The Kiss That Lasted 60 Years
I was sixteen when an event that changed my whole focus life happened. I was just starting my first sophomore year in high school. My home was in North Hollywood, Southern California and I’d started my junior year in an old well-established high school, complete with ivy covering its gray brick walls.
When a new high school opened farther into the West Valley, a territorial line was established dividing what students could stay at the old school and what students had to enroll in the new high school. It ran two blocks west of my home address.
All new incoming students, freshmen already enrolled and sophomores with an address west of the line had to go to the new school; east of the line, they could stay in their current school.
I didn’t like it, but there was nothing I could do. At least my best friend was going with me. That was great, because we’d both attended the same grammar school, walking the few blocks together toting our lunch boxes. We’d attended the same junior high together too, but our parents took turns car-pooling us because the Jr. High was in an area they thought was not “safe” for young girls to walk through. Therefore, we had about a half-dozen girls in our pool, being safely dropped off and picked up by someone’s mother for three years.
When we all started High School, we either walked or hitched a ride with older brothers or sisters who already had their own cars. But this had to change now (and to the relief of one girl’s older brother, Tony) They lived kitty-corner across the street from my house. But Tony was now relieved of the task of driving his sister, me and my best friend, Carol to school every day. He was a senior and didn’t have to change schools.
He only drove us because he was a “good Italian boy” who always did what his mother told him to do. At first, he got razzed by his friends who called him a “babysitter”, but that but that really did change a lot when we girls started filling out our sweaters and tight skirts in all the right places. Then it became a stand off every morning of “who would carry our books” to homeroom for us since all us girls had the same homeroom. Normally Tony would push the other guys aside and do the task.
Now, all of that was changing. The new school was several blocks south of a main boulevard, about a half-hour by car or bus. But the bus lines ran to only a few blocks from the school and since it was a main fairway to the major shopping areas, the busses ran every 15 minutes. If not raining, it was an easy walk from the bus stop to the school. If raining, one of our parents would drive us. Other wise, we were on our own.
It didn’t take long to see that the school had also claimed a lot of kids from Studio city and other wealthier territories on the south side of the valley, including into the Hollywood Hills. We were rubbing elbows with teen actors like Cheryl. Doreen, Annette and other “Mouseketers” who had hit their teens and had been replaced with younger talent while their agents hawked more appropriate TV shows and movies for their aging stars and starlets. Mickey Dolenz was a student there too before the “Monkies” took off. There were also many kids of celebrities, too. There even a few who, while not yet in “the business”, were destined to be super stars in the years to come, like Tom Selleck, who was just another, jock with a military haircut on campus at the time. The rest of us “common” kids were well past paying special attention to any of them. They were just other kids like the rest of us, only a hellova lot richer, No big Whoop.
We all had the same classes, same teachers, ate at the same cafeteria or on lunch benches and griped about homework, gym classes and for us, the girls VP who was a witch from Hell. With Mini skirts starting to come in style in the sixties, she made all girls kneel in the hallway while she measured the length of our skirts with a ruler. If more than one or two inches of skin was visible, it was off to detention, a call to parents to make sure we were dressed “properly” the next day or there may be a suspension on the horizon. Needless to say we all kept a short skirt or “short-shorts” in our lockers for a quick change (off campus, of course) after the final bell rang.
Boys were getting the same harassment about their hair, only I reverse. Longer hair was coming into fashion for all “cool dudes”. This made the coaches and Boy’s V.P. insane. Actually in 1961, all schools should have counted their blessings - only boys with hair the touched their collars and girls with skirts that exposed their knees to cope with; because soon, they would be coping with the “hippie generation” that made us look like little angels.
Those of us who moved on to college, joined sit-in’s, freedom marches and all types of wild activities that made mini skirts and “beetle” haircuts look like Sunday at a church ice-cream social. But, that’s a whole different story. What made this year special for all of us was that it was very political. Everyone was choosing up sides and campaigning for someone; whether by their own choice or following the party of their parents; life was riding the political super train. Local politicians were a regular thing in our auditoriums on campus.
But, nobody expected the “coup de gras”: John F, Kennedy was coming to our school. He was the only presidential candidate to reach out to kids that weren’t even old enough to vote. His constituency had created a movement called “Youth for Kennedy” and he treated us with the same honor and respect that he did voting age people. It was a first and it didn’t go unnoticed. When he said he was for all the people, he really put his heart into it.
At his Rally in the main auditorium, he actually spoke to us like a friend, not “talking down” to us like most adults did. When he explained his ideas for reinventing a world that would be equal for everyone, it made sense. He didn’t pull any punches, either. He asked for questions and answered them. Then he came down from the stage and started shaking hands with the kids and asking about us and how we felt about things; not in the ”lecturing” way most adults, particularly “important” adults, always do, but in a way a good friend or maybe an older brother would talk to you.
He didn’t just give a speech and leave. He spent the rest of the day visiting classes and asking for more opinions. At the end of the day, when he was leaving, he asked all of us to come to his rally and bring our parents too. It was taking place that coming Friday evening at the Valley Plaza in North Hollywood. Carol and I were overjoyed. The location was only two blocks from our houses. We would definitely be there with bells on. His staff passed around the flyer and said to take as many as we wanted and give the to our neighbors. We did.
