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By Amy Phillips Penn

When was the last time that you really loved a President of the United States?

The night that John Fitzgerald Kennedy was elected President of the United States my mother woke me up from a deep sleep.

“Kennedy was just elected President. He’s our first Catholic President,’ she continued, elated.

I had a child’s view of politics which was nonexistent, but I did recognize joy when it woke me up.

“Our first Catholic President,” she continued.

“Maybe one day, we’ll have a Jewish President. Maybe it will be your brother Michael.”

My brother wiggled a tooth that was en route to the tooth fairy, and giggled:

“Yes, and everybody will vote for me, except Amy.”

Kennedy and his First Lady, Jackie, were loved and cherished, then loved and cherished some more.

They personified hope, beauty, style, youth, culture, family – all wrapped up in an implicit promise of blarney-like fun.

We followed their lives and style with admiration and anticipation.

Even then, I loved watching Caroline and her pony Yankee Doodle, the Hyannis family football games, and the sense of inclusion of a larger family that allowed us to call John, Jr., “John John.”

We loved Jackie for her quiet smile, multi-lingual speeches to adoring crowds, some who sported signs saying: ”Jackie, si; Jack, no.”

Her impeccable taste, whether in an evening gown or in equestrian garb seated confidently on a thoroughbred or a mythical Arabian horse, was our royalty.

For those of us who had never even considered the possibility of working, much less having a career, Jackie changed that. She was the journalist who interviewed the Prince whom she married. Inspiration ignited!

Then came the Cuban crisis.

We stocked up on more canned pears and peaches than the closet could hold.

My cousin built a bomb shelter with a ping pong table in it.

As the fear waned, we went back to our Camelot gazing.

The next announcement was not a cuddly one from my mother.

A distraught and somewhat lost teacher entered the classroom. She told us that Kennedy had been shot.

A friend and I wandered around Lexington Avenue aimlessly for hours. We weren’t alone.

I have no idea how we landed on Lex, neither one of us lived there or had a destination in mind.

Jackie’s perfect pink suit and pill box hat were splattered with her husband’s blood. She stood next to LBJ dressed in war zone beauty and shock.

John John’s third birthday was a few days later. Instead of the planned party, he saluted his father’s coffin; as we watched the rider-less horse “Black Jack” potently stride by.

John John’s birthday celebration came a few days later, the last day that he, Caroline, and Jackie stayed at the White House.

“Now, I think that I should have known that he was magic all along. I did know it – but I should have guessed that it would be too much to ask to grow old with and see our children grow up together. So now, he is a legend when he would have preferred to be a man.” – Jackie Kennedy

Years later, I was walking with my mother towards Fifth Avenue.

She was pushing a baby carriage, with my brand new baby sister in it.

We passed Jackie K. or Jackie O…America’s Jackie.

She smiled at us for one perfect moment.

“Look, she beamed,” beamed my mother, and for a tiny lapse in time, it felt like Camelot had never really vanished.

 

Featured image courtesy of Great Old Things

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