When John F. Kennedy made his now iconic address to the nation concerning the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, two young boys sat side by side, taking it all in. It was dramatic prime time viewing, in which nervous Americans were informed of missile sites primed to attack our shores just 90 miles off the coast of Florida.
My cousin (Little) Anthony along with my uncle (Big) Anthony watched transfixed as the President told them of “a clear and present danger”, and then spoke of initiated steps for the defense of our security from the Russian and Cuban threat.
My uncle’s response to the telecast?
“Well, there goes Christmas!”
My uncle was just a boy, knowing nothing of political strife, or wars between countries, or the madness of men seeking to rule the world.
He cared about his family, and about how this new situation with the President would ruin the holidays.
Their paths would converge again, in 1963, as darkness would fall and the world, and its history, would change in a profound way.
Nothing But The Pain
I was born in the middle of a ferocious snowstorm in March of that year, a new member of a family that was growing and becoming more prosperous. My parents hadn’t been married a year yet, and here I was already making my appearance.
The first child and grandson, I was new royalty, and these were happy times. The American Dream was being formed right in our household. An occasion to celebrate.
It was a time of celebration that was short lived. My uncle passed away only months after I was born, leaving a gaping hole in our family, and my grandparents wracked with grief and despair.
They had nothing now but the pain, and their adopted country soon followed suit. The year got no easier with America’s deepening involvement in Vietnam, escalation of racial tension in the south, and the final blow – the assassination of the President.
In the working class neighborhood where my family lived, the same shock was felt everywhere when hearing of the nature of Kennedy’s death. They had heard it on radio, read it in a special afternoon edition of the hometown newspaper.
If you were able to afford a television, you watched as Walter Cronkite gave you the timeline of events, wiping his eyes because he knew a promising young life had been cut short. The axis of history had been moved.
Today, fifty years later, I find it hard to believe that my grandparents gave the President’s killing more than a brief thought. A life they held close, their Anthony, had already been cut short. There was no grief left to offer the Kennedys, or our country. They couldn’t have cared.
As my cousin said to me in a phone conversation, “It took them a really long time to get over it”. If they did at all.
1963 was my year, my beginning.
The year that began with much promise on a winter’s night took a turn down a wrong highway and could not turn back.
Our nation, with that promise of hopes and dreams to be fulfilled, became a bleak and bitter landscape. In Washington. In Dallas. On the edge of my town, in a house on a corner lot where my grandparents lived, there was sadness.
Fifty years later, there is remembrance. Our country was changed, our lives were altered. The promise was taken away, and we can never know what might have been.
We can only remember.