Wild in the Streets and My Mother and the Kennedys

Wild_in_the_streets_dvd_coverI was 11 in the summer of 1968. My friend and I hanged Barbie and Skipper from the proscenium arch in my Barbie Little Theater, read Tiger Beat, and saw the movie Wild in the Streets.

Was it my imagination, or were we more confused than usual?

It was a year of social unrest.  On January 5, Dr. Benjamin Spock and three other men were indicted on charges of conspiracy to counsel evasion of draft.  On January 31, the North Vietnamese launched the Tet offensive.   On April 4, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.

Then Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated on June 5.

This last was most shocking to my Catholic family, who had regarded JFK’s presidency as a triumph over prejudice against Catholics and had deeply admired Robert and believed he would be president.  For days and days we watched the bleak TV coverage of the assassination.

Robert Kennedy for president test257_1The Kennedys were the most glamorous figures of my childhood.  My mother, a political science major, adored them.  When I was six, she gave me Jackie and Caroline paper dolls.  We watched the special on CBS where Jackie Kennedy gave a tour of the White House.  I grew up with Caroline and John-John.  There were pictures of the Kennedys playing football in Life and Look.

A few days after the assassination, my family gathered at the building site of my aunt and uncle’s new house.  Mill and throng, drink Kool-Aid out of a thermos, walk around looking at the boards, and talk about the CIA conspiracy theories.

There was some tension between my aunt and my mother, though both were  mourning Robert Kennedy. It may have been my aunt’s complaint that she was “mad at” my uncle (my mother’s brother) for getting her pregnant again.  More likely it was about fashion.  My very pregnant aunt wore short shorts.

Women shouldn’t wear shorts, my mother told me later.  Women’s knees look terrible after 30, she added disapprovingly.  I never looked at anyone’s knees.  Later, in my thirties, I wore miniskirts from the Gap.  Perhaps my knees were not the best.  I still wear shorts on my bike.  I do wear slacks or capris to the mall, though.  My mother would be proud.

Throughout her life my mother stuck to her “women-shouldn’t-wear-shorts” rule and collected  books and magazines by and about the Kennedys.

After her death, I didn’t know what to do with the books and magazines.  Some of them are good; some of them are not. There is a whole People magazine devoted to the death of John Kennedy, Jr.  I do not think we needed a magazine about that tragedy.

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