Tuesday, February 13, 2007

My Favorite Emily D (as promised to Ps): An Ode To J.F.K.

The bustle in a house
The morning after death
Is solemnest of industries
Enacted upon earth,

The sweeping up the heart,
And putting love away
We shall not want to use again
Until eternity.



My very good friend and, at the time, confrere, Brother Claude Lane, O.S.B. gave me this poem as it was published on a commemorative card marking the 10th anniversary of the death of J.F.K. I was taken with the starkness and simplicity of the poem. In that card I remembered a special moment that I had experienced with my family. A moment that we, as a family, shared and which has always been a part of our great story together, a slice of our intimacy.

On the card was a photograph of the slain President. And husband. And father. And brother. And son. And veteran. And friend. His face represented so many things. Yeah, all the dirt came out eventually. The infidelities. The grave imperfections of one man that mark those of so many other men. But when you're the President, it's not supposed to happen. It matters more somehow. We choose to make it matter more somehow.

In that face, though, were confidences that I remember oh so very well. And I am delighted to say that I personally saw that face as it rode along in the motorcade down South State Street in Salt Lake City in 1963. It was cold because it was getting to be the middle of November. Twenty-two days into that month, of course, the motorcade was doing the same thing at Dealey Plaza in Dallas, Texas. Waiting there in Texas were thousands of other faces, standing along the same sort of squeegeed street just as we had waited several days prior in Salt Lake City. All of them making their own small talk, meeting people, waiting for the very same moment I had. All of them expecting to come away with one of the greatest experiences an American can hope for: seeing the President of the United States. Alive.

I was nine.

We waited for nearly two hours along our Utah street to see the face with those confidences come riding by. With the passing of time, the excitement of the waiting crowd building, people were well into meeting each other. My father recognized a man from his Pharmacy School days, back when we had lived there the first time. Back when I got borned and moved away a year later. Now, eight years later, we were here for Law School. That's my dad. He introduced us to the pharmacy era man. And, shortly after that, the President's face introduced us to the magic we'd all been waiting for.

It was all over in less than five seconds. The speed of the motorcade robbed us of the lingering gazes we'd unknowingly been practicing when reading all those issues of Look and Life. We wanted to breathe the very puffs of steam exhaled by the President's warm body into the November chill. Both of them. My father to this very day, some fourty-three years later, always recounts the scenario thus: "He went around the corner on two wheels! All we got to say was, 'Hey! It's J.F.; we never got to say the K.'" Even so, we came away feeling happy and hopeful, proud and content.

In May of 1975 I took a cross country on a Honda 550 Four. I rode from Turlock, California, over Tioga Pass just east of Yosemite, dumped the bike at a stop sign in the snow, and continued on, feeling somewhat scathed, to my destination---noneother than Dealey Plaza. My anadromous journey had taken me to the redd of my lost innocence.

I stood at the spot. The very spot. November 22, 1963 was again. What happened here made Mrs. Ritzman, my fourth grade teacher, a Mormon, cry. What happened here made me, when I was only nine, cry. I remembered the tears of Walter Cronkeit when he announced the confirmation of death in black and white. What happened on this spot made Walter Cronkeit cry. I was standing on the epicenter of an event that shocked the world, an event that changed the entire course of history.

I looked up to the 6th floor window of the building located at 411 Elm Street. It was so close. I was so there. I walked up to the grassy knoll and surveyed the view any second gunman may have taken in. The fence was still there. It all looked so familiar. Like nothing had changed. It occurred to me that this was finally all the lingering gaze I would get. The gaze for which I had been consigned to settle. Not the one I had hoped for from the eyes of a nine year old boy. I stood on that spot and remembered my family. And then I thought of all those waiting Texan faces. I pictured the stunned contortions no one among that crowd in their wildest dreams had practiced for. I wept.

I was shedding tears on the very spot that had made my nine year old face join the contortions of the world on that early Texas afternoon. I cried for that boy who had waited with his family on another November day back in 1963, waited in the joyful expectation of gazing in person on the face of the President of the United States. "The last time I saw him," I thought, "he was still breathing." It struck me that those people who were standing where I was standing now could not say the same. So I wept for them as well.

A time of confidences.

I have never seen another President since.



















Time it was, and what a time it was. It was, a time of innocence. A time of confidences. Long ago, it must be. I have that photograph. Preserve that memory. It's all that's left me.



36 Comments:

At Wednesday, February 14, 2007 at 7:48:00 AM PST , Anonymous cindra said...

