"Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief, shining moment that was known as Camelot."
— from the musical “Camelot”
The United States of America was at the height of its post-World War II power and, for the first time in the history of the nation, a young man, just 43 years of age, was elected President of the United States. It was a new age of American politics. It wasn’t just effective to be a “deep thinker” and be “grounded in the issues,” one also had to have charisma and appeal to the camera. This came to light in the Kennedy-Nixon debates, where a perspiring Nixon, wiped sweat and sweated more while Kennedy looked young, virile, and composed despite the fact he suffered daily with a major back injury and back pain. In those days, the American public knew none of this. He was a hero of Second World War, the first Roman Catholic ever elected President, and the family, on both his mother’s and father’s sides of the family were Irish, not more than three generations in the United States. His wife, it could be said, was “born and bred” to be First Lady of the nation. Descended from patrician Eastern Seaboard families who were part of the nation’s elite, she spoke fluent French, Spanish, had an innate sense of personal style, taste and elegance that truly transcended the expression “class.” Whatever that “it” factor was, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy had it, and had it in spades. She set the tone for American style and fashion, from her bouffant hairdo, to her style of clothing, always understated but made with beautiful fabrics and chosen with attention and sensitivity to her, public, whomever that may be.
As I look back on those days 56 years ago, when as a very young 5-year-old, I waited with my parents for the Suwannee High Homecoming Parade to pass and the Homecoming Queen, the late Phyllis Sperring Houston, waved out to the crowd, young, beautiful, full of promise, as our nation seemed to be at the time. I knew, even then, as my mother caught her mouth and tears came to her eyes, and my Daddy’s expression was beyond serious, as we drove in silence back to White Springs, everyone riveted on the words from the radio announcer, and, then as we watched television, the announcement from the iconic newsman, the late Walter Cronkite “The President is dead.”
From that time forward, more than five decades ago, something shifted in American life, something major shifted. We no longer completely felt secure nor did we feel that we were “ten feet tall and bullet proof.” We loved the nation and all it stood for as much as ever, but we had to see in the veiled and beautiful tear-stained face of our First Lady, in the salute from John Kennedy Jr. to his father’s coffin, in that dramatic walk of our First Lady, our President Lyndon B. Johnson, and a coterie of world leaders, even with the lighting of the eternal flame at Arlington Cemetery, we saw we, as a nation, were vulnerable.
John F. Kennedy was the 35th president of the United States, from Jan. 20, 1961, until Nov. 22, 1963. After his assassination and burial, Mrs. Kennedy was interviewed by a prominent Life Magazine journalist, Theodore White. During the interview, Mrs. Kennedy decided to craft a dreamy legacy of her late husband's 1,000 days in office that were in reality quite tumultuous, according to The Daily Beast's online newspaper. She surprisingly described President Kennedy's presidency in one word: "Camelot."
During the famous interview with "Life" magazine, Mrs. Kennedy shared that President Kennedy was a fan of the Broadway musical “Camelot,” which had music written by Alan Jay Lerner, one of Kennedy's schoolmates at Harvard University. "Camelot" refers to a kingdom ruled by the mythical King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. In the interview, she said that, "There will be great presidents again, but there will never be another Camelot."
I am writing about this in my column this week because not too terribly long ago, a friend, the proprietor of The All Decked Out Café in Live Oak purchased a packet of vintage newspaper clippings that centered on that time in 1963, Nov. 22, and the subsequent days when we, as a nation, were united in mourning our President and his family. I also must say, I enjoyed reading a great edition of the “Suwannee Democrat” from that week. The editorials, the social sections, where “so and so” had entertained such and such with a tea, or coffee, or reception, and who had come home from college for the High School Homecoming. The announcement that Ebenezer AME Church would hold a Memorial Service for the slain President. A section of the paper that told about what was playing at the movies, the Alimar. It was a trip down memory lane. Eric Musgrove is one of Suwannee County’s great ambassadors, and he didn’t pay me a dime to write this. His sharing of the rich and unique history of a place is marvelous, but, to me, as a reader, what shines through with all the documented facts about which he writes is his “love” of home and the people. If you don’t have that, the reading, no matter how wonderful one’s writing might be, is about as appealing as dry, stale, unsalted popcorn. Imagine that.
So much water has run “under the bridge” since that fateful November day nearly six decades ago. If the nation could regain anything, anything at all, I wish it could regain the enthusiasm and hope that we, as a people, as a collective people, had in 1963. I think the place to foster that hope is close to your own backyard. Don’t tune into the news for Heaven’s sake, your hope will be diminished quickly, but go out and volunteer in your community. Help with decorating Live Oak’s Heritage Park, volunteer to do something for the upcoming Christmas on the Square, become a member of the Stephen Foster Citizens Support Organization in White Springs, and I guarantee you can find something to do, and in all of this, put your ego aside and focus on the good you can do for your community. Want your spirits lifted, just drive out to Noble’s Greenhouse and Nursery and walk through it. Do that. So beautiful. If President Kennedy left a legacy that would be it. “Ask not what your country or (your community) can do for you, ask what YOU can do for your country or “community.” Think About It!!!! Stop moaning and complaining and start doing. There probably never will be another “Camelot,” but we can all be thankful for so many blessings as we are in the midst of the Thanksgiving season.
Oh, by the way, I am signing my latest book “Black Runs the River” at Janet Moses’ Blue Goose Studio on Marion Avenue in Lake City on Friday, Nov. 22, and Saturday, Nov. 23, from 10 a.m. till 6 p.m. The beauty of Janet’s shop, the glory of her Christmas Open House, the delectable refreshments created by Sarah Millington Marangoni of Apron Strings Bakery in Live Oak. Come on over, a bit of the spirit of Camelot, just a bit, for just a short while.
From the Eight Mile Still on the Woodpecker Route north of White Springs, wishing you a day filled with joy, peace, and, above all, lots of love and laughter.