My mother recounted the events of a particular day so often that I feel as though I can remember them. She said that she sat motionless in front of the small black and white television set holding me in her arms and cuddling my sister very close to her. There was no other sound besides Walter Cronkite’s voice and an expression of complete disbelief deeply etched her face. Mother said that even though I was only 2 years old, it seems that I sensed it was a time to remain silent. She went on to say that she didn’t even realize that tears were streaming from her eyes. For the rest of that day, she said that our television, along with everyone else’s in the nation, remained on, offering blurry, gray images with constant commentary detailing the assassination of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy in Dallas, Texas. It was November 22, 1963 — a day that would forever be frozen in time.
I was far too young to grasp what happened on that ill-fated day. But as I grew up, it became perfectly clear to me. I still remember Mother’s eyes welling up with tears when she recalled the details of that sad, unbelievable day back in the early sixties.
Mother even purchased a hardback photo book that detailed the events of the day. My sister and I knew to handle it carefully and only with freshly washed hands. Mother was always caught up in “Camelot,” as many referred to the Kennedys' story, and saved quite a few of the news articles concerning President Kennedy’s presidency and assassination.
Mother felt a special connection with Jackie Kennedy. She and Jackie were very close to the same age, and they both were pregnant at the same time. “John John,” as he was nicknamed, was born on Nov. 25, 1960, and I came along a little less than a month later. Mother followed Jackie’s interesting life through the lens of a camera on television and in the photographs that appeared in newspapers and magazines.
Mother admired Jackie’s style and the glamour and poise she brought to the White House. Their lives couldn’t have been any more different, but Mother enjoyed keeping up with Jackie much the same way we follow movie stars today. As I grew up, I heard Mother speak of her often. Ironically, Mother and Jackie died only months apart in 1994.
Seven years later, while Debra and I were visiting New York, we noticed that the Metropolitan Museum of Art was having an exhibit featuring a collection of Jackie Kennedy’s iconic fashions from her White House years. I knew I had to see it in Mother’s memory. The exhibit showcased the famous pillbox hat she wore during the inaugural ceremonies, the ivory satin ball gown she wore to one of the inaugural galas, and the red dress she wore for her televised tour of the White House. Standing in front of Jackie’s clothes literally took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. I just can’t explain in words what seeing this exhibit would have meant to Mother, and I somehow knew that she was thrilled that I was there.
Since Mother passed away, I have missed her physical presence on many occasions but standing in the midst of that exhibit is very high on the list of times I’ve missed her most. Over the years, as I read more about Jackie and how her love of her children always came first, I realized that this was another attribute my mother and she shared.
In my book, Jackie should have been following Mother. She left her mark just as Jackie Kennedy did. She may have not been known by as many people as Jackie, but the ones who did know her loved her just as much!
No, Mother wasn’t a president’s wife. She wasn’t world famous, rich or a celebrity of any kind. To me, she was much more important than any of that. Mother was a beautiful person inside and out, a loving and devoted wife and mother, a loyal friend to many and a woman who positively influenced everyone whose path crossed hers. She was my biggest cheerleader as I was growing up and played a huge part in who I am today. I was blessed beyond measure to be her son.
Mark Ballard’s column runs each week in The Telegraph. Send your questions or comments to 3514 Ridge Avenue, Macon, GA 31204; call 478-757-6877; email firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him at instagram.com/mark creates; or become a subscriber to Mark’s Facebook page.