"Mad Men" Wedding. My cousin had one too.
Thanksgiving weekend, 1963. Our cousin Polly, one of the "big girls" (the tier of cousins 10-15 years older) was getting married. We'd have to sit in the synagogue's balcony and be very quiet, but it was such an honor to be included. We were beyond excited.
There would be so many parties, so much fun. The wedding was in the town where we'd been born, where our father had been born. And where he died.
We were going to stay the whole week after the wedding and have a traditional Thanksgiving with our father's family. Which would be so much better than the two thankless Thanksgiving dinners since his suicide in August, 1961.
We'd see all the relatives, be fussed over, stuffed with food, play with cousins and friends we hadn't seen in a long time. We were too young to consider the subtext, the looks, the whispers, the discomfort our mother would endure.
I remember how excited my sister and I were on Friday, November 22, 1963. We didn't want to go to school. So many days off from school, of course our mother said we couldn't stay home one extra day.
We sat in our classrooms, fidgety, imagining the pretty party dresses we'd wear, how the bride would look in her white gown, the bridesmaids in their matching blue ones, who would take us ice skating, how many sleep overs and in whose houses, what movies we'd see, let's go, let's go, won't this school day ever be over?
Then footsteps running in the hallway. Doors banging. One of the high school girls bursting into our classroom. Crying so hard she could barely speak. Before the teacher could move, the girl was shouting, "They killed him! They killed him! He's dead! He's dead."
Just like that, each horrid sentence repeated twice, scaring us, maybe even scarring us. We'd already heard news like that in our family. And though we didn't yet know it, another family had lost a father.
I didn't know who she was talking about, but my first thought was, Oh, please don't let them stop the wedding! I still feel some guilt over such childish selfishness. I know I was only a child myself, that old guilt is irrational, especially in today's world. But on Friday, November 22, 1963, my world was still innocent. Not like today.
Things I remember that day. First, pandemonium. Children and teachers crying, hugging, confused, then, as the word spread that the president was dead, some refusing to believe, my best friend laughing, saying, Oh, it's a practical joke. Arguments, more tears.
Teachers so uncharacteristicly helpless, trying to maintain order, decide what to do. Moving everyone into the main hall. Then, a radio is on, total silence falls as a man's voice says unthinkable words. "President John Fitzgerald Kennedy is dead. He was shot today in Dallas."
Shot? The president was shot? How? No. The president doesn't get shot. He's the president. Where is he? Who did it? What's going on??? School closes, parents are called.
I remember looking out the car windows on the drive home into other cars, seeing faces streaked with tears. Heads shaking No, No. People standing on the sidewalk, hands to their faces, shoulders heaving with sobs. Strangers holding onto strangers for comfort, for reality.
At a stoplight, an African American woman in a gray coat sitting on the curb, head down in her hands, slumped over, rocking, crying. Another standing, her hand patting the woman's shoulder, tears streaming down her face too. I can still see their hopeless, helpless faces. "The Help" pales at the real memory.
My mother crying. "I remember when FDR died. This is much worse." We were stunned, afraid. "Will there be a war?" my younger sister asked. "Will we all be killed?" Our mother reassured us as best she could, then turned to the phone. Told us to make sure we were packed.
Yes! We're still going to the wedding! (And yes, I feel that guilt too).
The TV stayed on. All assassination all the time. No cable back then. No VCRs. It didn't matter. You couldn't turn away. Wouldn't. The country glued together through television, in mourning. In disbelief. In fear.
Our car radio stayed on for the two and a half hour drive. Not the joyous welcome that should have been, but still, caring arms, hugs, tears and smiles. In every house the TV stayed on. There would be no ice skating, no happy sleepovers. Instead, everyone in front of the TV watching a lying in state. A country in despair, a new president trying to tamp down the fear, encourage calm without showing disrespect.
The wedding was held on schedule. For a few precious hours two families embraced joy and happiness and promise for a newly married couple, trying to forget the newly minted widow in the White House. Now I realize it must have been even harder for my mother, not so long a widow herself.
Then back to the TV, the state funeral on Monday, scenes no one could ever forget, even if you've only seen the pictures. Jackie and little Caroline kissing the flag-draped coffin. The caisson pulling the coffin behind the rider-less black horse, stirrups turned backwards to signify death.
The widow and his brothers, walking, she draped in a black veil that fell to her waist. At the grave site, a flat stone circle, bending to toddler John-John, whispering. In his little coat and cap he bravely steps forward and salutes. An image of a lifetime. Tears come just remembering.
The eternal flame is lit. The country must go back to business. No one can. Still the TV is on. Reports about the widow, the children, endless loops of the shooting, both shootings, the widow standing in her blood-soaked suit next to the new president as he's sworn in. The assassin himself shot on live TV. More loops of the funeral, the child's kiss, the little boys' salute.
We and the other cousins don't want to watch any more. We want to play, to feel our world isn't ending. We want to know Normal will be back soon. My sister and I, and our older married sister having too many flashbacks of our own father's funeral in this very town, where we no longer live.
And suddenly don't want to be.
My mother feels the same. Again she's on the phone. Suddenly in a flurry of movement, we're packing, saying goodbyes, climbing in the car. Hitting the road for home. Realizing Philly is home now. No radio. A mother, two girls, quiet, trying to absorb five phantasmagoric days of, well, maybe a tiny bit of heaven, but mostly just plain hell.
Thanksgiving day we are pulled into the warm, welcoming circle of my mother's family, cousins who have cared for us the past two years gladly adding our plates back to the tables again, making us realize we hadn't endured, we'd been protected, sheltered, loved.
Always lively talk at the adult table. This year more Deep Discussions, talk of what had happened, what would likely come next, sure. But jokes and laughter too. We could join in any time. The older children often did.
At the kids table, we were too busy laughing, teasing, telling our own 'dirty' jokes, stealing a glass of wine and sharing sips, trying to act grown up, as though it didn't taste like piss. Bursting into gales of giggles when one of the cousins can't help it, spits the bitter wine in an arc onto the table.
No TV. No tears. No discordant news from the outside world. Just the music of family voices. And the warm comfort of home.
Karen's wonderful daughter, my great kid, some of the Israel cousins.
This year we're having a traditional Thanksgiving dinner as always, with Karen's children, my sister, husband and son ... and three cousins with their children (eight in all, including another new baby) from our family in Israel. Kosher turkey tastes just as good, believe me.
Though we remember the special family members we've lost, we give many thanks for all those still here, especially gathered around our Thanksgiving table.
My sister Judy, Karen's mother, taking solace and pleasure from a new addition to the family.