Digital Inauguration Divide: JFK vs. Obama

Dapper and Different

I experienced many important, even historic, things that day. But I remember most was just how bitterly, miserably cold it was. I wouldn't be that cold again until I was a college, caught in a sleet storm in an open dune buggy in Alaska. At least then I had some control over my fate; as a 7-year-old, all I could do was shiver, occasionally whine, and hope that the grown-ups would rescue me.

Eventually, my parents took pity on me, no doubt because they too were starting to freeze. They began to take turns walking me back into the office building behind us. It belonged to some kind of government agency (the memory of which one is long gone) and the rather nervous guard at the front desk initially refused entry to anyone. But, eventually, he took pity on the army of hypothermic citizens outside and let us come in and thaw in the entryway.

Needless to say, I soon grew to love being in that entryway, and dreaded every time I had to go back outside.

After what seemed forever but was likely nearly two hours, the Inaugural Parade began. I remember hearing it in the distance but not being able to see around the grown-ups around me. Then they were right in front of me. I remember big, beautifully caparisoned horses ridden by stern soldiers in their dress blues, brass marching bands, artillery pieces and caissons, and lots of big, open-topped Cadillacs carrying various dignitaries I'd never heard off.

Then, pre-warned by first a murmuring, then applause, from the crowd around me, came the presidents. I lifted up my camera and clicked and cranked it as fast as I could.

I watched five past and future Presidents drive past that day: Truman (I remember he looked very dour), Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon. I missed a sixth, Hoover, because the snowstorm had cancelled his flight. And had we been closer to the Capitol, I might have even seen a seventh: young Congressman Gerald Ford. What I remember most about that moment (and it is still vivid after nearly a half-century) was how very different John Kennedy looked from the rest of them.

He was young, handsome, dapper in the casual way one only finds in someone born to wealth, and hugely appealing. Even at my age, I could sense that something was changing, that a new era was arriving that was very different from the one I knew; the comfortable, well-worn world that was inhabited by the older people standing around me.

It would soon be a time of changes for me and my family. The next summer we would drive out past the lonely little roadhouse at an intersection at Tysons Corner, to circle all four leaves of the first highway cloverleaf we'd ever seen … then on out to catch sight of Saarinen's great winged terminal as it rose above what would soon be Dulles Airport. And the woods at Pine Springs, where my friend Scott Christopher (now a noted photographer in Santa Fe) and I explored and caught crayfish and turtles, was gutted to make way for a new housing development.

Missing the 'Ask Not'

That October, my mother bundled me in a blanket at midnight to drive into D.C. to pick up my father, who had night duty. He was shaking when he got into the car, and poured a tall highball when he got home: It was the Cuban Missile Crisis, and manning the code machines at OSI headquarters, he knew more of what was happening than almost anyone alive. Although I was too young to notice, he drank more in the evenings after that.

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