Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Some men see things as they are and ask why

My favorite Robert F. Kennedy quote, his version of George Bernard Shaw's.

"Some men see things as they are 
and ask why

I dream 
things that never were and ask why not."

We were at the American Bar in Las Vegas this weekend, having martinis, and I, of course, mentioned Bobby Kennedy. And Eli, dear husband of mine, turned to me  and quoted the above. without any sort of hesitation.  My heart    
                                                        d               into a puddle on the carpet.
And so I realized it was time for another Bobby post. This time, it is personal.

This is about my own connection with him and just how my fanaticism began.

It all started with my mother. She was about the same age that I was when I started loving the Kennedys.  She was in college in South Dakota and absolutely loved the family. This was when they were at their peak--vibrant, powerful, gorgeous, and present in American everyday life.

Her dad, my grandpa, despised them.  I spoke with him about it a few times actually. He condemned the patriarch, Joseph Kennedy, for his "crooked ways" and the fact that the family's money and power was created through illegal means (running booze during Prohibition). He theorized that JFK bought the presidency.

And this is how the love/hate of the Kennedys seems to work, at least in my family---if your father hates the Kennedys, you will love them.  That is how it went for my mom, and for me as well.
Funny how I grew up with my mother raving about them and my father growling in response. 
It instilled in me a bizarre and frustrating mix, where I can't wholeheartedly worship them as I please because I must acknowledge their faults. 
Bobby is my favorite because, honestly, he was the BEST Kennedy. I think he is what the family was striving to be --truthful, hard-working, sympathetic, trying to make the world a better place-- but their own weaknesses got in their way. He was the black sheep of the family and often found himself at odds with their vices, especially his father's and brothers' weakness for women.

How my mom could so fervently adore this family while my father could so casually censure them confused me and I always begged "but WHY?! Why are they so great?" and alternately "Dad, why do you hate them so much?!"  And they tried to explain, but my curiosity was not fulfilled. 
And so I wrote my college thesis in history on that very topic - the divide between Kennedy love and hate and its origins.
And to be honest...I am still curious and fascinated and seeking answers. Maybe, one day, a book.

So, back to my college-age mom.  She was still broken-hearted about Jack's death and delighted that Bobby was running for president. She skipped class one day in 1968 to go to a rally in Rapid City for Bobby Kennedy. She was exhilarated, inspired, hopeful.
The day after she saw him, he was shot.
Needless to say, like many of her generation, she was heartbroken and horrified. 
But perhaps not a shocked as she should have been...I think a lot of Americans wondered if Bobby would meet the same end as his brother Jack. The Kennedy family certainly suspected it, particularly Jackie.
I grew up hearing this story, about how Mom saw Bobby the day before he was killed.

When I went to college myself, I met Doc. She is the head of the history department, was my thesis advisor, my employer, and my friend. I was her research assistant for 2 years and we still get together for cocktails and gossip. She has a rare picture of Jack and Bobby hanging in her dining room.

She actually worked on Bobby's campaign.  When he was killed she ran upstairs in her parents home in Boston, and woke up her mother crying "They shot Bobby! They shot Bobby!"
and her mother's response was "poor Rose...poor Rose."  I am so fascinated by this story and how everyone's reactions vary, based on their life. For Doc's mom, she identified with the matriarch of the Kennedys, and all of the children she had lost.  For the younger generation, fearful about Vietnam and the future, they felt like they had had their savior, their idol, snatched away from them.

Based on my reading and research, I was already a big fan of Bobby. But hearing these cathartic stories from two important women in my life clinched it.
I started collecting Bobby memorabilia. Here you will see a Life magazine and a gold necklace with a picture of Bobby inside. The necklace has his name and years of his life inscribed on it.
It was custom made. I came across is while I was surfing the web for my thesis and had to have it--
it is one of a kind and was an estate sale item from someone who was a close friend of the Kennedy family. I like to think it was Bob McNamara's necklace.  ;)

Also you will see a postcard with a snapshot of a man mostly submerged in ice water.
That is Bobby's son, the third of eleven children.

His name is,
Robert Francis Kennedy, Jr.

I started writing him letters when I was in college.
And he wrote back.

Through some tricky maneuvering, Eli and I were able to see him speak at the University of Utah, and the next morning I met him at a private event my dad got me into.

I pushed through the small crowd to meet him and when he turned, and I saw his eyes, my knees literally went weak and started shaking.
He has Bobby's eyes. 

And there is something about Bobby's eyes that has always drawn me in--and those who knew him frequently mentioned his crystal blue eyes that looked right into your soul, eyes that couldn't conceal truth or pain.

And I realized, standing in front of his son, this is the closest I am ever going to get to Bobby. 

I am not one for nerves, but I was literally stammering and wobbly, just mesmerized by those blue eyes. I wasn't as eloquent as I had hoped and ended up offending him by asking him about his dead uncles and his dead father.
I tried to express how much I love his father and he couldn't make eye contact with me. He refused to talk about it, as is typical of the Kennedys. He did recommend a book to me, called JFK and the Unthinkable by James Douglass.  It is a marvelous book and all about the conspiracy surrounding Jack's assassination. He doesn't believe Oswald did it, and I don't either.

After I met him I wrote him a note of apology, about bringing up something he clearly doesn't want to talk about (and with a stranger--who could blame him?!) and our correspondence has continued.

I was sorry to hear about his estranged wife hanging herself a few weeks back.  But such is the way of the Kennedys I suppose.  RFK Jr. struggled with his own demons and lost two of his brothers and two cousins. 
He was nice and reminded me quite a bit of Bobby, though, unfortunately, he doesn't sound like him.
Meeting him just strengthened my connection to and love of the Kennedys. It isn't going away anytime soon!

"Tragedy is a tool for the living to gain wisdom, not a guide by which to live."    -RFK

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