By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
LIKE IT WAS YESTERDAY; INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT LINCOLN'S FAITH; BEING THANKFUL
I remember the details liked it was yesterday.
49 years ago this Thanksgiving Day….November 22, 1963…. I remember just about everything I did from lunch time on that Friday. To my generation, it was politically "the day the music died," a defining moment for those of my age much like September 11, 2001 is for so many young people today.
When President John F. Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas, I was at recess on a concrete playground at the old Cathedral Grammar School on West End Avenue. When playtime was done and we came over to line up with the girls in our 7th and 8th grade class (we played in a different location on the other side of the school building), many of them were all atwitter about some news reports they had heard coming over a radio which one of the high school girls had.
"President Kennedy has been shot", they told us. We didn't believe it and it created quite a fuss when we got back into class. Sister Mary Jude, R.S.M., our teacher, took the matter seriously, but since she had not heard any of the news reports, she sent someone over to the principal's office to confirm what was going on. At that point, she did what every Sister of Mercy would do in a time of potential crisis: she took off her beads from the side of her black habit, and began to lead us in the rosary.
Before we could finish more than a few decades of prayer, word came back that indeed the President had been shot, and he was dead. In my junior high mind (11 years old at the time), I am not sure I could comprehend what that meant.
President John Kennedy was the hero of every Catholic boy and girl in the nation. He was the first person of my Roman Catholic faith elected to our highest office. I remember my parents coming home from an election-night out gathering in November, 1960, just 3 years before, and finding me face down asleep in front of our black and white TV with the voting returns still being broadcast. I resisted being put in bed and even later in the night, I woke up again and demanded to know who won.
"Go back to bed," I was told. "Nobody knows yet. It depends on Illinois." Ultimately, Kennedy was declared the winner and I remember that next January 20, 1961, spending most of the day out of class at St. Bernard Academy watching on TV as JFK was sworn into office and he delivered that memorable first speech as President.
Then the President had come to Nashville on May 20, 1963, just a few months before he was killed. We were all given the day out of school and walked down to Dudley Field (the Vanderbilt football stadium) to listen to him speak. Then we had enough time walk home back up Natchez Trace to Sunset Place, then make our way (the entire family, my parents and all six kids) to 21stAvenue where the presidential motorcade drove right past us. We got the time to do that because the President ordered his car to stop in front of the Saint Bernard Convent just up the street to greet all the sisters gathered there to see him.
What a memorable moment when he drove by us. My father was holding my sister, JoAnne, who was just five at the time. Until the day he died, my Dad said the President looked right at him and my sister, smiled and waved to them.
"How could he be dead, and who would want to kill him?," I wondered in the moments after I learned of his assassination back on that sunny afternoon in November, 1963. I don't remember being told that school over for the day. I just remember leaving and walking down to the public bus stop to go home. It was there we heard the false rumors that Vice President (now President) Lyndon Johnson had suffered a heart attack. It seemed the world was coming apart.
In a child's mind, one other odd thing happened on my way from the bus to home. My friend (Pat Kain) and I found an unopened 16-ounce Pepsi-Cola bottle lying all by itself in a front yard. We were not allowed to drink soft drinks often, and the 16-ounce bottles had just come on the market so we rarely had the chance to drink one. In today's times finding even an unopened bottle would be cause of great parental concern and a refusal to allow a child to drink it. But somehow we managed to convince my mom we could split it, and with some glasses and ice, we did.
Thus began a somewhat bizarre Friday evening and weekend, mourning the President while watching the TV networks go wall to wall with their coverage of a major news event for the first time. None of the regular TV shows aired (including Saturday morning cartoons for kids). Instead there were symphonies and other somber musical performances and live news presentations including the President's body coming back to Washington Friday evening with his wife coming down off the plane still wearing a blood-stained dress, and the new President making his first speech and asking everyone to pray for him.
