It’s always interesting, from a historical standpoint, to see which current events made it onto my grandfather’s calendars in the 1960s and ’70s — and which ones didn’t.
Woodstock and the Kent State shootings didn’t get a mention. No great surprise, probably. I am sure my grandpa took heed of these events, but they would not have touched him as deeply as they did younger generations.
Actually, I know my grandpa took note of Woodstock, because the box of historic/noteworthy magazines he kept in his house included Life magazine’s special section on Woodstock. I never stopped to wonder why he kept it. Now that I think of it, it seems distinctly out of character. (The rest of the box consisted mostly of anniversary and Year-in-Pictures issues.)
Getting back to the calendars, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., didn’t receive a mention either. I’m not sure what to conclude from that, or why my grandfather wouldn’t have considered that worth writing down.
I’ve written before, quoting my father’s words, that my grandpa was not a fan of civil disobedience such as Vietnam War protests. I would like to think he recognized the righteousness of Dr. King’s cause, but perhaps he disapproved of his methods. I don’t know.
(In my grandfather’s defense, April 4, 1968, is completely blank on his calendar. No weather, no visit from the water man, no reminder to mail his income tax. Perhaps he was under the weather or otherwise unable to write.)
Another assassination later in that turbulent year did make his calendar, for reasons I am equally challenged to explain:
The blog entry linked above mentions that my grandpa and grandma tended to vote Republican, because “the Democrats always got us into wars (Roosevelt into WWII, Truman into Korea, Kennedy/Johnson into Vietnam).”
So, my grandfather would not have made this calendar entry because felt a close political kinship to Robert F. Kennedy, a Democrat like his brother.
Perhaps he found it worth mentioning on his calendar because he was touched by the tragedy of two assassinations in one American political family within five years of each other.
Or maybe he saw it as the climax of a violent time — a sort of “what next?” after the collective bloodshed of the John F. Kennedy and MLK assassinations, race riots in major cities, and other forms of civil unrest.
Had I been my grandpa’s age in 1968, I suspect I might have seen the RFK assassination that way — as yet another tear in the civil fabric, and another frustrating step on a gradual but apparently unswerving path to lawlessness.
My own generation has had only sporadic glimpses of political violence. I was appalled by the attempt on U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ life in January 2011; and I can remember hearing about the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan almost thirty years before while riding a school bus home.
There are not many such memories in between. As much as toxic partisanship seems to plague our country today, it has not led to bullets and blood. (If what I’ve read is correct, the shooters of Rep. Giffords and President Reagan were driven more by mental unbalance than by political affiliation.)
Our veneer of political civility may be thinner than we care to admit. But hopefully it will hold through the upcoming Presidential campaign, and for many years beyond.
I hope no American of our years will mark an otherwise ordinary day as the day a lifetime of leadership, dreams and possibilities died.