Tuesday, November 23, 2010
The Death of My Innocence
I had just finished washing the dishes and making the beds in our house and was getting ready to do a book report for night school when my mother called me from work and told me to turn on the television. I sat there, in shock, as I watched reports stating that John Fitzgerald Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States, had been killed by an assassin's bullet while riding in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas.
There were actually some ignorant, bigoted, thumb-sucking, hate-mongering right-wingers who celebrated this tragedy. But they kept it low-key once they realized that their nation was in mourning. No matter what side of the aisle you supported, OUR commander-in-chief had become a target for, well., it is believed, a single nut job. There are still questions on that one. But it seemed that what sun there was in my sky went behind a big, dark cloud. I was already in deep depression and this sent me even further down that road.
JFK was the youngest president we have ever elected. He represented change, progress, tolerance and, most of all, HOPE, a commodity I had trouble holding on to. I never realized how much of my meager, personal store of optimism was held in this man's term of office. I had to wonder what kind of world this was that people could celebrate the violent death of a great leader, could take babies from the mothers who wanted them just because those mothers were not married and could label, as unworthy, so many people just because they were not White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant MALES. For all the stories of mistresses, Marilyn Monroe and human failings, I still honor and respect the man.
A few years later, I was in the break room at lunch and people were talking about the deaths of JFK and his brother, Robert F. Kennedy and the tragedies that had befallen that family. I remember one of my co-workers, known for wearing cross pendants of different gems and metals every day to work, saying that she had no sympathy for Rose Kennedy. After all, she opined, she was rich and could have whatever she wanted. The buried bits of me that could be offended struggled to the surface long enough for me to say, with gritted teeth, "You show me the amount of money that would compensate any mother for the loss of her children, F******. I don't think there is that much money on earth. Are you so jealous of her financial status that you can't identify with her as a mother?"
I don't know what the reaction was because I stormed out of the room and went out into the parking lot to get some air. A couple of the ladies came up to me later and told me that they were glad I had spoken to the issue. That was 1970. I was married with a 5-year-old daughter and expecting my youngest son. Even then, and even married, I was required to resign in my 5th month. It was unseemly for a woman with a large, fecund belly to be seen in the workplace. And THAT was right before the stigma of unwed motherhood began to lose its grip on our society.
I can think of all the milestones, personal and national, and the tragedies and triumphs of the past 47 years that have affected me. But, like everyone else, I most clearly remember all about that awful day in November, 1963. That was the day that a grieving, hopeless, soul-sick, childless mother watched her hope for her nation die, and be buried. That was the day I knew that love, honor and decency were in dreadfully short supply. I don't ever want to forget that day or the days of national anguish, shock and sadness that followed.
I just have to wonder what we have learned. After all, it's been 47 years.