Wednesday, January 19, 2011

50 Years Ago Tomorrow

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.

16 comments:

BECKY said...

What a wonderful father you had! And your mother, too....to brave the elements and take their little daughter with them! Thanks for sharing this!!

Jayne Martin said...

I envy you. My father was not around so I have no such wonderful memories. But I do recall 1961 vividly. During the campaign I had ridden my bike all over the neighborhood with my JFK hat on handing out campaign material. What an exciting time it was.

Linda Medrano said...

I remember my mother being so thrilled because it would be our first Catholic president! It was an exciting and innocent time.

Deb Shucka said...

I hear you, Sister. Hope is essential, no matter how we find it.

This is a great story about your childhood. Love the Jack Frost part - you must have been so disappointed - or did you think that's who you saw? He was sort of frosty looking.

Cheryl said...

I'm so glad you chose to post this beautiful piece today. Feeling kinda nostalgic and this hit the spot.

Totally forgot to thank you for sending along the Jimmy link. That was a riot. He was so good, I didn't even have to understand the whole vampire world to have a good laugh.

Lazarus said...

Great post Katie! And you don't look nearly your age in your photo...

Sioux Roslawski said...

Perhaps if "Jack" Frost had come during Dubya's eight-year reign of retardation, perhaps Mr. Frost could have frozen us in time, and then we could take a few steps backward and rewrite history.

Big Red said...

I remember when you first read this to me after you wrote it. Wow. Still as moving now as then, and you know I loved your father tremendously! Thanks for posting it again.

Martha Gates-Mawson said...

Dad had to sweet talk the policemen who were keeping people out of DC - I remember that. I remember you atop Dad's shoulders. I stood between Mom and Dad...I don't remember details, but I remember the sense of excitement. By the way, did you know we both had donkey diaper pins when we were babies?

deborahjbarker said...

I was just 4 years old and a long way from the USA but my Great Uncle was called Jack Frost(such humour my great grand parents must have had) and to my four year old self, possessing a vivid imagination, that presented an irresistible concept.As you say, you go with what you know :-)

deborahjbarker said...

I should also say that I admire your three year old self atop your father's shoulders in the snow!Memories are made of these moments...(hmm, sounds like a song...)

Lydia K said...

Such amazing memories you have of your father...even as his memory faded. What a wonderful tribute!

Donna B said...

Such writing. What a beautiful memory of your parents, and your precious Father. Katie, you really are a talented writer.

Hope Despite Depression said...

Hi Katie -

It's been way too long since I've stopped by - I've been out of it lately - but am happy to have read this post... I'm jealous that you were part of an amazing time in history... but I truly enjoyed reading your memories of it... and the touching memories of your and your father...

#1Nana said...

Katie,
Great post. I don't remember the inauguration, but the funeral is burned into my memory from the tv reports of the day. I do wonder if it really was a better time, or if there was just better PR. I do want a leader who can help us see that we can do better. Bush never was a visionary. I have my fingers crossed that Obama can ignite that flame again.

Kristy said...

There is always hope for sure.