Powerful. Beautiful. Wonderful post, Gawpo. Wow. Stunned.

 
At Wednesday, February 14, 2007 at 7:56:00 AM PST , Blogger ARM said...

Wow. You gave me goosebumps. I love the way you write. Thank you for sharing another touching story.

 
At Wednesday, February 14, 2007 at 8:28:00 AM PST , Blogger Gawpo said...

Cheen-Druh!: This blogging thing you've forced me into at guMpoint has gotten me to thinking so much about what human connection is all made of. You've made me want to think in whole new ways. I thank YOU and love you for that, my beyond friend. Some day we must tell our readership about our "The Notebook" scene. I dare you to blog it! I am bouncing in the chair, full chuckle, right now about that.

Arm: Whoa! You just did the same to me. I thank you for that. You are very kind. I thought you would like the guitar work. I play this song. It's in my REP-puh-twah. Played it at a funeral once. Works there just fine. Now go get blisters on your fingers!

 
At Wednesday, February 14, 2007 at 9:44:00 AM PST , Blogger Ps said...

The poem was so touching.It talked to me--especially since I lost my dad very recently.
Your post was very moving.Thanks for sharing Gawpo.

 
At Wednesday, February 14, 2007 at 9:47:00 AM PST , Blogger Ps said...

Speechless,sentimental and reminiscent after reading your post.
Sometimes memories are everything.

 
At Wednesday, February 14, 2007 at 9:53:00 AM PST , Blogger Gawpo said...

Ps: I just sent Atul another At-tempt. Please let me know if you got it. And you do know that you have gotten me going on the preciousness of time, right? The post about your father is how you and I met. It is why we met. And of all places, through Mr. Fabulous where I go for my funny fix. He is very sweet and loving as well. The word for grave in Greek is from the same root and is very close in its pronunciation to the word for memory.

 
At Wednesday, February 14, 2007 at 10:08:00 AM PST , Blogger somewhere joe said...

Goosebumps. Thanks for that valentine, gawpo, to someone who inspired our hearts, to the hearts that were broken that day, to the boy whose heart remembers. Great men are often great and robust sinners. God save us from the self-sainted. Would Abraham, Martin and John be possible today? Would they pass the boards of inquisition? Time it was and what a time it was. It was a time of innocence.

 
At Wednesday, February 14, 2007 at 11:04:00 AM PST , Blogger Blue the Spa Girl said...

Gawpo, this was such a touching post. I have a certain reverence for those in positions of authority; especially the position of Commander in Chief. In Canada, we have Prime Ministers, who to me don't quite hold the same power. I have always been in awe of your government, flaws and all.
JFK was so iconic, so handsome, so seemingly perfect. Yet a very real man, who was indeed not perfect.
What matters here though is, was he a good President? Yes. Was he a good man? Yes. Humans can't be faulted for their humanness, they should be exalted for it. You can't throw stones, can you? I adored the Kennedy's. They all suffered such tragedy.
As for you standing in awe at the sight of the assasination, I recently stood in the room where Lincoln died, in the home across the street from the Ford Theatre. That gave me chills, so I can only imagine how you must have felt. History is amazing, a part of our collective consciousness I think.
Happy Valentine's Day to one of today's greatest thinkers, YOU!
xo

 
At Wednesday, February 14, 2007 at 12:11:00 PM PST , Blogger Candace said...

That was really moving, Gawpo. I came here to say something silly, but that ain't gonna work. And I can't not say anything. So here I am, just saying this.

Oh, and thank you.

 
At Wednesday, February 14, 2007 at 1:25:00 PM PST , Anonymous cindra said...

I love you, too, Gawpo. But don't thank ME. Thank you. I selfishly pushed you out here so you would do exactly what you are doing...expressing your alternately witty, intellectual, crazy, pensive, outrageous, emotive and amazing self with everyone...people cannot help but respond to that and instantly connect. You got it ALL goin' on. Silly, goose. You taught me about happening. I taught you how to blog. Friends don't keep score.

It all washes out in the...ooops. I mean it all comes out in the wash.

(I'm just glad they can't see your table manners ((or lackthereof))!!! Sorry...had to throw something in...as sincere as I am about my love for you...we must remember your feet are made of clay, too... :)

I will blog about our demise one day. maybe. it's kinda special, so i dunno. I'm bouncing full chuckle too.

Let me know you got home safely, okay?

MWAH!

