Nothing wrong with memories of JFK

President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, upon their arrival at the Dallas airport on Nov. 22, 1963. The day is ineradicable for those who lived through it. Associated Press /HWB
President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline, upon their arrival at the Dallas airport on Nov. 22, 1963. The day is ineradicable for those who lived through it. Associated Press /HWB
Posted: November 23, 2013

I was 10 when JFK was shot, so my "where were you?" memories are vivid.

"Mom! Mom!" I shouted as a flashback film clip of a Kennedy interview flickered on the Motorola's minuscule screen.

"President Kennedy's alive again!" I giggled. "He's sitting up in his coffin!"

My fifth-grade wit earned not the applause I was going for, but my first (and, thus far, only) slap in the face.

My mother was crying. It was abruptly clear that the black-and-white tragedy on TV had touched our family's heart.

This is the sort of recollection journalist Nick Gillespie bemoans in his recent Daily Beast broadside about my generation's supposed JFK fixation.

Under the headline "JFK Still Dead, Baby Boomers Still Self-absorbed," the writer opines that the media's anniversary coverage reflects the machinations of boomers desperate to maintain our "stultifying cultural hegemony."

Gillespie does acknowledge that being born in 1963 "technically" makes him a boomer. So, in solidarity, I offer condolences to my little brother, whose first experience of music on television probably involved the Partridge Family rather than the Beatles.

(As for that unforgettable Sunday night when those four fabulously mod moptops rocked Ed Sullivan, don't get me started.)

I am truly sorry that Gillespie came of age amid Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and disco, each more likely to inspire a desire for amnesia than desperation for cultural hegemony.

I'm feeling less charitable about the writer, however, after reading his rather-too-enthusiastic visions of boomers being dragged from the stage due to our advancing age.

Off we will inevitably (or as he writes, "finally!") go, riding our "taxpayer-funded Rascal Scooters" and presumably taking along our naive and stultifying fascination with JFK.

I do recognize that, as an Irish Catholic growing up in a big Democratic family in Massachusetts, my regard for the president was a tad . . . idealistic.

But the Kennedys were young and had little kids, as did my parents and almost everyone else in our neighborhood. Despite the wealth, the glamour, the amazing teeth, they seemed, in my 10-year-old eyes, like us.

Images of the tousled clan playing touch football were comforting in those dark times, when caricatures of elephantine nuclear warheads populated the Herblock cartoons in the paper and nasty Khrushchev despoiled the pages of Life magazine.

I was obsessed with nuclear war and amassed a secret stash of canned tuna in the basement long before the fallout shelter drills at school.

And I shared a sweet sense of relief with my family after we watched JFK's reassuring speech about the resolution of the Cuban missile crisis.

The half-century-long autopsy of the Kennedy presidency has hardly been an exercise in hagiography, as Gillespie would have us believe. It has yielded truths inconvenient enough to dismay the most ardent fan. I recovered from my Kennedy crush decades ago.

But as I watched a PBS documentary about JFK last week, I got emotional.

Such reactions seem to dismay or even enrage Gillespie. He resents what he sees as a "generational arrogance" at work.

But I simply see - remember - myself as a kid, suddenly part of a tragedy vastly larger than anything I'd experienced before. We were all in it together.

I guess you had to be there. And in a way, I'm glad I was.

kriordan@phillynews.com856-779-3845 @inqkriordan

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