My grandmother was on a first name basis with him. “He’s Irish. Catholic. Big family.” And she would tell me about his mother, his brothers and sisters. The fact that he was Irish Catholic like we were was a big deal to my grandmother, so it was for me too. It felt like we all belonged to one huge exclusive club. We all attended church on Sundays and believed in the healing powers of holy water. My grandmother gingerly applied it to her knees while praying and we were sure Jack used holy water to heal his bad back. What made this affiliation all the more special to me, Jack had a daughter my same age. It seemed we sure had a lot in common.
My mother was waiting to drive me home from school. Even though I usually took the bus, I didn’t think anything of it. That is until I got home and saw my mother and father huddled together speaking in hushed tones so I couldn’t hear. That drew me closer, yet at the same time I wanted to run away. I studied my father’s face. His brow was knit together and there was a tightness to his lips. I walked slowly passed them, kicking up puffs of dust in our dirt driveway. Hearing pounding, I ran toward the sound and found Rusty the carpenter that my parents had hired to build our garage and breezeway. I inhaled deeply. New wood. New beginnings.
Each day Rusty would stop pounding long enough to listen and have short conversations with me. An old photo of my father in knickers and a page boy hair cut got daily reactions from Rusty, “Now that’s a picture of you, right?” he asked lightly. This day Rusty was high on his ladder and without a word made his way down when he saw my parents approach.
“Barbara, go play now.” they gently suggested. And then they asked turning to Rusty, “Did you hear?”
“I can’t believe it,” Rusty replied.
Always interested in adult conversations, I dawdled trying to remain within earshot I heard something I wasn’t suppose to hear, at least not yet. How can anyone predict the reaction of a five year old to a world tragedy?
“The President’s been shot. He’s dead.”
I stood and mumbled. “Jack? Our President? Dead?” I ran into the house and toward the phone. “Gram needs to know.” I knew she would be sad. Really sad. I had no idea that this was a far reaching world-wide tragedy. Jack belonged to our one big exclusive club and I was to learn he was so much more than that.