Friday, November 22, 2013
I remember the details of those few days so vividly: the shock and grief of the spectators who lined the motorcade route that day in Dallas; the pink suit that Jacqueline Kennedy wore, covered in the blood of her husband; the deep sorrow on her face as she stood next to Lyndon Johnson aboard Air Force One as he was sworn in as President of the United States, with the coffin that held the body of her husband only a few feet away; her being helped off the jet once they were back in Washington, DC and placed in the hearse along with her husband's body. I remember the grief on the face of Bobby Kennedy as he stood beside her then and throughout the next few days. Of course no one could know or imagine that 4 1/2 years later, he too would fall to an assassin's bullet. I remember the president's flag-draped coffin as he lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda, Mrs. Kennedy kneeling at the coffin and kissing the flag, with her young daughter beside her. I remember the thousands and thousands of mourners who passed the coffin to pay their respects, wishing I could be one of them. I remember the funeral -- Jackie holding her two young children by the hand, and young John John, whose third birthday it was, saluting the caisson that carried his father's body as it passed by. I remember the symbolic riderless horse in the funeral procession, and of the former First Lady lighting of the eternal flame at the grave of the fallen president.
And I remember how sad and solemn I felt.
I remember the coverage of the arrest of Lee Harvey Oswald, and seeing his assassination that Sunday morning.
And wondering why it all had to happen.
Looking back, I think this was the trigger that awakened the writer in me, because I remember it being the first time I put myself in someone else's life, imagining what it would be like to live their story.
Of course, my memories have been reinforced by all the documentaries I've watched over the years, but the memories seared deep within my psyche are from the event, not the accounts of the event. I began a scrap book from all the newspaper and magazine articles that weekend, and added to it over the next weeks and months. It, along with all my other important keepsakes, was lost in a fire shortly before I was married.
My sister moved to McKinney, Texas, not far from Dallas, a few years ago. (I'm happy that she's now back in California.) The first time I went to visit her, we went to The Sixth Floor Museum, located in the Texas School Book Depository in Dallas, from which Oswald shot the president, and which chronicles the assassination and legacy of John F. Kennedy. I bought a Sixth Floor Museum mug (I'm very fond of mugs) from which I've never drunk. I stood at the very window through which Oswald fired the rifle. The very window. I stood on the grassy knoll, saw the X in the road that marks the spot where the bullet struck. I drove by Parkland Hospital where the president was taken -- the same hospital Oswald was taken to two days later when he was shot.
I know, this is all very morbid. But so is the reality. It's imperative we don't forget, but really, how could we?
There are a few places I never expected to be in my life. The site of Kennedy's assassination is one of them. I went back again with my husband a couple of years later, and it was as sad and solemn the second time as it was the first. It was for Rick as well.
I never expected to be at Arlington Cemetery, standing before the eternal flame at the grave of John Kennedy, with his wife Jackie resting beside him.
Or the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, where Anne and her family hid from the Nazis for more than two years. I saw the marks on the wall where her father recorded the height of Anne and her sister Margot over the course of those two years; saw the yellowed tape on walls where Anne hung movie magazine photos of her favorite American movie stars.
That same day Rick, our daughter Mindy and I took a train to Haarlem and visited the Cory Ten Boom Museum. The Ten Booms were a Dutch family that hid Jews and helped them escape from the Nazis, before ending up in a concentration camp themselves for those good deeds. We actually stood in the Hiding Place they created in the upper levels of their 500 year old home.
Days later, in South Africa, Mindy and I stood only feet away from a rogue elephant, on his turf no less, as he stood between us and our vehicle. It was a very unexpected and dangerous position to be in.
I never, ever expected to be in any of those places or situation, but they were all deeply moving experiences -- the type of experiences that help create the deep wells we draw from as we write about life.
What about you? Have you been places you never thought you'd be? How have those experiences enriched you as a writer?