Monday, January 28, 2008

The New Frontier

I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m already tired of the presidential primaries. Each time we turn on the TV, they’re discussing the candidates: Clinton said this; Obama said that. John McCain insulted Mitt Romney; Fred Thompson dropped out. Today, I watched CNN’s Wolf Blitzer announce that Senator Ted Kennedy, and JFK’s daughter, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, are supporting Obama.

As usual, my thoughts took a backward turn, and I was suddenly in the middle of the 1960 presidential primaries.
Our two-room attic apartment in Brookfield became unbearable as the hot, steamy days of summer shrouded the area. The only thing we had to cool the place was a huge window fan which stirred up the humid air, sucked it outside, spun it around and smacked us in the face with blasts of suffocating heat. So nearly every Saturday and Sunday afternoon we jumped in the car and took off. We rarely knew where we were going, but most of the time we ended up in Maywood at Roger and Sharon’s apartment; from there, we all took off for parts unknown, just driving around, seeing the sights. Talking and laughing. Eating.

One Friday night in July, we were cruising around in Roger and Sharon’s long, white Pontiac Bonneville convertible. We had been downtown to Courtesy Motors, where we looked at shiny new cars we couldn’t afford; strolled through an outlet near The Loop, where one could buy a whole houseful of furniture for $399 (couldn’t afford that, either, thank heavens!), and on to Frisch’s in Oak Park, where we enjoyed thick milkshakes, Big Boy hamburgers, and greasy onion rings big enough for Rosanne Barr's bracelet collection.

After we were stuffed to the gills, and Roger had filled the convertible with gas (very cheap then!), we sped on out to Glen Ellyn, Naperville, Hinsdale and other western suburbs. The stifling heat had lifted, so it was a pleasant drive, the wind whipping against our faces, Johnny Horton’s Sink the Bismarck drifting from the backseat speakers. I laid my head back against the leather seat, enjoying the ride, lulled to sleep by the singing of the tires as the Bonneville skimmed swiftly through the night.

I was jerked awake by Carroll’s voice. “What’s all this?” he said.

We had just entered the village of Downer’s Grove. Traffic was bumper-to-bumper, people were everywhere, and cars were wedged into every conceivable parking place. Many were hurrying along the highway, some wearing white straw hats with red-white-and-blue bands and waving tiny American flags. Others were brandishing placards. Everyone seemed very excited, and they were all heading in one direction.

“Looks like somebody important is here,” I said.

Roger maneuvered the convertible to the curb, where hundreds more were milling around, all keyed up, animated. Most of them were young.

Sharon yawned, removing her compact from her purse. “Must be a candidate of some sort," she said.

“What’s going on here?” Roger yelled at a man walking past the car.
“Senator John F. Kennedy’s coming,” he said.
“John F. Kennedy?” I said, “John F. Kennedy will be here?”
“Yep, any minute!”
Roger turned to us, “I don’t want to see John F. Kennedy.”
“Let’s stop!” I said.
Sharon was now applying deep red lipstick. “He's Catholic, Brenda," she said, rubbing her lips together, "You know he doesn’t have a chance of getting elected."

“Yes, he does!”

“And he’s too young,” Roger said.

“No, he’s not!”

Carroll took a drag from his Lucky Strike. “I don’t care one way or the other,” he said.

Roger drove slowly past the John F. Kennedy supporters and picked up speed. I was not one to assert myself back then, and I was already kicking myself up one side and down the other for not insisting on staying. Why hadn't I gotten out of the car when we stopped?
I felt even worse as we headed out of town, where we were met by several black limos, red-white-and-blue streamers fluttering from the antennas. “That has got to be John F. Kennedy.” I said, “Right there!”

Roger tooted his horn at the last car in the motorcade. They tooted back, and everyone in the car laughed but me. “You know good and well Nixon has it in the bag,” Roger said, “Ike will see to that!”

Later that year, I did see President Eisenhower. The whole company was excused from work for an hour or so, and we walked up to the Magnificent Mile for the parade. Ike was perched on top of the back seat of a large open-top limo convertible, riding down Michigan Avenue that day. The ticker tape was as thick as snow, almost blinding him, but he was smiling and waving as he rode past us.

It was exciting to see Dwight D. Eisenhower; he was our President. But I knew it would have been much more exciting to see the young, energetic John F. Kennedy, the Harvard-educated war hero. The man who had a vision, who motivated people, spoke of the great things to come.
"I hope he's our next president," I said.
Sharon laughed, "You're so idealistic!"
"Get real, Brenda," said Roger.
Even our friends Lloyd and Marion put their two cents in. "Nixon has waited his turn," Marion said, "He should be our next president!"

When November rolled around, most of our friends didn't even bother to vote. But Carroll and I did. We cast our votes for John F. Kennedy.
And thus began The New Frontier.


Suz said...

Bless your hearts for those votes. And thanks for this story.

Angie said...

Brenda, you sure know how to make memories come to life.
Super enjoyed the flood of memories of that time.

All words and pictures © 2008 Brenda G. Wooley