Peace Corps Writers
God, President Kennedy and Me (page 3)
God, President Kennedy and Me
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Being Jackie Kennedy
There were few occasions when I didn’t turn to God, and I prayed silently all the way to school. After our classroom prayer during homeroom period, I added my own silent P.S. “If it be Thy will . . .”
     People came by me at my hall monitor post, and a lot of them said, “Good luck tonight.” I looked back at them quizzically, as if the beauty contest were the furthest thing from my mind.
     “Why don’t you get your hair fixed like Laura Petrie on ‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’?” someone asked. “You already look a little bit like her.”
     “But it wouldn’t be right to copy her,” I said, and I shrugged. “I just have to be myself.”
     
And myself was going to be Jackie Kennedy. Mary Tyler Moore was cute, but I wasn’t settling for her. I was going to be the President’s Wife.
The auditorium
I walked by the auditorium where we’d be having the contest in just a few more hours. The faculty sponsor of the yearbook, Miss Carver, had vetoed the students’ vote for “The Days of Wine and Roses” as the theme because she said it wouldn’t be seemly to have wine bottles decorating a high school stage. So tonight we’d hold crescent-shaped cards bearing our numbers, and “Moon River” would play as we walked across the stage — the same stage where Strom Thurmond had stood while getting a standing ovation earlier in my high school career. I had stood and applauded, too, because even though I disagreed with everything Strom Thurmond stood for, I didn't want to stand out by not standing. I knew I would probably not have made President Kennedy’ Profiles in Courage, but how many of the men in that book had been rejected for Homeroom Coupon Chairman? I didn’t want to alienate my southern friends, and I knew their fears.

Civil Rights and Communists
In spite of Strom Thurmond’s stand against civil rights, the Civil Rights Bill had become law. And those Kennedy Brothers were starting to enforce it. Other things were happening too. Back in April Sidney Poitier had won the Oscar for “Lilies of the Field,” and no colored person had ever won an Oscar before. There he was, up on stage with Patricia Neal, a white lady, and they were hugging each other, which was worse than what I’d done with Jean Paul Mathieu. Jean Paul Mathieu might not have been “from around here,” but at least he was white. Sidney Poitier and Patricia Neal were on their way to misogenation!
     Then, in June, there’d been that big civil rights march in Washington with more the 200,000 people showing up and hearing Martin Luther King talking about making all people equal no matter what color their skin. If God had wanted all people to be equal, my friends reasoned, wouldn’t He have made them equally white? And then President Kennedy had sent troops to Alabama to force an all-white school to accept two colored girls, and they’d enrolled in spite of Governor Wallace’s efforts to protect states’ rights. The federal government was becoming Communist and taking over the country, stirring discontent into the heads of colored people who had been perfectly happy before.
     I certainly didn’t let my classmates in on my promise to God that I’d give my first paycheck to the NAACP if I were chosen our school beauty queen. But I thought God might like that, not necessarily being Southern — a possibility I never suggested to my friends. The leader of the NAACP had been assassinated in June, and four Negro children had been killed in a church bombing in Birmingham. I had a hunch that God didn’t buy that thing about their being Communists.

So few of her kind
I don’t remember any of my morning classes; I assume I prayed my way through them. But I do remember Miss Goldman’s Problems of American Democracy class after lunch that day because that was when the news came.
     Miss Goldman was my favorite teacher. She was a Democrat, too, at a school where the principal himself — Mr. Kirkley, an otherwise nice guy who’d coached football before coming to our school — had started The Young Republicans Club, which he himself was sponsoring. The South had finally caught on that the Republican Party was no longer the party of Lincoln, who had done such terrible things to the South. The parties had switched, and the South was turning away from the Democratic Party. In fact, there was no Young Democrats Club at Greenville High, and Miss Goldman had protested.
     “If you think the school should have a Young Democrats club,” Mr. Kirkley had told her, “you’re free to start one.”
     But she wasn’t free. She was already the sponsor of the International Relations Club, of which I was president. She was one of the few people outside my family who was enthusiastic about my plans to join the Peace Corps as soon as I finished college, culminating a five-year plan that only began with tonight’s beauty contest.
     
Miss Goldman was the only Jew at our school. As chairman of Religious Emphasis Week, I thought of her and suggested that we drop the “in Jesus Christ we pray” part of our prayers so she wouldn’t feel left out. But Miss Webster, the sponsor of Religious Emphasis Week, said, “I’m sure she doesn’t mind if we pray our way when there are so many of us and so few of her.”

The news
Close to the beginning of our 1:15 class, Mrs. Lindly, a math teacher who had an Algebra by TV class, came to the door.
     “You know what?” she said. “They interrupted our Algebra lesson for a news bulletin. There’s been some shooting around President Kennedy’s motorcade in Dallas.”
     “Oh, how awful!” Miss Goldman said. “I hope nobody’s been hurt.”
     I dropped God a quick line.
     “Dear God, let everyone be all right.”
     But I knew that no one had been hurt — not seriously, if at all. I was so certain that President Kennedy was all right that I felt foolish wasting my prayers — prayers that should be directed towards the less certain outcome of the night’s beauty pageant.
     We went back to our lesson about voting precincts. And then the principal came over the PA system.
     “President Kennedy has been shot,” he said. “We have not yet received word on whether or not the shot was fatal.”
     Fatal? Of course the shot hadn’t been fatal. Why was Mr. Kirkley being so melodramatic? Presidents didn’t get assassinated nowadays. Not in our country. Maybe he’d been shot at. I could picture him in a Dallas clinic now, charming the staff as the nurses bandaged a slightly knicked shoulder.
     “I had hoped for a 20-gun salute,” he might say, “but not directed at me.”
     That night I was going to look like his wife. The time he took her to Paris.
     A few minutes later Mr. Kirkely came over the PA system again.
     “May I have your attention please?”
He had our attention.

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