The strange nature of that weekend came to its peak on Sunday morning when the President's alleged assassin was gunned down himself on live TV while he was being transported from jail. I didn't see it live. I was down at Pat Kain's house playing records after Mass. When his sister came to tell us the shocking news, we just said: "Good, he's deserved it." I guess we had already gotten a little jaded after just a brief period of days when we and the entire nation lost our innocence about life and for some, down the road in the years to come, how we looked at our government and how much we trusted it.
Things were never the same it seemed.
I know I will reflect on all this again next year when the 50th anniversary arrives and it will fall…as it did the day it happened….on a Friday.
INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT LINCOLN'S FAITH
It's been 150 years since he was President, but Abraham Lincoln, the first of our national leaders to be slain in office, remains at the top of the list in public and scholarly opinion polls ranking our greatest Chief Executives, and with the media as new books and major movies continue to be written and screened about the 16th President.
This weekend on INSIDE POLITICS, we talk with Nashville author Stephen Mansfield about his newly released book, LINCOLN'S BATTLE WITH GOD. Even if you think you know a lot about Lincoln. You need to read this book (and watch our interview) to find about a President's struggle with faith and what it meant for America.
Mansfield says there has already been much written about Lincoln in this regard but most seem to cast him as either "passionately religious" or "an atheist". He believes the truth lies in between especially if you consider what part of Lincoln's life you want to discuss.
He believes Lincoln's struggle to find faith is not unlike many young people these days and that Lincoln also has much to teach and offer today's public officials in how to deal with political conflict and controversy.
INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. Our air times include 5:00 a.m. Sunday on the main channel, WTVF-TV NEWSCHANNEL5. We are also on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS at 7:00 p.m. Friday, 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m., Saturday, and 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m., Sunday. THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 150 and NEWSCHANNEL5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2.
It's been just about 5 months since my stroke. So I almost take it for granted that everyone I know is aware of it, even though every time I post a major update about my recovery on Facebook one of my friends will post a reply that they had no idea I had been ill.
But last Monday I knew I was going to see some folks that would be surprised about what happened June 28. I see the dentist every six months for routine cleanings and check-ups. So I last visited his office in May about a month before the stroke.
Sure enough, both my oral hygienist and my dentist seemed dumbfounded when I told them how I spent the last few months in the hospital and in in- and out- patient rehab. I also told them that while I was flossing my teeth again now, for about two months or more back in July, August, and part of September, the strength in my fingers and my hands kept from even trying to do something like that. Fortunately, after the checkup, they told my teeth are fine.
"You look great. You sure don't look like you had a stroke," they both more or less said. Now everyone tells me I look great these days, especially if this the first time they've seen me for a while. Losing 30 pounds and getting a little strength and color back in your face will do that.
But I felt particularly good hearing those comment s this time. I must say, more and more each week, I have extended periods when I feel good and strong, like I used to before I became ill. Of course, I still have my moments when I lose my walking gait, find myself leaning to the left, or I get a bit tired. I was also reminded by Allison Koch, my Stallworth occupational therapist when I saw her last week, that while 5 months may seem like a long time, it is a very short recovery time overall for a stroke.
So, as usual, I need to stay patient and not expect results overnight. This also tells me why my weekly workout at the Y is so important since the general window to maximize recovery is around one year (I am focusing on correcting my posture and my strength and flexibility, particularly in my left shoulder).
So, as I sit down with my extended family this week for the Thanksgiving feast, that's my goal. And I am going to eat a full plate and not worry too much about a little extra sodium for one meal. I want to celebrate being spared and to thank God for my many blessings, including sending me friends such as Tam Gordon and Janie Conyers in the Mayor's Office and Anna Hardaway, my DVL colleague. It was their quick thinking actions which saved me back in June.
I also thank God for my dear family (especially my wife, my daughters, my siblings, my employers, DVL and NEWSCHANNEL5, and all my many friends who did so much to help and encourage me with meals, rides to therapy, books, e-mails and other messages of encouragement). Their efforts made a big difference in my recovery and I will never forget it.
Happy Thanksgiving to all! I know I have never had so much to be grateful for as I do this year!