CAN YOU BE MY BALENTIME?

 
At Wednesday, February 14, 2007 at 2:32:00 PM PST , Blogger snavy said...

Very moving. The poem, the post and the song.

 
At Wednesday, February 14, 2007 at 3:28:00 PM PST , Blogger Gawpo said...

Joe: Thank you so much for saying what you said. Words from you are communion wafers, salted to taste and with a hint of ginger, spice and everything nice. I had been dreading today, a kind of unkind anniversary of sorts for me. But you are so right. This IS the Valentine. The best one ever. "God save us from the self sainted." I just spent my hour session over in The Valley covering this very issue. I walked in the door ten minutes ago and am even further solved by what you have to say. I am on the brink of loving my broken parts. They are some of the more interesting pieces in the mosaic, it turns out. Thanks.

Blue TSG: Kisses sweeter than wine. No. I certainly cannot throw stones. Instead, I am working on a kiln design in which to fire even my most flawed pots. I want badly to go to that Lincoln room. It is an honor to collect consciousness with you.

Candace: And you say it so well. Get ready to let fly some serious yuk with the next one, whatever that may turn out to be.

Cheen-Druh!: Ha!!! That was a good one. Nice word twist. How'd I miss that one? As I just told you on the phone: Yes, I made it home fine, thank you so much for asking. I know what is required---the phone call after I get home. AND, yes, as I said, I caught myself smacking my mouth as I mawed those garden rolls at the Vietnamese joint I discovered in Corvallis after the session. The owner told me that not enough people ask for tendon and tripe in their Pho, so that's why they don't offer it. I will bring my own next time and ask them to cook it in the soup for me. Kind of like bringing your own bottle of wine and paying a corkage fee. Cuz, as you know, Pho ain't Pho without tendon and tripe.

And yes, I will most certainly be your Balantime. Will you be mine?

Snavy: Yeah. Sigh..... (i will e-you soon)

 
At Wednesday, February 14, 2007 at 3:31:00 PM PST , Blogger Gawpo said...

Amy: I know you haven't been here yet, but be sure to add the culinary requirements to the list for that woman you're gonna hook me up with. I just keep making your job harder and harder, I know. But you can do eeet!

 
At Thursday, February 15, 2007 at 7:47:00 AM PST , Blogger Sheila said...

My first comment here..I'm Blue's Mum..
Your powerful post moves me and reminds me not to judge( lest I be judged). I won't explain here, but know that I am still trying to make sense of life.
I remember the day, as does everyone, I was 14,,my friend and I were playing Monopoly. Her mother came in and told us the news, she was devastated. It was years and a move across the Atlantic that taught me why.

 
At Thursday, February 15, 2007 at 10:31:00 AM PST , Blogger Gawpo said...

Sheila: Of course you had to explain whose mother you are to the others, but you are already famous to me. Sometimes I think, how can what is surely just a complete accident ever make sense? Or if it accidentally does sometimes, then we are not to expect it always. You and I are the only two who can admit so far that we are old enough to remember the day and where we were. We play amongst the young. Please do stop by again, MOB.

 
At Thursday, February 15, 2007 at 10:41:00 AM PST , Blogger Harleyblue said...

That is truly a memory to cherish. Great post!

 
At Thursday, February 15, 2007 at 10:53:00 AM PST , Blogger DaveM said...

I think Kennedys assination was one of those moments in life when we can recall exactly what we were doing at the time of the announcement. I know I can. Great post.

 
At Thursday, February 15, 2007 at 11:41:00 AM PST , Blogger Sheila said...

MOB..?
Mother of Blue..?
LOL

 
At Thursday, February 15, 2007 at 11:44:00 AM PST , Blogger Gawpo said...

Harleyblue: Well, thank you, Dawlin'

Davem: Yes. That and the World Trade Center. Thank you for your appreciation of the recounted moments.

 
At Thursday, February 15, 2007 at 12:42:00 PM PST , Blogger somewhere joe said...

Gawpo, yeah - maybe its the broken parts that deserve the most respect. They bollix my incipient vanity and spiritual isolation. (Lol, how Pauline is that?)I have my regrets, but haven't been "disappointed with myself" for some time.

 
At Thursday, February 15, 2007 at 12:44:00 PM PST , Blogger diyadear said...

A beautiful Post... It was really touching..

 
At Thursday, February 15, 2007 at 1:10:00 PM PST , Blogger Blue the Spa Girl said...

