I went to meet President John F. Kennedy in 1961.
My father worked on the railroad and got a free pass to travel by train from Ohio to Washington, D.C.
He took my mother, my new born baby sister, my two brothers, and me.
He didn’t have enough money to feed us or stay in a hotel, so the trip was a brief whirlwind tour of key points.
It included a quick walk through of the Library of Congress, where my youngest brother wandered off and was lost for what seemed like an eternity to my parents. (I didn’t care. I was in a room full of books.)
When my brother was found, my mother asked my father, “Why don’t you spank him?” (It was the 1960s, remember.)
My exhausted dad replied, “I’m too happy to see him.”
But all I cared about was the White House.
I wanted to meet JFK.
I was eight years old.
He was the first President I was conscious of, as JFK’s name was on everyone’s lips. He seemed to be the most beloved man who ever lived.
My grandparents had a plate with John F. Kennedy’s face on it, hanging on a wall. So did my parents. So did most of the nation. The only other face on our wall was Jesus.
My family seemed to like JFK because he was charming, handsome, witty, smart, and Catholic.
My fiery red-headed grandmother liked him because, as she put it, “He’s good lookin’.”
I was too young to know all the random elements of what makes a politician popular. All I knew is that everyone liked JFK.
No, they loved him.
He inspired us with now famous quotes, such as, “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
So my family went to the White House in 1961. It was a lot easier to get in there and walk through it then it is today.
I remember some nice lady giving us a short tour.
I also remember asking the question I wanted to know the answer to the most, “Where’s the President?”
The tour guide simply said, ‘He’s not here.”
I was disappointed.
I probably sulked my eight year old self all the way back to Ohio.
So it was even more devastating to hear of his assassination in 1963.
I liked JFK.
I miss him.
PS – I loved JFK’s humor. He was a model of relaxed disarmament through words. Relive it here: