Growing up there was nothing I loved better than hearing about what life was like for my parents and grandparents. I would listen with rapped attention how they walked uphill both ways to school and all the hardship life held in the “olden days.” But honestly, what’s the history in your family history?
Decades of Significant Moments
A few years ago, I had the chance to sit down and chat with Stan Ellsworth, host of the popular BYUtv show, American Ride. As he talked, it got me thinking about some of those stories where my parents truly lived history.
How often have you thought about the history your parents and grandparents have been a witness to in their lifetime? If you go back 80 or so years – that’s a lot of history, right? WWII, Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement, the invention of the television, heck, even the internet, right? What have they seen firsthand? Have they told you about it? What sort of picture did it create in your mind?
For me, I have heard history firsthand from a number of my family members, but I never gave much thought to what a priceless treasure it was until a few years ago. I was talking with a reporter colleague who was looking for someone that had some kind of history or feeling about John F. Kennedy’s assassination. My dad immediately came to mind.
Hearing and feeling Dad tell it
He saw JFK the morning he was killed in Fort Worth, Texas. He had told us the story many times around the dinner table, or when some show came on about him. I always loved to hear the story, because my dad could paint a perfect picture with a story like no other. But it wasn’t until I read the words of the news article my colleague wrote that it really hit home as to what an amazing piece of history he lived through. He truly lived it, felt it, and I could still feel those feelings through him whenever he talked about it. My dad remembered that he felt like he could reach out and touch JFK and in that moment, he loved being part of that history.
“Kennedy was so charismatic.”
It was a rainy day in Fort Worth, Texas and my dad and his older brother Larry decided to see their president, a president that my dad had loved dearly. I should note, before he would tell us the story he was always quick to point out how much he loved JFK at the time, but since he heard of some of the late president’s transgressions and choices “that bloom has fallen off the rose,” as he put it. Dad was Democrat at the time and thought he would be his whole life – as many things change in life, so did that. He was later a staunch, classically conservative Republican.
Anyway, at the time of the assassination he was only 18, a freshman at the University of Texas in Arlington, and a “big Kennedy fan.” I love the way he would tell it, so I will quote him in some spots. He said of Kennedy: “Kennedy was so charismatic. He just seemed to know all the right things to say, and all the right gestures. He had a very natural way about him. When he waved at them, the kids in the band went crazy,” he said of the college band at the speaking event and parade. He and his brother arrived early to hear Kennedy speak at the Hotel Texas. This shows he must have been a fan, because my dad, like his daughter, really never arrived early anywhere.
A moment to last a lifetime
He loved watching the Kennedy’s drive by in the motorcade in the convertible automobile. The president waved to the crowd alongside his wife, Jacqueline. My dad remembered she was wearing a pink suit and matching hat. He was impressed that Kennedy stood to acknowledge the student band. (My dad noticed little things like that.)
My dad said the speech wasn’t anything special, just a “standard” speech. JFK said how great it was to be in Texas and that his wife was getting ready. They then went to watch the parade go by before they headed off to Dallas. “I was probably about 10 feet away when his vehicle passed. The kids in the band went wild when he stood up in his car and waved at them. It was a really big turnout, even though it was raining. Mrs. Kennedy was in the motorcade, and she was lovely. It was quite an experience, and it’s been permanently etched in my mind. I can see it like it was yesterday.”
Celebration turns to tragedy
It was while they were in the car on the way back to college when news came on the radio that shots had been fired at the Dallas parade. His brother dropped him off at school and a crowd had gathered in the foyer of his dorm where there was a television.
“Then the news came on, saying the president had died. Everybody was pretty upset. It was just a shock. We couldn’t believe something like that could happen,” he said. My dad noted that everyone his age felt a strong connection to Kennedy and liked the way the country was headed.
“He gave us something to cling to, to feel good about. Everyone was in a state of shock, and most of us just went home. I went home, and I didn’t leave the house for several days after that.”
Keeping historical moments in context
And while my dad said he was disappointed with the man Kennedy was after reports of some of his lifestyle came out, he doesn’t regret admiring him at that time. “I don’t feel bad that he charmed us all. After eight years of President Dwight Eisenhower, kids my age were really pumped up by the Kennedy’s. It was a different time, a different era.”
“Now when I look back on it, I don’t take any pride in the fact I was there and saw him on such a tragic day. It was a terrible blow to all of us. But I am glad I got to see him. It feels like I was there for a little bit of history that way. But I hope I never have to go through anything like that again.”
Mourning and remembering
Both of my parents often talk about the mourning the country went through at that time and my mom talks about how she can still get sick to her stomach when she sees John Jr. do that famous salute when his dad’s hearse drives by. I, too, have always been fascinated by the Kennedy’s story. Maybe it’s because my parents talked about it so much growing up. Maybe it’s because my dad was a Texan and I knew he was there that day. At any rate, after my husband and I had only been married a few years we visited my family in Texas and rode on that fatal street where Kennedy was killed. We felt a sense of sadness in the spot.
I suppose Kennedy’s assassination feels a lot to my parents like 9-11 feels to me when I tell my kids about it. Horrified, yet drawn to talk all about it. That’s why we talk about history – to learn from it, to not repeat the bad stuff, and to keep repeating the good stuff.
What parts of history have your family members seen? How did they come through it? What stories do they have that you can relive with them? Ask them. Write those stories down. It will be a blessing in your life. I know it has been in mine.
Rachel J. Trotter is a senior writer/editor at Evalogue.Life – Tell Your Story. She tells people’s stories and shares hers to encourage others and especially loves family storytelling. A graduate of Weber State University, Rachel has had articles featured on LDSLiving.com and Mormon.org. She and her husband, Mat, have six children and live on the East Bench in Ogden, Utah.
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