Hey Ma, better MOB than SOB...!
Gawpo, she is young. She's only 29, and so am I.
You know, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.
xo

 
At Thursday, February 15, 2007 at 3:35:00 PM PST , Blogger Gawpo said...

Joe: Bollix: to throw into confusion, botch or bungle. It's from bollocks: testicles! You make me Google all over. Even sounds like something one does to balls----ball licks. Spiritual isolation. Very Pauline. Now if I can only come to a place in my own self where I am not making an appointment with the dis, I would be happening better.

Diyadear: You are truly a dear. Thank you. And good to see you here. Again, I do so hope.

Blue TSG: Yes, that would be Sister Of Blue. In a sense, I sense, this too you share. I use that apple/tree expression all the time. And it applies to you and Mehmah to be sure. She just taught me about transferware. What a coincidence. We are all three just 29.

 
At Thursday, February 15, 2007 at 6:58:00 PM PST , Blogger LisaOceandreamer said...

I come here by way of Sheila and Blue - and my own innate curiosity of wanting to know who other bloggers are. I do not regret my decision as the instant I began to read this post I was hooked. Your eloquence is amazing - and it took me back to when I was also 9. My 4th grade teacher left the class and came back with tear stained cheeks. I didn't understand. When I went home my mother had her ironing board set up in front of the TV and she was weeping. I finally understood. We watched TV nonstop to all the coverage.
I know I would react as you did if I were to go and stand there, in that spot in history - with all its vibrations of excitement covered over with sorrow.
I will be bookmarking your blog, I can tell it will become an must read!
Nice to meet you.

 
At Thursday, February 15, 2007 at 7:22:00 PM PST , Anonymous Quilly said...

Okay tha's i. Every pos I posed this morning disappeared -- ans I posed quite a bi here his morning. I truly detest Blogger.

Gawpo, your post made me cry. I, too, marvel at the history of places. I stand and ponder those who passed before. You offered today a new and moving perspective. In all my wonderings, I never would have hought to consider the assignation of JFK through the eyes of a 9 year-old boy.

 
At Thursday, February 15, 2007 at 7:23:00 PM PST , Anonymous Quilly said...

I detest this keyboard with the stuttering T, too! Grrrrrrrrrr...

 
At Thursday, February 15, 2007 at 8:01:00 PM PST , Blogger Gawpo said...

Leeeeesaoceandreeeemer: Hello! And welcome. Wow. That's what happened at our school---Indian Hills Elementary. Mrs. Ritzman left the room and came back. I can still see the tears covering her face. How do you tell a class of 4th graders something like that? She wore black frames. You say such nice things. I am gladdened you dropped in and saw something meaningful.

Quilly: You too? Everyone is losing stuff. I just pray I have the good sense to copy as I go along in case I have to paste it later. Happened to Logo yesterday too. But only on Blogger. I am glad that what I had to share gave you that perspective. I had no idea I was going to write it until I sat down.

Quilly: Sttttuttttering TTTTTTs just piss a girl off, don't they!

 
At Thursday, February 15, 2007 at 8:21:00 PM PST , Blogger Ps said...

Gawpo; Both Atul AND I wrote to you.We discovered your mails in the sam.Maybe you have to check YOUR spam now!!Please let me know whether you got 2 mails from me and one from atul.

 
At Thursday, February 15, 2007 at 8:59:00 PM PST , Blogger Gawpo said...

Ps: No. Nothing. And I cried all day, waiting, looking. In my spam folder I did get invited to be on the Oprah Winfrey show. Can you please try to send them again. I hope they are in your sent folders. I truly have been looking all day. I just sent Atul another one. Don't worry, I sent a copy to you. The subject is: Uncle Gawpo Is Naughty. Uh-oh......

 
At Saturday, February 17, 2007 at 12:04:00 AM PST , Blogger Gawpo said...

Sheila: I just want to remind you to send pics of the trip. That is all. Over and out. G

 
At Sunday, February 18, 2007 at 5:24:00 AM PST , Blogger goldennib said...

My mother was watching a soap opera when it was interrupted by a news announcement. She was devasted. I remember the room as if it were a photograph and I remember life was never the same after. I cried for all of the losses too. I was five.

 
At Monday, February 19, 2007 at 12:27:00 PM PST , Blogger Gawpo said...

Nibby: Isn't that amazing how we remember? That news brought down the entire nation and beyond. We all felt the same thing. We were united in our grief. A sad solidarity, that.

 
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