This I Believe

Steven - New Paltz, New York
Entered on October 26, 2006

Thanks for the Memory

If memory serves me correctly, and even if it doesn’t, Mrs. Gaynor packed enough Mott’s apple juice, roast beef and turkey sandwiches, pears, apples and Oreo cookies to sustain the entire class of ’64 at Wheatley High. And it was Mr. Gaynor who gathered the four of us around his Rand McNally Eastern USA roadmap to show us, inch by excruciating inch, the way from Long Island to Washington, DC.

As we drove rumbled down Pennsylvania Avenue at 4 a.m., November 25, 1963, the melancholy line of mourners under hazy streetlamps leading to the Rotunda was miles long. A kindly cop on horseback said we’d never make it in time. Twisting around and pointing behind him, he suggested we go to the cemetery.

Somehow—I don’t know how–we found our way to Arlington before dawn, shivering down into the dewy lawn, ten feet from groundskeepers blowing away leaves and placing a carpet of fake grass around the dark rectangular hole. We were there before the Secret Service men in dark suits staked out their posts; before a soldier with scrambled eggs on his hat kicked us out of the low branches of a tree; before the crowds, mostly adults, elbowed their way in front of us.

I remember almost everything that passed before my watery eyes that chilly morning. The cassons. Nehru. Haile Selassie. Charles DeGaulle, his hat high above the other faceless heads.

Yet 53 years later, I can’t recall how or why our over-protective parents allowed four seventeen year old boys with combined Social IQs too low to pass Mr. Doig’s American History midterm to pile into my Earl Sheib’d Ford Fairlane at 11 p.m. and drive five hours to a rendezvous with history.

Certainly each of us must have tried the old dodge about how the other mothers had already said yes. But I can’t imagine why it would have worked. Nevertheless, my mother, a cum laude graduate of the “I Don’t Care If The President of the United States Allows His Children to ….” School of Parenting, must have been mightily impressed by something.

Or maybe she and the others just knew that this was something not to be missed. Something their sons should never forget.

Even so, from this vantage point as the father of seven children, I have to admit that I wouldn’t have allowed my teenagers to leave the house in the middle of the night for anyone’s funeral. “Go tomorrow morning if you must,” I would have said. But, of course, that would have been too late for us.

Looking back, I’m certain that we boys were too thoughtless and full of ourselves to have properly thanked our parents for allowing us this indelible moment in history. Sadly, it’s too late now to thank my father, Samuel Lewis, or Richard’s father, George Gaynor, or Zeke and Helen Kotcher, Jon’s parents. So, before any more time passes and there are any more regrets, I want to express my gratitude, our gratitude, to Saul and Bea Diamond, to Betty Gaynor, to Lillian Lewis for their most uncharacteristic indulgence, their remarkable courage, their uncanny prescience.