Every Friday I’ll indulge my order-crazed brain in a list of randomness. Welcome to my Friday Fives.
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. November 22, 1963 (which also happened to be a Friday) changed the course of our country. So much innocence lost in those three shots. So much sadness that plagued the entire world. So many lives changed forever.
I’ve been borderline obsessed with the Kennedy family (specifically Jackie) since I was in middle school. The tragedy, her style, his family, their class, the mystery…it’s American royalty/celebrity at its finest…certainly its classiest. I’ve dedicated a lot of time reading about and watching documentaries on their life. But I don’t think I’ve put myself in Jackie’s shoes as much as I have over the last few weeks. After all, I’m almost the age she was when the assassination took place. I’m actually my grandparent’s age from that year and started thinking of what they must have felt during that time, the hopelessness I would have felt in the world especially with young children.
Last night I watched TLC’s Letters to Jackie special and I was in tears within minutes. The poignant messages written within minutes/hours/days of the assassination were so heart-breaking, heart-gripping and gut-wrenching. The raw pain was truly felt around the world–no matter your age, race or religion. I wish I had thought to pick up pen and paper and write to Jackie during the 13 years we shared on earth.
When she was young, Jackie (a nickname she despised) wrote an essay and said she wanted to be the “art director of the 20th century.” Isn’t that incredible? Not just the idea, but that she made it happen. I can’t think of anyone else that did so much for the arts, history preservation, humanities, culture and style during that time. She set new trends while honoring the past at the same time.
I’d like to think we’d be good friends, since we have so many things in common: love of books, writing, photography, family, animals…almost everything minus her expensive clothing and smoking habit.
When she died, JFK Jr. said “My mother died surrounded by her friends and her family and her books, and the people and the things that she loved. She did it in her own way, and on her own terms, and we all feel lucky for that.” I love that…surrounded by her friends and her family and her books. All equals.
Perhaps the most touching statement was also given by John Jr. at her funeral when he described his mother as embracing “the love of words, the bonds of home and family, and the spirit of adventure.” I love this woman. So very much.
In case you want to dive into history, I’ve tried to narrow down my top five ways to learn about Jackie & Co.:
In 1951, Jackie and her sister Lee spent the summer in Europe and to thank their mom and step-father for footing the bill, they created this lovely journal filled with stories and Jackie’s own sketches. I adore this book. It captures so much of the whimsy and hope these girls had, before marriages — before children — before real life.
The first time I saw this video I was first stunned by Jackie’s voice — the girl knew how to speak well, yet with a soft tone that didn’t threaten anyone, especially men. At first it was unnerving that she would almost dumb herself down for public consumption, but she was just very calculated. I love this video because you get to experience her love of history and glimpse how happy she was as First Lady. One of the letters from the special last night spoke about how much they appreciated the White House Tour video, saying “The White House is America’s home and you knew and loved that. You just wanted us to know you were taking care of it.” Gah! Love it.
3. Secret Service Tales
I prefer to read books by the people who actually knew her–not historians taking gambles here and there–so I was thrilled when these two books came out over the last two years. (Yes, two…I knew I couldn’t get this down to five…)
For the first time since the assassination, the secret service men whose job it was to project the President that day reveal what happened in the weeks leading up to the Texas trip, the months following as some transitioned to serve LBJ, and the guilt that swallowed them whole. It was a fantastic book. I’d highly recommend it.
Clint Hill was the secret service agent assigned to Jackie and his was a story I have loved reading most. He tells of what Jackie was really like in her everyday life, how he took her and Robert Kennedy back to JFK’s grave in the middle of the night after the funeral, how he joined in on Kennedy Family football matches, Jackie’s international travels, JFK’s distrust of Aristotle Onassis, the assassination….it goes on and on. Needless to say, I ate this book up. I can’t imagine what Mr. Hill is going through today. (He was the agent that jumped on the back of the car after the shooting and laid down on top of Jackie and JFK on the ride to Parkland Hospital.)
The second best thing to reading about Jackie is to look at photos of her. What a gorgeous woman with impeccable style. I’ve seen many of her dresses at the Kennedy Library in Boston, but this awesome coffee table book has photos of the dresses/suits/hats alongside photos of Jackie wearing them across the globe and the stories behind them. It’s a lovely book to browse here and there and has had a place in my living room since I received it.
What better way to learn about Jackie than by hearing her tell it like it is? These audio interviews were conducted just weeks after the assassination and were just released a few years ago. I can’t imagine how painful it must have been for her, but she was adamant in preserving their history in the White House, saying it was the best time of both their lives.
I don’t think I’ll ever stop reading about the Kennedys. I have A Cruel and Shocking Act on my bedside table and I’d also like to read Killing Kennedy. There’s always something to learn, something to take away from their lives. So on today’s horrible anniversary, I choose to celebrate the Kennedy’s love, passion and pursuit of a brighter future. No bullet could take that away.