In the end, it was a blizzard, and the lure of a job back in California where he'd grown up, that led us to move away from Virginia forever. My old man took his promotion to major, his newest medal, and filed for retirement. Then he dumped the coat and hat, bought a T-Bird, packed us up, and drove us out on Route 66 to California.
Almost a year later, by then a fifth-grader at Monte Loma Elementary School in Mountain View, while out in the schoolyard (shared by, of all people, fourth-grader Steve Jobs), I first learned that John Kennedy had been assassinated.
I remember my teacher crying as she came into the classroom. To her, and to my classmates, Kennedy was a distant symbol, a larger-than-life being. But to me, he was that grinning, infinitely self-assured, figure in the open limousine. It seemed impossible that he could actually disappear from the world.
For us, the inauguration ended that day with a freezing trudge back to the car. The journey seemed twice as long as had walking in that morning. The car took forever to crank over but it finally started, and when my father turned on the radio, we heard the reassuring voice of Edward R. Murrow describing the day's events. As it turned out, we had missed almost everything everyone remembers about that day: JFK tipping his hat to his father, Robert Frost's poem, Kennedy's famous "Ask not" speech.
My parents had somehow scored an invitation to one of the lesser inaugural balls, but were too tired, and too wary of driving back into the city that night in such nasty weather. So my mom cooked up some oyster stew (it was the only thing that would warm us) and we sat and talked about the day.
We carefully set aside a copy of the day's Washington Star, and I unrolled the commemorative pennant, with the attached campaign button, that I had bought that morning from a street vendor. I still have it, buried in a trunk until the day when, with luck, I am one of the last survivors of that day. That moment is coming ever closer.
Even at that young age, I was right about that day. Everything did change after that. From that moment, the world began to accelerate ….and it hasn't stopped since. Now we have elected another young and charismatic president, and I can't help thinking that history is once again about to hit another point of inflection, darting off in a new direction that will be both better and worse than we can ever imagine.
I didn't watch much of President Obama's inauguration on Tuesday, the day before my 55th birthday. I haven't watched parades for a very long time. I've been immersed in the speeded-up technology world for so long that these public events now seem dreadfully slow and boring to me, the speeches programmatic and dreary.
So, I watched a little of Aretha and Yo-Yo Ma, watched the muddled oath, enjoyed the invocation, and listened (to my dismay) to the official poem. I quickly read the address on Matt Drudge, then only listened to the actual address for a couple seconds to hear the president's cadences … then moved on to read various livebloggers, drunkbloggers, commentators, read a little history on past inaugural addresses and Wikipedia-ed the Kennedy Inauguration to check my facts.