Simply ordinary observations from an ordinary person - sometimes having to do with health care issues, sometimes not. Topics will change as my attention wanders. Yours probably will too....

Saturday, November 1, 2008

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

I have just discovered that I'm getting old. I've been alive during 11 US presidential terms now. I was planning to write on my memories of all the Presidents until I looked up the names/terms and realized the post would have to be 11 paragraphs long. Like anyone would stay awake through that? I don't think so.

I've always thought that Eisenhower was president when I was born, but I was wrong. When people started pinning"I Like Ike" buttons onto their tweed coats, I was already toddling around throwing temper tantrums. (I don't remember the buttons or the tantrums, but I've seen pictures of the first and been reminded several times about the second. Thanks Mom.) Harry Truman was in the Oval Office when I arrived. Followed by Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, and Bush II. Whoever is elected in 3 days will make my list an even 12. I would very much like it to be 'that one" - a young, energetic, intelligent, calm, inclusive, pragmatic, articulate, contemporary man. But it remains up to the American voters.

Over the course of eleven terms, I have never seen a US President in person, but I've seen one assassination, one resignation, and one impeachment. (On TV I mean) The assassination and resignation were national tragedies. The impeachment seemed like a stupid and expensive political vendetta to me, although I know not everyone saw/sees it like that. So I won't write about that situation - it is much easier to set aside than the other two.

I was a 7th grader in Catholic school when John F. Kennedy was shot. My parents were both devout Catholics and staunch Republicans so his election was met with mixed emotions in our house. The day of his death, I was in class with 30 other tweeners passing notes and resisting education when there was a knock on the classroom door. Sister Angela, the Vice Principal, was in the hall and when our nun, Sister Mary Frances, actually left us unsupervised in the room we knew something was up. She came back in with a face as white as the wimple under her veil and with tears running down her cheeks. We were stunned. She told us the president had been shot, school was cancelled, parents had been called, and we were being sent home until further notice. We gathered up our homework in silence and left the building. I rounded up my younger siblings and we walked the 4 blocks home, conflicted about being free from school under such horrible circumstances.

My mom had the TV on when we got there, something that was normally forbidden during daytime hours. We watched as Walter Cronkite told America that JFK was dead. We watched as Lyndon Johnson was sworn in with Jacqueline Kennedy at his side in blood stained clothes. We watched as John John saluted the casket and a nation mourned. We watched as Jack Ruby shot Lee Harvey Oswald. We watched over the next several years as the nation plunged into the chaos of Vietnam, civil rights, summers of love, and two more assassinations: Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy.

Barack Obama was 2 years old when Kennedy was shot. Sarah Palin had not yet been born. Perhaps that explains why Governor Palin has not responded more forcefully to the angry voices at her rallies who call out "terrorist" or "kill him" when she mentions Obama's name. Having never seen the results, I think she truly doesn't understand the implications of encouraging anger and hatred toward a political figure. We will never know why Lee Harvey Oswald felt the need to kill Jack Kennedy, but we understand the results of his actions. When I ate breakfast on November 22, 1963, John Kennedy was our President. Shortly after lunch 5 hours later, Lyndon Baines Johnson was in his place.

Nixon's resignation was not as heart rending or dramatic but it too was a national tragedy. By 1973 I was a young adult, attending a community college and working just enough to eat, pay tuition, and buy textbooks. I didn't have much interest in politics but it was impossible not to be aware of Watergate and the ensuing uproar. We weren't as cynical and suspicious then and my friends and I were truly shocked to be told that an American president had lied, cheated, and spied on his fellow citizens. His decision to resign was a relief and ironically, gave him a way to exit with a tiny bit of dignity and sympathy.

I was working as a sales clerk at J.C. Penney's and was on my way to the employee break room on the evening he resigned. I had to walk thru the electronics department to get there and I noticed the President's face was on each TV screen, with clusters of silent shoppers standing near. I watched the speech, then ate my tuna sandwich and returned to the floor. That was it. No long discussions, no prolonged grief, no long lasting psychological effects. One dishonorable president was gone and his neutral, affable VP finished out the term.

So my conclusion from all this reminiscing is that I need to just stay calm and accept the results of the upcoming election. Our nation has survived many things - good presidents, bad president, mediocre presidents, and tragedy - and we will survive another four years with our new leader. And if not, I guess there's always Scotland. See Hit the Road Jack.

1 comment:

noble pig said...

Yes, we will survive!