Tag Archives: funerals

Reading Your Own History

When do you think you read your own history? Or maybe it’s read history during your own time.

I think the first time it dawned on me was when I was reading a book about Twyla Tharp  and I realized that the days and dates she was discussing I had lived. And I could remember things I was doing.  Not anywhere near her circle, of course,  I was west coast, she was east, she’s about four/five years older than me. Then it happened again when I read Taylor Branch’s Parting the Waters and I realized at a very visceral level that while those young men and women who were a scant one or two years older than me were sitting at the lunch counter in Greensboro North Carolina while I was maybe in class or eating lunch in the open Quad, or more likely, pranking one of the nuns at Bishop Alemany High.

Now I am reading Killing Kennedy by Bill O’Reilly and I am struck by how much is not history to me, but memory. Not of the personal issues of the Kennedy’s [those came out only much much later after Jackie had solidified the ideal-falsely I think-of the administration as Camelot] as closely told in the book. Mine was the view of a teenager watching the entire presidency and then assassination take place. Even then I was something of a political history wonk. Somehow I remember being in school, it was my senior year at Alemany, but as it was the Friday after Thanksgiving that’s doubtful. I do remember Sister Roseanne, SJC, our principal announcing something over the loud speaker and all of us being shocked. But again, I don’t think we went to school the Friday after the holiday.

What I do clearly remember is the hours of television over the weekend devoted news in Dallas, in DC. The video or was it pictures? of Johnson taking the oath of office. I remember the reporting about the feuding between the two families, the play, the name I can’t remember, that intimated that  Johnson was complicit in the assassination. I remember the naming of the Warren Commission, mainly because Earl Warren was from California. I even read parts of the Commission Report.

The funeral was on Monday. Nobody had school. We all sat and watched. The country stopped.  I have picture of the funeral cortege made just for me. A friend, Pete, a couple of years older and in the Defense Language Institute outside of DC was able to attend the funeral as part of the people on the street and sent me copies of the pictures. They are color, little, maybe 4X4 inch. But it was a clear, sunny day, not warm, as you can see people in the crowd wearing coats. There are pictures of  the riderless horse,  and the horse drawn caissson. And the crowds. Sigh.

Why am I blogging about all of this? Two reasons. I am writing a creative narrative non-fiction about a person in the twentieth century and as Rosenstock-Hussy wrote, “Memory is Tyrannical” and I believe that to be true. I need to sort what I know from what I remember.

The second is about how we remember–even days that are not part  of our own personal history. More on that later.

But for now, I am deep in the throes of having lived history. Daunting.

seventeen

It’s been less than exciting recently, except, maybe, in my head. In my head there’s always something cool going on. I dream in technicolor, do they even talk about that anymore? No, it’s probably something digital now. I used to say, when I looked in the mirror, I see me at seventeen, but then, again, I’m not quite sure what age I am in my head these days, it keeps changing. Not that seventeen wasn’t good, it was. It was my senior year in high school. Started badly, what with Kennedy being shot just before Thanksgiving and the all the weeping and crying, the doomsaying, the loss of Camelot. Well. It wasn’t Camelot, it was politics.

There was the funeral procession down in DC, not there was much else on the seven or nine channels we had in LA at the time. I have pictures taken by a guy I thought was the most gorgeous boy in the world, he was at the Defense Language Institute in DC, pictures of the horseless rider, the flag draped casket.  Then there was all the nasty set ups about Lyndon. I felt sorry for LBJ, he had wanted to be president, and settled for second. ‘Course, even then, the historian in me thought Jack was more potential and promise, not an empty suit, and unfortunately we never really found out if he was as good as he said.

But there was good stuff, not that I was one of the cool kids, I was a watcher, sometimes a participant. No, that’s not right, not a watcher, I was more clueless, observed, participated but missed a lot. Not one of a clique, but one who moved in and out of cliques, passing through, getting information, moving on. And the information was scattered. Maybe that’s the reason I have had no interest in school reunions. You’d think a lover of history like me would want to return, but no. I like to, no love to, study the stuff, but returning, seems like a waste of time. I hardly ever re-read a book, mainly because once I’ve got the story, the characters and the plot, I’m done. I really don’t care about books, I mean I don’t care if they are on a tablet, oral or between hard or soft covers. What I care about is plot, how a character is getting from one part of the story to the other, who are they using, who is using them, what are they running from, and what are they running toward. Yep, that seventeen is still in my head.