The hard part was waiting; enduring life on Thursday was a chore, but we all got through it. Of course not everyone was “pro Kennedy”. But, even the most rigid who voted for other teams, said they had never been to a political presentation like this in their lives and grudgingly admitted that this man had some kind of magic vibrating from him.
Friday was everything and then some. My parents were died in-the-wool Democrats and so were Carol’s. We all walked over to the mall together. Carol and I wore our best outfits and made sure both our hair and makeup was perfect. Our parents just wore what made them comfortable. I guess at their ages, they’d surely been to so many political rallies this was just another one to them. I think they came more out of curiosity than out of support for the Democratic party.
We arrived well before sunset and the parking lot in front of Sears was already packed. For those who drove, the parking lots in front of stores down the block of the open-site mall were packed, and late comers were forced into back-of-store parking lots, or to the parking lots at the park three blocks away.
A huge main podium had been erected complete with red, white and blue banners draped around all sides. A smaller podium rose from the middle of the large display and held two microphones. Large bull-horn speakers were pointed to all four corners of the lot, attached to sturdy poles with multiple spotlights that would make the night as bright as day. All the radio and TV news stations had representatives there with mobile vans carrying everything they would need to film, take stills and record every minute of the event.
Suddenly gigantic cheers rose from the crowd like rippling waves of sound, growing louder and louder. Everyone moved as close as they could to Victory Boulevard and the driveway to the Sears lot, that had been guarded for the speakers entrance to the staging area. The procession of convertibles carrying John F. Kennedy, his family and staff (and of course an additional reporters and TV cameras). entered the lot
You’d think the swarm of people would make him edgy, but no way! JFK escorted his wife, Jackie and all of his entourage up the steps to the top of the podium. He waved at everyone and picked up the remote mike and promptly came down into the crowd and started shaking hands with everyone and asking them questions about their families and what things they were concerned about in just about every area. Anyone who had the foresight to bring a camera was shooting as many pictures as they could. Finally, he returned to the podium and delivered his campaign speech. He made sure to bring up some of the topics of concern he’d heard from the people he’s just spoken with.
After his speech and the kudos of the crowd calmed down, he didn’t gather up his entourage and drive away. He went back into the crowd to talk to more people, particularly the young people like Carol and me.
He told us that we were the future hope of our country and to never give up on what you believe in. He also had a canvass bag of flyers and passed them out to all the teenagers. They were entry forms for a Mr. and Miss Teen Democracy contest that was being held in the Los Angeles area. He gave me one and he gave one to Carol, then he kissed my cheek. He gave both Carol and I a hug, shook our parents hands and then disappeared back into the crowd.
My father would not let me enter the contest, but I was okay with it because neither of us could enter it anyway. I guess Carol and I looked a bit older than we actually were, all dressed up and made up. But, we were both still sixteen and the flyer said you had to be eighteen or be a senior in high school who was turning eighteen within the next six months.
Just the fact that JFK thought we were good enough to enter the contest was enough for me. Carol and I both joined our local Youth for Kenned group and we campaigned instead; passing out flyers and raising funds for the campaign.
When JFK won, we were in heaven. But, life moved on and so did we. Senior year was next on the list for 1962 and then college. Little did any of us know that by the winter of 1963, we would all be crying at his funeral. At the moment, all was right with the world and we all had a glorious future ahead of us.
On that fateful day, I’d skipped a class at college to get my hair done. I wanted to look good for upcoming Thanksgiving parties. It was just a day like any other. The salon was full of women in all stages of being washed, dried, having their hair cut, curled, straightened, tinted and their fingernails manicured. Soft popular music was wafting through intercom speakers as we all chatted or read the latest gossip in one of the news or movie magazines that were near every station.
Suddenly, the speakers went dead and a mans voice filled the room; He was slowly choking on his words: First came the news that President Kennedy had been shot in Dallas Texas, while riding in his typical open convertible limousine with his wife. Before anyone could truly get their mind around those horrible words. Walter Cronkite came on and with a cracking voice, holding back tears, he told the world that the president had died and Vice President Johnson was flying to D.C. to take over the presidency.
Everything just seemed to freeze in time. Women walked out of the salon onto the boulevard with dripping hair, or curlers and walked around like so many zombies. I followed them. The sight on the boulevard was beyond belief. Cars, trucks, even buses were stopped all over the lanes. Total strangers were wandering between the open doors of the vehicles; sobbing, swearing and hugging total strangers in agonized disbelief. Police started arriving at this scene and scenes like it all over the world. They did not try to force compliance; they gently started guiding people back to their vehicles and escorting people who had spilled into the streets from local stores, theaters, restaurants and other businesses back to the safety of the sidewalks. Many of the officers were also crying as they did this.
It was like the whole world had ended. I will never forget that day, how I felt and what I saw. My hope for the future died that day and it took a lot to pull life back together again. It did take a hellova lot of time, but eventually life and death moved all of us on through the decades. My future held happy and sad times, marriages, children born, divorces, parents dying, starting my own business. Children had their own children. Now I have three great-grandchildren and the whole world is fighting a raging pandemic that is threatening all of humanity.
But, I still have faith and I remember the past like it was only yesterday. My “Youth for Kennedy” button is still in my jewelry box and I hope to live long enough to add another “Kennedy” button to it someday. Until then, I can still touch my finger to, my cheek and feel the kiss placed there by JFK. I can remember when he thought I was worth running for Miss Teen Democracy and suddenly, I’m young again and hope for the future once again fills my soul.
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