Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Stillwater: A Memoir of Boyhood Part 2

I remember the day John Kennedy died. (And I love the Lou Reed song of the same name) November 22, 1963. I was in fourth grade. The teachers were called to an emergency conference. Me, being a little keener (suck was the term used in those days) was told to look after the class of mixed grade fours and fives. When Mr. Cooper, our teacher, came back to the room I immediately started launching in to various indiscretions committed by my classmates. He told me that wasn’t important right now. That the president of the the United States had been fatally shot. And we were going to get the afternoon off. Parents were being called and anyone who couldn’t be picked up could be billeted for the afternoon with friends. They were working the phones.
My brother, being in the Canadian Navy, had instilled in me a hatred for everything Yank. I was cavalier, came home to Mom and told her that I was glad we got the day off and didn’t care about John Kennedy whatsoever. Realizing she would be talking to an idiot, she told me he was a good man, that nobody deserved to be assassinated and to be a bit respectful.
When my brother came home from working at the Powell River pulp mill, I laughed about Kennedy being shot. He just looked at me strange and said it was no laughing matter. So, I stayed quiet the rest of the day and spent it reading The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Animals, one of my favorite books, which I still have in the bookcase beside where I write, today.
Maturity gave me some perspective on the Kennedy tragedy, as did the Lou Reed song. Twenty five years later, noir novelist James Ellroy also made me realize I wasn’t a hundred percent off track with my feelings. Jack the Haircut.
They say everybody remembers where they were when Kennedy was shot and that’s my recollection. I’m not proud of it, but I was a kid.
In the early 1980s, I visited Jack Kennedy’s gravesite and leaped over the chain fence to light my Kool 100, just so I could say I did it. Pretty near lost the front of my hair and the guards at Arlington were not impressed. Neither were the United States Travel Service when I recounted the incident in a Vancouver magazine article called Bell, Book & Scandal. To his credit, my editor, Mac Parry defended the onslaught of letters by saying that many readers had written in to observe that my article was “brilliant.” Whether they did or not, I dunno. But I owe Mac for that one --and many others, but those are different tales.

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