Friday, November 21, 2008

Remembering November 22

In the summer of 1963, when I was alternately groovin’ to “Yakety Sax” at the Dwyer Café and spinning my suddenly vast collection of 45s at home, I began to come down with increasingly frequent cases of tonsillitis. Mine was caused by herpangina, which is NOT related to that other herp, any more than a herpetologist is. I got it in my nose, and it blistered my mouth, and then it just cycled and recycled. My doctor told my parents that the next time my tonsils became infected, he was going to yank them. I remember those days.

I remember the car rides to Shoals, Indiana in the summer of 1963. I remember the amazing Christmas of 1963, when I received the previously mentioned Gaylord and the amazing Stutz Bearcat (photo 1 and photo 2), the first car I ever drove that could be financed, for $4 per month. I remember going to a woman’s house for nursery school, which we now call daycare. She had a lot of books, including some Deputy Dawg books, which were my favorites. Upstairs, in her son’s room, which we were allowed to visit on rare occasions, there was a plastic hand grenade. Fascinating. I liked going there.

Amid all those memories, there’s one I should have had but don’t. It’s not that I was ultra-political when I was three, but when you’re born into an Irish Catholic family that is only two generations into being American, you know your own, and when your own is president, you love him, even if you’re three years old.

I knew the president from the Zenith console television. I knew him from the newspaper. I knew the letters JFK when they appeared in headlines.

And November, 1963 has always been a complete blur to me. I have found it especially odd that today’s date, 45 years into the past, has left no traces alongside the Bearcat and the hand grenade.

Around 2000 or so, I began to pick at that puzzle, and I made a deduction. I knew that those tonsils came out in the fall of 1963. I knew how my first day back at nursery school went: Mom dropped me off as usual, but when she turned to leave, I felt a sudden panic. I remember the sensation vividly. I remember running to her, screaming. I remember the pattern on her coat. I remember the shade of her lipstick. I remember her hairdo. And I remember the shocked look on her face when I begged her to take me home. She did.

The separation anxiety came from my time in the hospital. At one point, my dad was sitting with me in the stark white room. I remember the railing at the foot of the bed. My dad told me he was going to the cafeteria for lunch. He left, and a nurse came in, turned me over and, despite vociferous protests, jabbed a needle in my butt. I told her she would hear about it from my dad. I guess they were trying to keep me from further infection. I didn’t care at that point.

After a period away from nursery school, the teacher called 942-14xx, the phone number we had (which I won’t complete here), and my mom handed me the red phone we had (very trendy; everyone else’s was black), and the teacher proceeded to try to entice me to return to school by inviting me to the Christmas party. My hopeful mother was watching me, and my flat “no” probably made her want to tear out her hair. But she had seen the look on my face. Did she do me a disservice by letting me stay home? I don’t know. But I remember being grateful.

My theory in 2000 was that I was in the hospital when President Kennedy was assassinated. I could find no other explanation for the vacuum in my brain surrounding that event and the funeral. But I had no way of knowing.

Recently I mentioned that my sister found our home movies in the attic in 2004. She also found a box that was full of papers that had been chewed up by nesting mice. She was going to dump it, but she decided to scoop out the nests, and amid all those scraps of paper, there was one big rectangle of paper that the mice had left completely untouched. It was my baby book.

Enter the Log O’Life.

My mother kept meticulous records of my early years. The last entry in the book is from 1967, when she fell prey to the illness that would take her life in 1970. Her early death kept me from learning more about my childhood, but she, and the mice, left the story for me to ready at Christmas, 2004.

I learned that I was put on a special formula that had to be refrigerated. The refrigerator malfunctioned without my parents’ knowledge, and I was given spoiled formula. I was six weeks old, and I spent twelve days in the hospital from that one. That set the tone for my abdomen, and I had to be rehydrated several times over the next three years.

Then came the tonsil drama. My final case of tonsillitis did occur in November, 1963. And between being miserable with tonsillitis and a fever, going into the hospital for treatment prior to surgery, and the tonsillectomy itself on November 25, my agenda was a bit crowded, and I didn’t have time to watch motorcades, news updates, or funerals.

When I exited the hospital, the world was a new, worse place. I do remember that. I don’t know that I had the wherewithal to be distraught enough at the president’s passing for it to have contributed to my existential angst, but all of my relatives were in shock, and I know I picked up those vibes.

Linked to those memories are my visits to Dunkenburger, a small chain located in Gary, Hammond and East Chicago, Indiana, and possibly elsewhere nearby. I remember eating at the Gary restaurant, and I remember asking my dad to drive me by the wreckage when the building burned.

In 1962, Dunkenburger offered as a promotion a 45 produced by Hi-Hat Records, a Gary label that I discussed in these pages in February. I got a copy, which came “compliments of Dunkenburger,” and was not for sale. The 45, BP-153, contained the voices of the “1st American in Orbit, Lt. Col. John H. Glenn, Jr. and Pres. Jack Kennedy.” The president spoke about Col. Glenn after he was recovered from the ocean, and the 45 celebrated the space milestone. The president was still in office when the 45 was released.

I played this 45 sometimes, but a conversation between two adults, with no music involved, got a bit old for two-year-old caithiseach. I remember playing it after the president died. And though the recording must be a matter of public record, you probably have not heard it. Col. Glenn mentions many historic facts, including the lights that greeted him in Australia. The president’s speech comes in about 5:50 into the recording.

As always when I think about this senseless murder, I wonder why the man could not have been allowed to live out his lifespan. Right now, he would be 91, and I could have scheduled this post for May 29, his birthday, rather than November 22. There are ways far simpler than assassination to rid ourselves of a president: one is to vote him or her out, one is to impeach and convict, and another is to sit back, wait, and thank God for term limits. I’m not even fond of the execution of deposed tyrants, though I support locking them up for the rest of their days.

Now, with a new president who breaks ground even more contentious than that of being the first Roman Catholic president, far too many tactless people have speculated on the dangers of being “first” in such a public way. Anyone who was alive in 1963 needs to work to ensure that the event I cannot remember from November of that year is never recreated in the person of any other president.

For Wednesday, I will bring you a song from a little yellow 78 rpm disc, and I’ll tell you about how the singer triumphed over Big Business to receive her just rewards. See you then.

Kennedy-Glenn

1 comment:

jb said...

Memory is a fascinating creature, is it not? Great post.