Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dallas: A tale of two J.R.’s

Dallas circa 1966 (Photos by author)
As a youth living in California I often heard about Dallas. Dallas, the town where my father was born. Dallas, where my mother grew up. Where her sister still lives. Dallas, where JFK was assassinated.

When I moved to Dallas 15 years after the JFK assassination, the town still smoldered under the ashes of the deeds of November 1963. I say deeds, because the shame didn’t stop on the 22nd. There was a serial quality to the events that would culminate in Dallas on November 24th. That was the day J.R. shot Oswald. No, not “that” J.R. This J.R., Jack Ruby was small time compared to J.R. Ewing, the fictional hero/villain of the TV show that would surface in the 1980’s, named Dallas. No, Jack Ruby was the dark side of Dallas, steamy and noir and unspoken, like all those bottles of whiskey hidden in the homes of prominent Baptist leaders of Dallas. Yes, Dallas has secrets, like any town. Save for the viewing on the TV screens for all the world to see.

What we saw on TV and what was reported later in Italy
Whenever I would visit Italy, people would ask me where I was from. I would tell them Dallas, they would sigh, and say, “JFK,” and we would talk about the loss it was for the country, the Catholics and the world. It went on like this for some time. It got to so that whenever I would visit I would take a handful of Kennedy half dollars (the silver ones) and give them to some of my favorite winemaker friends. This practice continued all the way up to 2001 (right before 9/11). It was a way to bond and share a common experience with a commemoration of some sort. Never did anyone bring up Jack Ruby, he was too peripheral.

He would have been for me too, except for that one Sunday morning when I was sitting down for breakfast with my mom and dad and sister. My mom had made bacon and toast and lacy fried eggs, and coffee and we were sitting with a TV nearby, following the assassination news. All of a sudden there was a shot, a shout and pandemonium. We had just witnessed someone getting killed in our living room. It was the death of an evil person, Oswald, but none the less, this murder entered our home on a sad Sunday morning. And Jack Ruby was the culprit. He and the man he shot catapulted me from my childhood to the next phase: reality.

Enrico Scavino and daughter Elisa in the Langhe circa 1984 (Photos by author)
In the 1980’s, when on trips to Italy, the conversation gradually shifted from JFK to another subject centered on the city where I now lived. The TV show Dallas was a worldwide hit and everyone loved it in Italy. It was like getting the keys to the city (or the paese) when I would tell a winemaker like Enrico Scavino or Dino Illuminati that I lived in Dallas. They inevitably would say something like, “Ah, J.R.” And we would once again bond over something related to the city where I lived. Everyone wanted to know "who shot J.R.?" The Italian winemakers, from Piedmont to Pantelleria, were fans.

Dallas, the city, has been a good connection to have in my work life in Italy. People loved JFK and then they loved J.R. And it gave us something to talk about besides the barriques and the cabernet vines that were sprouting up in the Langhe and Tuscany and Abruzzo like wildfire. We were distracted from this life by the story of another life. It was an innocent enough thing. Now they are all gone. But it was a diversion from the grim reality another “J.R.” had planted in our consciousness on a chilly Sunday 49 years ago.

J.R. Ewing at Southfork-2008 and JFK assassination site-2003 (Photos by author)

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