They say everyone knows where they were when Kennedy was shot. Is that true? I know because it was quite a big day for me too, but if I was at the mall or visiting my sisters, I’m not sure I would remember that. But as I say, I do remember. And I remember what I was doing every minute of the whole thing too.
On Thursday 22ndNovember, during what would turn out to be JFK’s last ever night alive, my wife Gloria started getting these tight feelings across her swollen belly. As the day rolled on they got closer together and in the evening there was this huge gush and fluid splooshed all over the couch. Gloria wanted to call her physician and I wanted her to try and sleep for a while. She won of course and the doc said we should get on over to the hospital. So as JFK was tucking into a testimonial dinner in Houston, we were loading Gloria’s hospital bag into the car and trying to remember everyone we had to call.
At the hospital they poked and prodded and fiddled about and Junior decided he might stay put in the warm after all. By then it was too late to send Gloria home, so they settled her in a bed and told me to go home and get some rest. Instead I headed for the waiting room and grabbed some shut-eye stretched out on 4 stained but comfy chairs with my jacket over my head to block out the all-night movement.
As JFK woke for the final time on 23rd November, my boy decided he might just be ready to show up after all. I grabbed a coffee, dark as pitch and about as tasty, and went to find Gloria. She was on this machine measuring the baby’s heart or something and she smiled at me looking like she hadn’t slept at all. Good practise, I thought to myself, never daring to say such a thing out loud. She said baby would be a few more hours, go get some breakfast, shave and shower then come back. I decided traffic across town ahead of a presidential visit would be horrendous with road blocks and diversions, so I washed up in a basin in the washrooms. A proper breakfast would be good though, so I found a diner nearby and sat for a while, with my thoughts.
About the time the president was landing from Fort Worth, Gloria was pushing and straining with all her might. They didn’t let a father in to see the birth and I don’t know I would have gone if they did. I paced the halls outside, just like in movies, and I could hear my Gloria cussing me out and swearing on her life I’d never be allowed near her again. Why would a man want to be close to that kind of thing anyway?
When the motorcade started along its fatal route, I could hear Gloria’s breathing get all puffy and she grunted a lot. At least the shouting at me had stopped. There was a tension from in the room that I could feel in the hallway. I was scared and excited at once, and worried about my lady and our little man. I felt sure it was a little man, although I didn’t know for definite. My boy.
As the shots were piercing the Dallas air and JFK’s brain, my son was thrust into the world. One in, one out it was, in a weird sort of way. As Jackie was climbing out the back of the car screaming, my boy was screaming his first cries and breathing his first as her husband breathed his last. As she scraped brain and blood off her hands and face, the nurse washed the birthing off the body of our baby. When the priest was giving JFK his last rites and the doctors declared him dead, I was meeting my son for the first time. We missed the announcements on television and radio as we were so happy and caught up in our own world we didn’t find out about the shooting until later that night.
I felt a bit guilty that I was so happy when the whole nation and the first lady in particular were in mourning. But he wouldn’t have wanted that I’m sure. He’d say life goes on, even if his wasn’t. We had decided to call the boy Walter after my father and Gloria’s grandfather. In the end we made Walter his middle name and called him Johnny as a mark of respect.