt, honestly, that some of them, at least, found it impossible to think good things about anything connected to Bill Clinton, a man who'd been so villified by their parents that simply entertaining a sweet fantasy about his cat was nigh unto impossible.
I admit it--I've laughed at John Stewart's outrageous caricatures of George W. Bush in the last several years. To me, George W. often seemed a poor excuse for the leader of the free world. I honestly believe our world doesn't need any more American Cheneys. Even though I've never been a registered Democrat and I have been a registered Republican, I'll admit that for the last five years of the Bush/Cheney White House, I really, really disliked out administration.
But I can't imagine forbidding my children listen to a speech by George W. Bush--or calling the school to make sure no one else's does. It's impossible for me to understand how legions of parents have now called in to say that their children shouldn't have to listen to their President, a man duly elected by a significant majority of American citizens. I just can't get my mind around that much hate.
And what hurts me even worse is that, once again, it's Christians leading the assault. I can't imagine my father, who utterly opposed JFK's candidacy, feeling any joy whatsoever in 1963 during those awful days of national horror when everything stood still. But neither can I imagine him wanting to protect his son, his child, from listening to the first Roman Catholic President of these United States in school or at home. For the life of me, I can't.
Did I mention that the kids who found it hard to write about Socks the cat were students in a Christian school? Did I mention, it was actually the school my own children had attended?