John F. Kennedy came across my radar twice yesterday – once at the Peter Mars lecture at the Clinton School of Public Service at noon (he was incorporated into a piece of pop art) and the second time at the Riverdale 10, when some girlfriends and I watched The Help. JFK’s picture was on the wall of one of the maids in the movie and unforgettable footage of his funeral was shown on an old television in another part.
But the Kennedy who’s been on my mind lately – all summer, really – is Bobby.
RFK was the great hope, the dreamboat civil rights activist who was going to lead our country to greatness, someone I was excited about campaigning for, even though at 12 I was much too young to vote. I’m sure I was idealistic, but Bobby seemed heart-driven, not ambition-driven, and heart-felt in his passions about equal rights.
The night he was killed is indelible in my memory. Had I been at home, I’m sure I’d have been sound asleep, since the shooting happened just after midnight, California time. But it was the summer of ’68, back in the days when school was long out by June 5, and I was spending the night with my classmate and Indian Hills friend Debbie Rivers (and her sister Kim, who was a year younger than us), and we were up late horsing around in their den in the basement.
Our mothers were friends and our younger siblings were very close (my Cathy, Debbie’s twin sibs Robin and Rusty), but Debbie and I were still really getting acquainted. I remember that Kim was jumping on what we used to call a hassock and we were all in general acting like idiot kids when the news broke in – I can’t even imagine what would have been on at that time of night in the pre-cable days. There in “living color” (we only had black-and-white TV at home) was Bobby Kennedy on the floor amid pandemonium.
It was horrifying, heart-wrenching and frightening. I think we might have gotten Pat (their mother) up. I remember wanting to call my mother, but she tells me I didn’t, and it would have been the middle of the night.
My youthful political activism died the next morning with RFK. I switched my loyalties to Hubert Horatio Humphrey (such a nice little man) and was as excited as I could muster about the Happy Warrior.
Richard Nixon gave me goose pimples of revulsion, and I remember a screaming match at Ridgeroad Junior High right after my 13th birthday that fall with a boy in an army jacket covered with Nixon buttons. (I think surely it must have just felt like screaming or we’d have been hauled into the principal’s office. Mr. Miller did not mess around.)
I don’t remember his name or exactly what I said to him (or what names I called him), but I remember his freckles, his stocky build, his buzz cut and his increasingly redder face the longer we argued. Nobody won; we just both walked away and voted our consciences in the school mock elections.
I haven’t quite figured out why Bobby’s been so much on my mind, except perhaps because of all the political ugliness of late.
As for Debbie and me, though we were always friendly, we never became besties. But we’re forever bonded, in my mind, at least, by a great tragedy. She’s part of my life for that. And Bobby Kennedy is captured in time forever as the young knight of civil rights who should have been president.
I miss him.