I was really too young to remember the years of “Camelot” and “The New Frontier, ” but I’ve often told people that I have three mental images from childhood that I can turn to as my “earliest memories.” All of them have linkage to our upcoming season finale next Saturday, “American Dreamscapes.”
I was probably three years old, (I was born in July of 1959), and I can remember an afternoon, perhaps in the winter, when my mother was watching over me and my baby brother. She was ironing my father’s shirts and handkerchiefs in the den, while watching afternoon television, and I was playing on the floor.
There was a man on the television screen, in pretty much a “full face camera angle” talking. I asked my mother who this guy was, and she answered, “That’s the President of our country, and he’s talking to the people.” Well, to my three year old mind, he seemed a bit boring, and I wished he would talk faster and get done, so we could return to watching the afternoon cartoons!
I can, however, remember the image of that face, imprinted indelibly in my memory – the square, handsome face, the eyes as they danced and his smile as he quipped and bantered with the reporters in the witty way for which he was known.
That image will remain forever in the memories of many Americans, as we didn’t get to watch him age He will be forever young, handsome and vital – an image that transferred over into the outlook and spirit of the country in that short time.
It was a time of optimism, of absolute “can do” spirit – the generation that had gone to war and saved the world from tyranny and horror was back home, raising families, moving out of the “triple-deckers” in the cities and buying new homes in the suburbs – each of them taking hold of their piece of the American Dream, and building their own little castle and estate.
We had a President who was of that generation, and he had a stunning and cultured wife, and his beautiful children ran and played in the White House – bringing youth and new energy to its staid halls.
And his words inspired us – whether you voted for him or not – his words rang and resonated in every American’s psyche – not the tired old adages of old men politicians – but words that inspired a new sense of patriotism, of community, of working together and especially of a world that could and must be a better place for all.
After the tragedy of his assassination, the torch passed to his brother Bobby, and then to Teddy – as a nation struggled to hang onto that moment of shining optimism – to keep the fragile flame alive for a moment longer – to bring back that brief moment of Camelot.
Their collective words and ideals remain today, hopefully still inspiring new generations of Americans and world citizens to the “better angels of our nature” to borrow from Abraham Lincoln.
As we bring our 2015-16 Claflin Hill Season to a close, we will be performing Grammy nominated composer Peter Boyer’s “The Dream Lives On – A Portrait of the Kennedy Brothers.” I believe it would be good for every citizen to revisit the words of Jack, Bobby and Teddy – even as we continue through another Presidential election campaign that has been less than inspiring to any of us. Perhaps a better remembrance of their words and of the time we came from can better temper and inform our outlooks on the future we need to build for our children. The “Dream of America” still exists in our hearts and minds and it is our responsibility to curate it, nurture and hold its flame up high for an entire world who is also still searching for that dream.
Oh, and the other two memories I still hold in my head from when I was three years old were also both on TV. The first was seeing John Glenn step out of his space capsule onto the deck of an aircraft carrier after his historic orbital flight, returning from a journey that was started by that young American President, John F. Kennedy. The second was of Leonard Bernstein, conducting one of his Sunday afternoon “Young Peoples Symphony” broadcasts on CBS.
What a time that was. I look forward to seeing you Saturday to share the dream!