First Man of the LandFriday, November 22, 2013
It is impossible to ignore today that event in Dallas 50 years ago.
This morning I drove my wife to whom I have been married for 45 years to the UBC Hospital to undergo one of those feminine operations, one not involving a scalpel. She is a trooper. She slept the night but I didn’t. I feel that she and I are like our 2007 Chevrolet Malibu. The warranty is long gone and the repairs are going to be cropping up haphazardly until that final one and we will go where cars and elephants ultimately end up.
In 1960 I was attending St. Edward’s High School, a Catholic boarding school in Austin, Texas. My mother, we lived in a mining town in Mexico, Nueva Rosita, Coahuila, was all in a flurry of excitement. She was telling me that a sexy Catholic US Senator would perhaps become the first Roman Catholic president of the United States.
On campus we were excited, too. We all had to explain to a few of our non-Catholic classmates what Papal Infallibility was about and the fact that if Kennedy were elected president he would be his own man. Few believed us.
On September 26, 1960 I had been playing pool in our Junior/Senior rec room. We had a TV in the room and some of us watched that first debate between Nixon and Kennedy. I was particularly impressed by the voices of both men. They were speaker’s voices. I found Kennedy’s insertion of an r at the end of any word that finalized with an a charming. I was told that it was a Bostonian accent.
When Kennedy did win the election our campus was in a minor uproar of delight and pride. I graduated in 1961 and our Edwardian, the school yearbook was dedicated to Kennedy and another icon of the time Pope John XXIII.
Our pride was short-lived. We had many Cuban students in our school and when the fiasco at the Bay of Pigs occurred I remember distinctly being harassed by one of those Cuban students that “Your president abandoned us.” It was then that I had some of my first intimations of a doubt that have followed me all these years. When convenient I am an Argentine, or a Mexican, or a Canadian (I am a citizen of Argentina and of Canada) but deep inside I feel very American even when I suffer the indignity of crossing the border at Blaine. I am treated as an alien. Which I am. The Americans, with singular foresight have paved the way for the eventual immigration of Martians and Proxima/Alpha Centaurians.
Those at the border would never suspect or know that I have a feeling of alienation in Vancouver, in Buenos Aires, in Mexico City and now that my mentor Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C. has died this year I no longer have a desire to visit Austin. Austin is a place where I lived the transition from boyhood, those teenage years and I almost became a man. I have those roots there and a lingering feeling of “I am an American!” persists.
No further revelations of Kennedy’s errors of judgment, a presidency perceived as being so-so, and no new indications of possible incompetence will mar my memory of my first reading of that Edwardian dedication 52 years ago. In spite of my present alienation, Kennedy was a presence in my life, at least on those Camelot years that I can look back and tell myself, “I belonged. I was part of that.”
I look forward to that phone call from UBC Hospital sometime today. I will pick up my Rosemary and bring her home. We belong there. Here!