Back in 1994, when the 50th anniversary of D-Day was honored, I read a very penetrating observation: 50 years, by and large, was the final curtain on living-memory anniversaries; a decade later, the number of first-hand witnesses (to anything) dropped off dramatically. This hit me as exactly right. When I was a child, World War II was almost as real as the Cold War. I had one personal connection to World War I — my father did not serve because he was nearly blind in one eye — but other than that, it was text in a book rather than a part of life.
I know I learned that President Kennedy was dead from the dinky TV in the Corner Bookshop in downtown Livingston. Which means it was slightly old news, because I had to have been down there after school, in the late afternoon. Politics was very distant in my life — I’m sure I didn’t have a clue how my parents voted, for instance. But the idea that the President could be killed was shattering — like mountains flipping upside down as the sun came up out of the wrong side of the sky. I knew there had been assassinations, but that was the invincible rule of history in a kid’s mind — such craziness was sealed away in the past-like-a-movie and could not happen here and now. I was 11 and my world did change forever in that I knew death and tragedy had no mercy, and never would.
It’s too easy to fantasize about how America and my life here would have been different, but this piece give the best perspective I’ve read.
So maybe not that much different. Where I live now, I drive or walk past JFK’s birthplace every once in a while and that stirs a unique pang, for sure. That’s enough for me. On this anniversary, I’m going to put the memory into a book, on a mind screen, and close the cover, shut the window.
After enough time, you understand you are responsible for the history you live in.