Shelby County Democratic Party Co-Chair
DAWN OF A DEMOCRAT
How to begin? It's a question I've been pondering for weeks now. The focus of this blog is politics, and since the blog appears on the website for Democrats of ShelbyCounty, Iowa, it's obviously going to be bias toward Democrats and Democratic Party politics and issues. But you, the reader, may wonder where I'm coming from. Why am I a Democrat? Why is being a Democrat intrinsic to my being? It started early in life, and I promise you, this will date me. In fact, I shall provide dates.
A long time ago on a fine autumn day in 1963 on my dad's farm, I was outside doing something vitally important. I don’t know what it was, but I’m absolutely sure it was vitally important. For some reason, I suddenly wondered how old I was. Perhaps this was my first self-aware moment, you know, the "I think, therefore, I am" proverbial moment. I remember running to the house, passing a tree along the way. I mention the tree because I remember the view of it like a snapshot. It was a young tree then, just getting started and not very thick. Today, it's the biggest tree on the farm with a trunk diameter better than three feet. Anyway, fast as quicksilver, I raced past this tree, flung open the screen door on the front porch, threw open the front door of the house and bounded up the stairs to find Mom. She was at the sewing machine, patching a pair of Dad's chore pants and listening to Arthur Godfrey on the radio.
"Mom," I interrupted, "how old am I?"
She smiled very pleasantly--she always smiles pleasantly, but then she's got the teeth for it--and said, "Well, it just so happens that next week you're going to be four." Wow. Four. Was that a lot? I didn't know. I didn’t care. Back outside I went.
I turned four on October 22nd, 1963. One of my presents was a toy jet airplane made out of plastic, no bigger than a slice of bread. But this was no ordinary jet airplane. Oh, no. Not only could this plane zoom through the air, but it could also dive under water like a submarine. Heck, I think it was even space-worthy. I was destined to have some great adventures with that plane.
All was well in the world, and not just in my little world, but the world in general. A year earlier, however, in 1962, that had not been the case. In October of that year the world stood on the brink of nuclear disaster. We all know about that story, and we all know how it ended. The world survived. The world didn’t end, thanks largely to President John F. Kennedy.
The outcome of the Cuban Missile Crisis made my parents very happy. Now, understandably, averting nuclear war is enough to make anybody happy, but my parents were even happier. You see, Mom and Dad were staunch--that's STAUNCH!--Kennedy supporters. My mom was a Kennedy Democrat long before the term was invented. As a kid growing up in rural Westphalia, Iowa, she had read all about the Kennedy family in the pages of the Junior Catholic Messenger. She loved the Kennedys, and when John Kennedy ran for President in 1960, it was time to buy a new Phillco black and white TV set. It was that serious. My folks were in their 30s. John Kennedy was of their generation, not much older than they were. So, in October of 1963 with the threat of nuclear war in the world's rear-view mirror and me turning four with my amphibious jet airplane that could travel in space, what go possibly go wrong? Yeah...
Barely a month after my fourth birthday, the first birthday I remember, upheaval struck the country and the world. It wasn't nuclear conflagration, but it was a conflagration of a different sort, one that burned the heart and soul of America and the world, leaving scars that are still with us to this day. As a rule, I think four-year old kids probably have a hard time recognizing sadness in others, but I knew something terrible had happened. Nobody actually sat me down and explained it, but I knew. Mom's smile had disappeared. Dad was spending more time indoors, something he rarely did in those days.
I remember the funeral of John Kennedy quite vividly. It went on all day. I remember Walter Cronkite getting us through it. Walter Cronkite got our nation through a lot of things, it seems. To this day, when things aren't going so good for the country, Mom still says, "If only Walter were here." I remember Mom sitting transfixed on the rocking chair, watching the funeral procession, watching that horse and caisson moving through the crowd-filled streets of Washington. Again, her smile from a year earlier was nowhere to be found. For a time I was sitting on Dad’s lap, but at some point my childhood attention span got the better of me. I got up and started playing with my amphibious, jet airplane. Somehow, though, it didn't seem appropriate to play with it in the room where the TV was. I went into the parlor instead. After awhile, though, I came back out and sat back down next to my folks and continued watching the funeral. Pretty soon, Dad had to leave to do chores. Chores had to be been done. No matter what happens in the world, farm chores always have to be done. As darkness set in over Arlington National Cemetery, it soon got too dark for the television cameras to transmit things clearly, except for the eternal flame lit by Jackie Kennedy. (In our Media Center we’ve posted some videos of this event.)
In 1968, something fantastic happened. This time I was more involved than when I was four, more attentive and more tuned in. I remember with crystal clarity the excitement of my folks being reborn with the candidacy of Bobby Kennedy in 1968. My folks went to see him in Sioux City, Iowa. Mom shook his hand and asked him, "Where's Ethel?" He laughed and said with that characteristic Bostonian accent, "She had to stay home with the kids." I remember watching a debate between Bobby Kennedy and Eugene McCarthy with Dad. It was just him and me. At one point when Kennedy made a good point, Dad turned to me with a big smile and said, "That's our man!"
I remember watching the wild crowds cheering him on as he road through the streets of Los Angeles in a convertible. Walter Cronkite could hardly contain his bias. The California primary was to be Kennedy’s firewall. The results the night of the primary came in way too late for me, however. Bedtime was nine o'clock. Even Mom got tired and turned in, confident the Bobby Kennedy would pull out a victory. Dad stayed up until the winner was announced. He watched Bobby Kennedy's victory speech from the Ambassador Hotel, and then... that damn thing happened again.
Another funeral. Another solemn procession. Not-so-old scars ripped open. How could this have happened again? How? How? As I write this, the question is still one that I silently scream. I was only eight years old in June of 1968, but this time it was different. This time I experienced the sadness and the grief in a more personal way because I had followed Bobby Kennedy’s campaign on the evening news. More than that, however, it was the sadness I experienced seeing the hopes and excitement of Mom and Dad dashed all over again. That was tough. It’s still tough.
So, I ask the reader, how could I possibly turn my back on these two solemn memories? They’re chiseled into the stone of my being. They’re indelible. That being said, how could I possibly be anything but a Democrat? For me not to be a Democrat would be a betrayal of those memories and of those times. It’s inconceivable. It just wouldn’t be right. Being a Democrat is part of my genetic code. It’s unbreakable. Anyway, now you know where I stand... and why. Welcome to my blog.
(Video of JFK's funeral procession)
(Another JFK funeral video)
(Video snippet from RFK / Eugene McCarthy debate)
Tags: Dallas | JFK | Nation | Democrat