Friday, November 15, 2013

Remembering Dad, Dallas, JFK & a bottle of Thunderbird

Today would have been my dad’s 98th birthday. How the world has changed since he left us in 1985. I was thinking about that as I was driving past Dealey Plaza and the Texas Book Depository yesterday, while in downtown Dallas on business. Dallas, the place where so many things happened that affected me, my family and ultimately our country.

My dad was born in Dallas November 15, 1915 on 1313 Hall Street. The house is no longer there, but the trees are. It is now a park. His dad has a shop not too far from there on St. Paul and Pacific Avenue. Shoe repair. Standing all day. Physical labor.

A few years later the family would move to Los Angeles. A good opportunity opened up for my grandfather and he seized it. California, a golden place then.

Dad came back to Dallas when he was a young adult, for a visit. It was there he met a dark haired beauty, my mom, and they fell in love. He took her back to California, where she lives to this day in good health. Next year she will turn 100.

In the run-up to the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK, some of us here in Dallas have been taking stock of our lives, our country and our relationships with our neighbors. It seems Dallas, and really the rest of the country, has gotten a bit coarser in our everyday civility. What was a country that once all pulled together now appears to be two countries polarized by opposing agendas. Nobody wants to give up anything. It’s always someone else’s fault. This doesn’t appear to be the place my grandfather came to, but I wasn’t there in 1910.

50 years ago, the President came to Dallas and saw his last sunrise, breathed his last breath, kissed his last kiss. And then hate took him away. I still feel that hate in the streets and in the conversations I hear in the town I now call home.

I remember the time I met JFK and shook his hand. We were living in Palm Springs, where I grew up. Kennedy was coming to the desert for a visit. He usually stayed out in Rancho Mirage. My dad had a spec house out there. We’d go out there and use our binoculars, try and see what the President was up to.

That day, in 1962, my mom and I had devised a plan to figure out how to meet the President. There was a side gate to the west of the normal airport reception line. We had seen it used before by President Ike. So we headed over there, away from the crowds who were gathering in front of where Air Force One would eventually park. As Kennedy came off the plane, the mayor of Palm Springs greeted him. I’m not sure he liked JFK so well, but he did his duty. And then JFK sped off in a convertible, out to see his friends.

Secret Service was there, but in those days their presence wasn’t as enormous as it would become. I remember the car coming through the gate and my mom pushing me towards the car, which was slowing down. I reached out and the President shook my hand. And he was off. It was maybe half a second. But I remember his smile, his eye contact and the touch of his hand. Someone said JFK created his own weather. I’m here to tell you that person was right. He brought his own sun, wind and heat on that cool winter morning in the desert of California.

Dad, in taking me to the spec house, would putz around, fixing things. I bet that house is now worth half a million dollars if not more, but in those days I got the feeling he was feeling hung with this bum house. Palm Springs, especially outside of the original village, had not yet been discovered.

I remember going into the fridge to get something to drink. I saw a bottle that looked like soda pop. It was called Thunderbird. It reminded me of the snazzy convertibles we’d see people like Sinatra driving around town. Sinatra, who had a house not too far from my dad’s spec house.

I took a swig from the bottle. It was sharp and sweet and slightly sparkling. I thought it was too dry to be a soda pop so I asked my dad about it. He told me to be careful, not to drink too much of it.

Meanwhile I’d sit there and stare through the binoculars, hoping for a look at someone famous or important. God only knows who I saw going through Sinatra's driveway in those days.

My dear dad was a soulful guy who never got to do what he really wanted to do. He was an artist. But he was a good son and he took up the mantle of his dad’s business. He never liked it much, but he worked hard, both he and my mom. America wasn’t a place for a handout. It was and it still is a place where you need to take the initiative and make your life work for you. Quit blaming other folks, including the politicians, for what you think you don’t have. In most cases, you have more than 95% of the folks on the planet. Stop complaining. Grab the hand and shake it. And move on to greater things.

Happy Birthday Pop! We think about you all the time. With love. From Dallas.

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