Funny the World

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Today in My History

2000:  Living Through History
2001:  Starting a Movement
2002:  Another Year, Another Rant
2003:  Forty Years Ago
2004:  Making a List, Checking It Twice
2005:  Oh, the Pressure!

2006: Doin' the Puppy Mash Again
2007: "A"!!
2008:  It's Not My Fault
2009:  Autumn in New York
2010:  "We Are All Around You"
2011:  Thanksgiving is Coming
2012: Square Peg, Round Hole

Bitter Hack
Updated: 11/15
Crazy Horse and Custer

Books Read in 2013
 Updated: 11/16
"A Town Like Alice"

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Magpie Journal

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Airy Persiflage

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mail to Walt

I am replacing my Funny the World logo for the rest of this month with a link to a site where you can donate to help in the disaster relief in the Philippines.  I know there are a zillion organizations which are working to help the people.  You may not want to donate to compassion, but I hope you choose the organization you prefer.  Just donate.  The need is so great...

(edited and reprinted from a 2000 entry)

22 November 2013

Fifty years ago today. My God has it been that long? The day is indelibly imprinted in my mind.

I was just 20 years old and working as a secretary at the Department of Physics in Berkeley. I thought I was pretty hot stuff. I had my very own office. I was sitting there listening to music on the radio as I worked when someone came running down the hall and yelled at me: “Someone’s shot President Kennedy!” I immediately turned on a news station and, with the rest of the country, began listening to the reports from Dallas. The reports got more and more dire. And then came the announcement: President Kennedy was dead. I ran next door to the staff there. “He’s dead!” I cried. “NO HE’S NOT!!!” screamed one of the women, who was listening to a different station. That station had not yet announced the president’s death and she was desperately clinging to that fact. But, of course, the news eventually came to her station as well.

campanile.jpg (6330 bytes)We all walked around the halls in a daze. There was obviously going to be no more work done that day. I closed my office and left the building. Our office, in LeConte Hall, was behind Berkeley’s landmark campanile. To get home, I walked past the belltower and down the brick steps to the plaza. The thing that struck me most was the silence. There were clumps of people standing all over the place, and yet there was just. total. silence. It was like walking through a vacuum. Or maybe the silence was a wall I’d built around me. I walked the streets from campus to my apartment. Everywhere people were wandering around looking dazed. The president was dead. The man who had, just a few weeks before, appeared on campus, looking so young and so vibrant, was gone.

I remember that day.

For some reason I chose not to go to Kennedy’s speech at the Greek Theatre. I was in the parking lot of the Newman Center, all by myself, when the car bearing the president passed by. It was a convertible.  And he waved at me. The president of the United States waved at me.

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Now he was dead.

kennedy.jpg (28726 bytes)In 1963, television wasn’t as all-pervasive as it has become in our lives, and so one memorable memory of that long weekend is a group of us, sitting on the floor of the apartment I shared, spending the days glued to the television screen. We were hypnotized by the unfolding drama on our screens. Nobody wanted to be alone. It was the nation's tragedy and we needed to mourn together.

It was our first experience with reality TV.

On Sunday morning we pulled ourselves away from the television, went to Mass, and then out to breakfast at the Pancake Queen, where we went most Sundays. We couldn’t watch TV, but we could listen to the radio and so we had the radio on as we were driving home. We heard Lee Harvey Oswald shot live on our radio. We gasped in shock. Our country was going mad. Murder, live on our radio while we were coming home from the Pancake Queen.

We watched the now-famous scenes unfolding. Mrs. Kennedy kissing her husband’s coffin, John-John’s famous salute, the riderless horse with the drum cadence beating relentlessly. We watched the world leaders walk to Arlington Cemetery, watched the eternal flame being lit.

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Something died in our country on November 22, 1963. Kennedy’s reputation has been tarnished in these post-Watergate, post-Lewinsky days when respect for the presidency seems to have gone by the wayside. Maybe they never earned it in the first place, but we gave it to them. 

The following weekend, we went to Stanford for the Big Game. It seemed wrong, somehow, to be getting back to normal, to be doing normal things. The Cal Bears understood that better than the Stanford team, as the Bears were still in mourning, while Stanford could think only of the game (yeah..yeah...Stanford won...). At half time, instead of the usual silly show, there was a dignified salute to Kennedy and an attempt to raise the spirit of American togetherness in this time of tragedy.

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A few years ago, Walt and I and my mother were in Hyannis with Jeri, looking at fall color and just doing some touring. In Hyannis there is a Kennedy memorial, which we visited. It was an important stop especially for my mother, who had revered Kennedy.

Jeri told me that her generation has a difficult time understanding the reverence for Kennedy, or indeed for any of the presidents before JFK. Her generation looks with suspicion on the country’s leaders, and can’t even imagine the kind of respect and awe that we had for our leaders when I was growing up.

I feel sad that our children have lost something special. Maybe full disclosure is a good thing, and maybe I prefer to live with my head in the sand, but I personally would like to return to the simpler days when we innocently believed that our leaders were something larger than life and above reproach.


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Thank you, Mr. President


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