Mom and Kennedy, Part II

(Part I is here)

Dad went to work the morning of the funeral. I could have bet he was at his hangout, the donut shop, watching the news on the old TV in the corner. He would sit at the counter, with his coffee, his glazed donut, and his Marlboros. Dad and the owner talked politics all the time, mostly complaining about Kennedy. On this day I imagined that they were commentating on the funeral.

It was a Monday, but school was cancelled. I was watching TV when Mom said, “The President’s funeral is going to be on, so you need to go play outside now.”

“I want to watch it, too.”

“You’re too young for funerals. Go on out.”

“What about Teddy?”

“He’s a baby. Go. NOW!”

I threw myself on the couch and kicked the cushion with my feet, but Mom hauled me up and rushed me out the door. As I slowly stepped down the front steps, I heard the living room drapes slap shut behind me.

For a while I stood in the front yard and stared at the front door. I looked down the street, to the older houses down at the end. I looked up the street, past my friends’ houses, and on up past the haunted house toward Gull Road. The neighborhood was totally empty of people. The gray sky helmeted me in gloom.

Around the back of the house, I noticed the basement window covered up for the bomb shelter, then peered into the one over the laundry room. All I saw was dark.

Out front, I kicked a stone across the street and then back again. Even the neighbor’s chow was not outside today. I wondered if it might rain. If it did, would Mom let me back inside? I prayed for rain.

It must have been hours that I crouched on the curb, waiting. The rest of the planet was inside, watching the Leader of the Free World being buried on TV, but I sat outside on my driveway, throwing pebbles at the hopscotch pattern Dad had painted on our driveway.

The design of my hopscotch court

The design of my hopscotch court

I got thirsty and knocked on the door, but Mom wouldn’t let me in. The temperature dipped, and I shivered inside my thin jacket. “Not yet,” she said. Her face was wet and messy and she dabbed a Kleenex at her nose. She wouldn’t let me in until the show was over and dusk had settled around me.

The day had felt like loneliness given substance. My mother’s sense of menace manifested itself in her over-protection. She was terrified of a world where our president could be killed and didn’t realize how much I needed to understand the world around me.

I finally saw the caisson on the evening news after Dad got home: Wikipedia image

I finally saw the caisson on the evening news: Wikipedia image


Filed under Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Memoir, Nonfiction, Vintage American culture, Writing

27 responses to “Mom and Kennedy, Part II

  1. Well told, Luanne.
    I remember it all vividly, beginning with the TV all weekend long that would not play anything but news about the assassination — a preview of 24/hr news to come. And then the riderless horse, John-John’s salute. It’s all etched there in my mind.
    I see the Eternal Flame Jackie lit at Arlington National Cemetery not infrequently. It still burns there and inside me. The world changed that day. We all changed.

    • Luanne

      Ah yes, rub it in that you saw all this stuff. And I was sitting outside in the gloomiest day ever. isn’t it amazing how vivid it all is to us all these years later? I wonder what makes memory work like that?
      Yes, the whole country changed. I’ve been thinking of this, too: “Abraham, Martin, and John (and Bobby)”

  2. This is such a well written piece, Luanne. The loneliness you felt that day is palpable in your words. I’m curious, later in life did you ever express to your mother how you felt that day?

  3. “The day had felt like loneliness given substance”


    • Luanne

      Ah, thanks so much, Mareymercy!! And now this morning it’s pouring rain here . . . so gloomy, but if it had been pouring that morning she would have had to let me stay in.

  4. Pingback: Mom and Kennedy, Part I | Writer Site

  5. How sad to be shutout. You did a great job of making loneliness visible.

    Life is strange. I remember seeing the funeral but not the substance of it. It was a long, sad day.

  6. I am enjoying reading these pieces, Luanne. I still remember the day and I do remember the silence on the street as the funeral aired. The line,
    “My mother’s sense of menace manifested itself in her over-protection,” is a powerful way to express the fear of evil and loss that gripped so many. It was my first glimpse of a world that could spin out of control. Isn’t it interesting being sent outside in order to “protect” one? Your mom’s need to view the funeral. That’s what “good” moms did, kids did go outside and did as told. People were quite secretive as well and kept comments and events to certain ages and stages. Very interesting, culture back then.

    • Luanne

      It’s so validating to hear that other households operated with the secrecy of our household. I always thought it was just mine . . . .

  7. I can understand your mother wanting to protect you, but it’s sad when children are kept from moments like this. It sounds like she wanted to be alone in her grief and didn’t want to have to answer questions from a young child at the same time.

    • Luanne

      She only ended up feeding my curiosity. She didn’t take into account my personality either when she did this. But it’s how she protected herself, too, I think. Sigh.

  8. Amazing piece Luanne… I felt quite devastated reading it, and feeling your sense of being adrift and not able to ‘reach’ anyone…
    I so remember the hopscotch pitch… we used chalk on the pavement!

    • Luanne

      Is it terrible of me to say I’m glad you felt devastated reading it? I’m sorry for your discomfort, Valerie! But I am glad to hear that you felt what I was trying to create on the page–the experience of that gloomy frustrating cold day. We used chalk, too, at other houses, but my dad painted one for me at every house we lived.

  9. Luanne, the Kennedy series has been so amazing. I really love the visual additions – your hopscotch layout juxtaposed with the caisson add the right mixture of innocence and darkness.

    • Luanne

      Renee, it was such a gloomy day, the day of the funeral. This weather right now seems to be mimicking what it was like in Michigan in those days after the shooting.

  10. Tremendous piece.I can remember a time when you could let a kid out in the yard unsupervised-this must be an unbelievable detail for today’s young mothers to grasp. I remember a time like this, but it seems like an awfully log time ago.
    I remember laying on my stomach “reading” the “colored pages.” Mom’s shock and disbelief at the television. Her white cat sleeping on top of the giant console. All the adults trying to hide their grief from the children for days on end.
    Your story helps me remember-thank you for writing/posting it.

    • Luanne

      Jaye, thanks so much. I love your memories of that day. And you’re so right about how odd this must seem today–locking your kid out of the house all day without even checking on her. Yet that was so normal then, to be outside all day and not check home unless you got hungry. At which point, you would sneak in the backdoor and watch carefully that mom was in the basement doing the laundry and open the fridge really quietly and try to snag a popsicle without her hearing. Oops.

  11. jeannieunbottled

    Your hopscotch court reminds me of the floor plan in cathedral —

    • Luanne

      That’s one of those slow and insidious ideas that creeps into my brain and takes over. What if the design came from a cathedral design?

  12. All of us who were old enough to have distinct memories — remember. Every little detail. I suppose 9/11 may be that way for the younger generations. Some things imprint themselves and never go away.

    • Luanne

      You must be right about 911. Look at how everything just stopped for a few days there. It’s also a way back into our own childhoods, having a vivid memory like that.

  13. Wow, Luanne. What powerful storytelling. I’m so glad that you didn’t insert too much adult reflection — that made it all the more impactful.

    • Luanne

      Ashley, thank you for your very sweet feedback. I’m glad to hear what you thought of the reflection. It’s good to know how it struck you. 🙂

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