I was nearly three-and-a-half years old on January 20th, 1961, and I had a prime seat for the event: atop my father’s shoulders.
He and my mother – staunch Democrats – had caught the bug during the previous November’s election. That feeling of Camelot was in the air and undeniable, and so the decision to join the hordes on the mall in D.C. was inevitable.
In spite of the weather, we made the drive up from the Shenandoah Valley, and I suppose there was talk – between my parents; perhaps on the radio – of Robert Frost having been asked to participate in the ceremony. I don’t remember any specific statements, but I do remember the inference I had drawn. And so as I sat atop my father’s shoulders, among the thousands who had braved the blizzard and were looking with anticipation toward that apparently very important building, I waited patiently.
I waited… for Jack Frost to appear on the roof and give a weather report.
Jack Frost; not Robert.
(You go with what you know…)
I am now nearly fifty-three-and-a-half years old, and I have a much clearer sense of what is going on.
The pendulum has swung back and forth numerous times in the last half-century, and while there have been glimmers of hope, we’ve never quite returned to that feeling of Camelot.
… Before my father died three years ago this March, he suffered from increasing frailty. For the last several years of his life, he also experienced occasional dementia, and on one of those occasions (probably around 2004), the visiting healthcare worker asked him who the president was. When my mother told me that his response had been Theodore Roosevelt, I said, “I’m jealous! I want to live in Dad’s world!”
But Dad wasn’t always in “that world.” A year or so later, in fact, his better grasp of reality was evident when he glibly stated, in response to the national and international situations, “Thank God I’ll die soon.”
That was Dad – sardonic in his description of an unprecedented, pitiful mess.
Because I am not likely to die soon, I cling to the other two memories of my dad: the one who trudged through the snow to listen to a young man breathe hope into the country, and the one who chose to remember Teddy Roosevelt when Dubya was the reality du jour.
We must have hope.
Even when it requires some temporary dementia, we must have hope.