Wednesday, June 06, 2018

The LuLac Edition #3799, June 6th, 2018


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This week's edition of "Write On Wednesday comes from a former edition of LuLac. I wrote this in June of 2008. For me it was a very tense time. My mother was dying, I had just been diagnosed with fourth stage colon cancer an my entire life was up in the air. On the 40th anniversary of Kennedy's death, I was sure I'd make the 41st landmark of his demise, let alone 50. This is a personal story of how I coped with the horrific and historic year 1968. Robert Kennedy was a big part of that angst.
Now, 5 decades later, the anniversary and the footage we all saw these last few days remain the same as we first saw them in '68. Very hard to watch.



I started the ‘60s taken by the hand to see candidate John F. Kennedy ride in a motorcade that came through our little town in Pennsylvania. My dad and I waved at the tan handsome man in the open car and it seemed like he waved back. At least we’d like to think so. I was 6. When JFK died, I was 9 and remember the details of those four days. But I realized that the sorrow of my parents was larger than mine. They had lost one of their own. I had not. The year after the President’s death, we Pennsylvanians watched with interest as Robert Kennedy won his Senate seat in New York State. As I matured, I followed the career of Bobby Kennedy. He was one of “my guys”, like John Kennedy made my parent’s generation proud, I was sure Robert Kennedy would do the same for my age group.
I was 14 when Robert Kennedy died. On June 4th, the day of the California primary where RFK faced off against Senator Eugene McCarthy, my 8th grade class had a school picnic at Angela Park near Hazleton. Don’t know if current Mayor Lou Barletta was working at the family business back then but we were all Slovak and Irish kids so I guess we were safe from banishment. Anyway, my main concern that day was to insinuate myself into the life of a tall seventh grade girl I knew since she arrived at our grade school. Through the years, we’d scowl at each other and say in each other’s direction, “Yech!!” My godmother, who worked in a garment factory with this girl’s mother admonished my behavior and said someday I would want this girl I was taunting to really like me. That day had come in early June 1968 and I was like a puppy dog in heat escorting her to every ride and stand in hopes of impressing her. We even talked about politics and she told me she liked Bobby Kennedy because she thought he was “cute”. I liked Hubert Humphrey who was nowhere near “cute” but that did not detour our day. My eighth grade nun who tried to manipulate a coup three times to remove me from office as eighth grade class President, eyed us suspiciously all day. If she were to find impeachable offenses, this would be the time. Holding the hand and squeezing a tall blond girl trumped everything at that age. The day was a smashing success and we went back to our safe working class homes. At 9PM the phone rang and my friend said, “Had a nice day today. Thanks. Going to bed now.” I thanked her for the call, had no witty rejoinders or lines and most likely stammered as only 14 year old boys could do. Before she hung up, she said, “By the way, the cute guy is going to win tonight".
I drifted off to sleep, my body sore from riding on dangerous contraptions that I avoided my entire life up until that day. Sleep came easy that night. The next morning, I heard stirring in the house. My father, a railroader, was getting his lunch ready with my mother in the kitchen. As he loaded up his big black lunch pail, he turned the radio on. My mother, a cigar factory worker screamed loudly, “Oh My God!” On 590 WARM Radio that morning, they had heard the news that Bobby Kennedy was shot. I was too much on a high from the day before to even stir from my bed. As the warm summer morning breezes entered my room, I thought of the tall blond girl and what we’d talk about at school this day. I heard a door slam and heard my father’s familiar footsteps go down the sidewalk. My mother’s exit was next. I could expect the customary shout up the stairs from my mom urging me to “rise and shine and get the heck out of bed!” Instead, she yelled with a crack in her voice, “David, wake up. Now. Robert Kennedy was shot in the head last night!” It was like a cold slap in the face. I got chills despite the warm summer morning. When I arrived at school, the nuns combined the seventh and eighth grade classes. They brought out this gargantuan black and white TV that my class bought with money raised from co-ed dances. (Again, the strategy was not fund raising when we held those dances, which I as President proposed, but the chase for that tall blond girl in seventh grade). We watched Frank MaGee, and Huntley and Brinkley broadcast on the Senator’s condition. As I watched, a soft hand landed on my shoulder. “They shot the cute guy” she said, looking sad. I asked if she was okay. With knowledge and wisdom that escaped me back then, she said, “We’re never going to be okay again” and she walked to her seat. Robert Kennedy died that night. If he had been shot in today’s medical world, the location of the bullet could have been isolated by a CAT scan or MRI and the brain swelling that killed him might not have been fatal. After all, he was talking when he hit the floor. But he wasn’t shot in 2008, he was shot in 1968. To this day, I wonder how life in America would be different had he lived. In high school, I remember a teacher telling us that nothing much changes in politics. “It could have” she added, “but Bobby Kennedy is lying in a stone cold grave near his brother at Arlington”. I wonder if he had he not taken that turn into the pantry area of the hotel to save some time if things would’ve been different. There was a movie about his life. One part of me as a political junkie was curious how Hollywood would treat him as a subject years after his death. Another part of me dreaded the scene where the assassination happens. So I never saw the movie. Perhaps because I lived it and felt the pain as it happened. Forty years later, one thing sticks in my mind. That tall blond girl I was nuts about when I was 14, frozen in time, (very much like Bobby Kennedy is to me,) wearing a standard, diocese issued metallic blue school girl uniform with navy blue knee socks saying “We’re never going to be okay again”. Sadly, she was right. 
The LuLac Edition #490, June 4th, 2008  


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