John F. Kennedy is still dead.
And my assassination baby, Michael Peter DeCarlo, is 51 years old.
It is rather astounding to me to note his age. JFK’s murder, though indelibly imprinted on my mind, doesn’t seem that long ago.
Then again, it seems to have occurred in another lifetime. The country’s culture has changed so much from one seemingly filled with dignity, decorum, purpose and respect for achievement to a different place – utterly foreign to the innocent youth, as we were, of that era.
Certainly, having a baby who is half a century old, Nov. 29, is rather mind-bending. Magically, as every mother knows, when we gaze at our child, we see him all at once, at every age – infant, toddler, teen, and almost less so as his current incarnation as an adult.
I’ve always felt regret for poor baby Michael, as the joy of his birth was forever tinged by the tragic circumstances of 1-week-old history of a killed young president.
In a certain sense he was the first “manufactured” glamorous national celebrity under the influence of his hard-driving father and the reach of broadcast television. We were pretty unsophisticated because whatever was put out by the Kennedy public relations machine, we gobbled it up.
Clean cut. Charming. Smart. Charismatic. What if it had been known how ill he was, what a skirt-chaser he was, wearing a back brace and sitting in a rocking chair? He was only 43, yet the public accepted his infirmities without concern.
Like anyone alive on that Friday, Nov. 22, 1963, exactly one week before my baby Michael’s birth, I remember every detail of the news unfolding.
The little television set was on in the living room of our garden apartment on the far West Side of Chicago, near Columbus Park. My 18-month-old baby, Mark Jude DeCarlo, was sleeping in his crib. Suddenly, uncharacteristically, he awoke from his nap and cried out, just as Walter Cronkite, looking shell-shocked, removing his horn-rimmed glasses and carefully placing them next to the microphone, with a glance at the wall clock, announced the president was dead.
Baby Mark never cried. I went to pick him up and held him against my expanded abdomen and together we watched the unbelievable heartbreak of a nation entering into acute mourning, though we did not realize it just yet.
Something shattered that day. We were so young, believing in America and its grand place and purpose. Prideful patriotism was not a cloak put on for holiday parades, but resided atavistically within each citizen’s soul. Once the publicly staged murder of the country’s leader was done, it apparently was a small step to begin to destroy other iconic entities.
Once Kennedy was shown to be expendable, then anything could be slaughtered.
At least it can be said it was a favor to the public to be shielded from JFK’s disrespect of the White House. Our era spared Americans. In that earlier instance, ignorance was bliss.
In any case, with our second son’s birth, his arrival has always been tied up in the tragic episode of the nation’s loss of not only a president, but of a youthful sense of endless possibilities and belief in decency.
Kennedy’s murder seems to have acted as a crashing comet, blasting to smithereens the fragile social paradigm that made life orderly, pleasurable and just.
We remain sad over the events of 51 years ago … except some of us have reason to rejoice when we think of the new life, Michael Peter DeCarlo, we welcomed Nov. 29, 1963.
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