Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration Day

Listening to pre-ceremony news coverage for President Obama's Inauguration, Mom related her memory of another significant Inauguration Day -

B: My mom and dad and, I think, Susan and Carolyn, and I drove down from Eastchester, New York, to be at John F. Kennedy’s Inauguration.

Realizing I'd never heard this story, I turned on the tape recorder and started with the questions -

C: Wow. Kennedy’s Inauguration - so what do you – what do you remember most about that day?

B: The drive down was very slow. Very heavy snow and we were like: “Oh! Are we gonna get there?” and la la la la la la. And, um, we stayed in a fancy hotel. I don’t really remember much about the day except that it was very cold. The sunshine was really bright. It was windy. The thing I remember about the actual Inauguration was, for some reason, I remember Robert Frost – probably cuz I’d read his poetry in school. And he was there to give a poem as part of the Inauguration events. He couldn’t see his papers because of the glare and the wind blowing them around. So he spoke from memory.

C: Listening to Kennedy speak, do you remember how you felt?

B: I don’t remember actually hearing him speak. Is the thing. I remember a sense of it was something really important that was happening. But it was kind of a confusing important thing because – it’d been such a - the discussion topic in my home and that I remember from that election was – were a couple of big deals: Kennedy was so young.

C: Mm-hmm.

B: Was he inexperienced? Was he capable? He was so young.

C: Mm-hmm.

B: And then he represented, um, the Irish-American Catholic immigrants' heritage. And that was just a huge shift from where we’d ever had a president. Ya know - and particularly the Catholicism was a big deal in the conversations I’d hear around me. So it was an interesting thing. I was also kind of a little thrown by my grandfather, um, having access to these Inaugural tickets. And it - I don’t know the right word - The populist in me or whatever – wanted to be of the people versus of the elite. I guess I felt like, you know, I was partaking of this because he was somehow in an elite place that I didn’t necessarily wanna be a part of. So there were all these funny little things going on. And – I’m trying to think – in January ’61 – I was 14. So I was aware. But I wasn’t that aware, ya know?

C: Yeah.

B: For some reason one of the things that really really was emblazoned on my memory of that Inauguration was - one of the Inaugural Balls was in the hotel where we were staying and my grandmother made sure that I went downstairs - that we went downstairs together - to just kinda walk by where the Inaugural Ball was. And my thing was: “Oh no! We can’t do that!” And her thing was: “Why not?”

C: Ha.

B: And so - we walked down this empty corridor. And peeked in. And then we sat on a couch in the hallway for a little while. And went back upstairs. And I learned that – Of course you can! And that – that was part of my legacy - this heritage of my grandfather who had a sense of formality and history and – and my grandmother who said: “Well, why not?”

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