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I first saw John Fitzgerald Kennedy in the 1950s at Tufts University, in Medford, Massachusetts. My cousin, Norman Katziff, was receiving a degree in Civil Engineering the same day John F. Kennedy was receiving an honorary degree. Tufts was small enough then that the graduates could walk solemnly down a path before gathered family and guests. Then Senator Kennedy walked by himself. It was the first time I had seen him in person, and he was only a few feet away from me. I was surprised that he didn’t seem taller, but he was tanned and smiling, and he had the look of someone who would become a part of history.
It has been 50 years since President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Everyone remembers where he or she was when he or she heard the news. I was in an English history class at Northeastern University in Boston. Someone ran in and said that the President had been shot. I thought that he had said that the President was in shock, and since my mother had died of complications from diabetes in April of 1962, the first thing I thought about was that he was in diabetic shock, and I kept telling myself that couldn’t be true because the President wasn’t a diabetic. It finally registered that he had been shot.
We all walked out of the class and ran down to the cafeteria. We sat around empty tables. It was very quiet, and we were listening to the radio which someone had rigged so that we could hear it in the cafeteria. After what seemed like a long time, a man’s voice came over the radio and announced that the President had died. The announcement was followed by organ music, generic and final. I joined some of the girls, and we all walked up the two flights of stairs to the Chapel. As we walked in, the Dean of Chapel’s Secretary asked us why were going into the Chapel, and we told her that the President had been shot, and that they had just announced his death. We said a prayer for the President, his family, and the new administration.
I left Northeastern to go home to Winthrop, and during the four changes on the subway and bus, no one said a word. The next day, one of the graduate students told us that his mother had made a Portuguese fish soup, and that they both had been unable to eat it.
When you are young and in college and working toward a goal, there is nothing like someone who seems larger than life to inspire you. We truly believed in Camelot with its promise of dreams that could be achieved. We all wanted to wear our hair like Jackie Kennedy, and we all wanted to dress like her. She was elegant, and he was handsome and smart, and he gave us permission to change the world and make it better. It seemed that we said good-by to our youth when we heard the news of his death.
In 2006, I was in Dallas to promote my first cookbook, Heirloom Baking, and our escort pointed out the exact spot where President Kennedy had been shot. As we drove by, I couldn’t believe how plain and small and peaceful the area was. It was hard to understand how a seemingly innocuous place had turned deadly and how it now seemed so ordinary 43 years later. People just went about their business as if nothing had ever happened there. I know that although I am not the same person I was when I heard the news that President Kennedy had been shot, neither is my world the same. Camelot existed for a very short time, and as I grow older I realize that I am very much the recipient of its legacy. I still believe that things are going to change for the better, and I still believe that I will help make those changes happen.