After a request by a friend, I have been going back through the emails that my aunt and I shared over the past few years. We would write each other about what was going on in our lives, and we would also share stories–both fiction and true. This friend has asked that I post more of the stories between my aunt and myself. I see this public sharing as a way of keeping my aunt alive in my heart, as well as through a legacy of stories–her history.
Today, I found an email that she had written to me on November 8, 2010. She wanted to share a quick story with me about her small connection to a big figure in history… John F. Kennedy. This is not an “I met JFK and shook his hand” story, but more of an endearing memory of a moment from long ago.
A memory I thought I’d share on the 50th anniversary of JFK’s election
I’ve been watching the news all day and one of the stories has been that there has been a Kennedy in Congress since 1947, (the year I was born). When Ted Kennedy’s son Patrick (D-Rhode Island) retires after the lame duck session that rather auspicious record will end. That’s something we knew some time ago but what brought it to light today is that it is the 50th anniversary of the election of the youngest man in US history to be president, Patrick’s uncle, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
To you he’s understandably history, and to people my age his assassination will always be somehow symbolic in our lives like landing on the moon or 9-11, (something I might write about later). Interestingly enough JFK has a connection to our family and I’d like to share it with you as I remember it.
I was thirteen when John F Kennedy was elected president and as a kid born when Truman was in office but not cognizant as a toddler, I literally grew up when the word president meant Eisenhower. I wasn’t political but I knew our family wasn’t big on Kennedy. I didn’t think much about it either way. Your mother and I grew up in a different era than you did. TV on rabbit ears was hardly a font of political discussion. Things were much more locally based and at least in our family the regular highlights of our personal lives outweighed what was going on nationally.
Anyway, you probably remember, (or maybe it’s still there), the picture of your grandfather and John F Kennedy in the den. I’m not sure exactly when that was taken because as it turned out Dad was president-elect of the Orange Bowl the same year JFK was president-elect of the country and they were both serving presidents a year later.
What I DO remember, and I’m almost positive this happened when Dad was president and JFK came down during the Orange Bowl, was my mother, your grandmother, and her face to face with the President. Picture the old Orange Bowl stadium and the family (along with your great-grandparents, the LLewellans, the Benjamens etc) in those coveted 50 yard line seats. I have no clue who was playing but I remember Mom was going to be allowed to go “somewhere” with Dad to meet the president, and at least as I saw it she was more focused on being “included” than meeting a man that the adult consensus was not who should be in the office. Off she went.
When she came back, and Jacqueline, this will remain one of the strongest memories of my youth and your grandmother I’ll ever have, Mom huddled with Gloria LLewellan and Joan Benjamen, and I listened in. I will never forget what I heard my mother tell her friends who were anxious to hear what it had been like to meet the president. Mom said, “I may never vote for the man but I wouldn’t mind sleeping with him.”
It was a while before I was old enough to really understand what I’d heard but I’ve never forgotten that moment. As I got old enough to put things in perspective and came to understand that those older than me didn’t get there in a vaccum, I decided that what I observed and overheard was a rare glimpse of my mother as a woman somewhere in her late thirties “dishing” with her friends.
The rest of the world will judge John Fitzgerald Kennedy on what he did or didn’t do in his short tenure as president. Most might remember him for being assassinated. He’ll always be part of “Camelot” and the Kennedy legacy, and particularly in South Florida, forever connected to the “Missile Crisis”. But to me, he’ll be the man that my mother was prepared to dislike and was totally “bowled over” by his charisma, and can I say it, his sexuality? I’ll admit to one thing, on this anniversary I’m thinking as much about Mom as I am about the man who took office fifty years ago.
-Susi Baldwin 11/8/10