Friday, July 13, 2007

What Was It Like When You Were A Kid -- Presidents Part 1

My kids ask us this all the time. I can't remember wanting to hear so much about my parent's childhoods, but this stuff fascinates my kids. When we were in Dallas, Bill wanted to take them to the site where the president was murdered. I really didn't want to go, but he thought it was important for them to understand it as part of their history studies. Surprisingly, the kids didn't get as much out of it as we did. We'd both been there before as visitors always ask to go. We cringe inside because this was so not a tourist thing to us, but we will take them. Anyway it's been a long time since anyone has asked.

We were there on a quiet morning and had the area mostly to ourselves. We were able to walk around, cross the street, walk up and down the length of the route and think about what we had lived through. I couldn't really make my kids see how close to home this hit us. Removed so far by time, this holds no real fear or sorrow in their hearts.

My own reaction surprised me. As I stood there I got angry for the very first time. When it all happened, we were terrified and then deeply grieved. Now I looked at the window out of which a gun had been pointed, saw the quite street that had been filled with neighbors that day, and really registered the wrong done to us all.

We also learned something new about the book depository. There is a historical marker which explains the history of the building itself. The depository was a municipal building constructed in 1901. This means it was built by someone in my family.

Our grandmother's family were all stone masons. They worked every turn of the century municipal project in the city, because they were the best. I don't know which ones would have worked on this building because there were dozens of them; great-grandfather, great-uncles, cousins, etc. I know most of their work, because they would point out the buildings and talk about what they had done. My great-grandfather loved to just drive around the city pointing to the family's work. He said they were "built to last."

Why didn't I know about this very famous building? I'm guessing they wouldn't have wanted to talk about it, wouldn't have wanted any of us to be reminded of it. But I stood there and read the plaque and knew for the first time. This made me so angry at the evil of the thing done here that I shook.

Another Texas historical marker down in the park area explained that this was the original site of the first settlement in Dallas. I didn't know that either. The park had been there long before the terrible events in 1963, but I never thought to ask why. So, school kids don't go there to picnic and learn about the history of the city. Families don't sit on the benches. Old men don't feed the birds. There was once a reflecting pool. It's been drained and stands as an empty white hole. It would have reflected the surrounding buildings and who wants that? Instead of park goers, there are conspiracy freaks prowling around with ghoulish glee, crawling across our childhood. A man approached with a lurid color photo showing the whole ugly thing, silently screaming its horror. The young wife crawling across the back of the car, the young leader gone. I asked the man why the hell he thought I would need his picture to know what happened in my own home. He retreated quickly, and my kids just looked at me wondering why I was so upset. They'd seen similar photographs their whole lives. Why so angry?

The kids were more interested in hearing about the family's work building the zoo, the red bricked streets in the historical parts of town and the university. They are fascinated by the mansions with their wealthy owners. All built to last.

I wanted to write about Lady Bird Johnson today but found I couldn't without thinking through this other thing first. I'll write about that sweet lady tomorrow.


PJ said...

wow..that was very deep! Isn't it something the feelings you have inside that sometime lurk up. Very interesting about your family history. I look forward to Part II...

PJ said...

Thinking about you! Hope everything is ok! Wasn't it a pretty launch? :)