Monday, November 20, 2006

The LuLac Edition #97, Nov 20, 2006




Today is Bobby Kennedy’s birthday. It is hard to imagine Robert Kennedy being 81 years old. He died at the age of 42 in 1968. That was 38 years ago. The years that have passed since his death constitute people who have never heard of him or seen him in action.
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 who 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 ridding 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 WARM 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 up the stairs, “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 funds raised from co-ed dances. (Again, the strategy was not fundraising 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 sadly. 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 never have happened. After all, he was talking when he hit the floor. But he wasn’t shot in 2006, 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’s a movie opening on Thanksgiving Day about his life. (On other websites you can buy a Bobby Kennedy tee shirt, mouse pad or coffee mug!) On the movie, I have real mixed emotions about seeing it. One part of me as a political junkie is curious how Hollywood will treat him as a subject 38 years later. Another part of me dreads the scene where the assassination happens. Perhaps because I lived it. Felt the pain as it happened. If I do or do not attend the film, one thing though will be on my mind, the 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.



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