I remember the day very clearly, November 22, 1963. My mother Jacqueline Kennedy, and father President John F. Kennedy had left for Texas early in the morning on Thursday, November 21. They arrived in San Antonio to give a dedication speech to the U.S Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine. The next day my mother and father would land in Dallas, where they would ride through the city into the Dallas Business and Trade Mart. I was reading a book sprawled out on a beach chair at our Nantucket summer home, while my younger sister Caroline and older brother John chased each other into the ocean. My Uncle Bobby called us into the house to watch our parents ride through the streets of Dallas. We sat there huddled around the T.V, we cheered as the camera zoomed closer to our parents smiling faces. My father lifted his hand to wave as they turned the corner, all of a sudden everything went quiet. I heard the gunshot rip through the cheers of people and everything seemed to stop for a moment, and in that instant my father was gone forever.
I heard screaming and crying in the background. I watched in utter shock as my mother clutched my father's chest, her pink Chanel suit stained with his blood. The car ducked out of sight as it sped away. The public’s cries seemed to echo throughout the room. My sister wailed in the back, as my older brother covered his face and quietly sobbed. I couldn’t stop looking at screen, waiting for camera to return with a shot of my father’s smiling eyes and joyous smile, but it didn’t return. The next days were a blur. My mother had my Uncle Bobby take my siblings and I back to Washington D.C to prepare for the funeral. I remember seeing her sitting in his desk chair in his office, clutching his photograph. My brother John, held onto my father’s old baseball mitt as if his life depended on it. Caroline cried when ever my mother did, but she didn’t understand. She often asked us where our father was, and we tried to tell her, but she always smiled and laughed, “He’ll be back soon.” If only that were the truth.
The day of the funeral was a cold and rainy Monday. It was exactly the type of weather you would envision for a funeral. I watched my mother apply lipstick with a shaky hand. My uncle helped my brother John knot his tie correctly, something my father had once done for him. I could hear Caroline crying in her nursery down the hall, I had to assume it was because she would be something other than pink. My mother tied my hair back with a silky, black bow. I could feel her sadness, it radiated it of her like heat waves in the summer. She grabbed my hand, and together with my brother and sister we walked to the car outside. As we drove to the cemetery, we saw hundreds of photographs, and memorials scattered along the sidewalks dedicated to my father. The blinding flash of cameras interrupted my silent reflection, thousands of people had gathered around the cemetery gates, whether they hoped to see a glimpse of my father’s body, or my family I don’t know. My mother pulled her veil over her face, as we ducked out of the car.
As I stood there watching my father’s casket be unloaded from a car, I finally realized what I had lost. At 15 years old, I had lost my father, my dearest friend. He was gone, and not peacefully, but in an act of pure hatred. I understood why my mother had refused to take off her blood stained suit. It was not because she hadn't wanted to change, but so whoever had done this terrible thing, would see just what they had taken from us. The priest asked us to pay our final respects before they would bury him. My brother grabbed Caroline’s hand, and for once she was completely silent. They grabbed a handful of dirt and threw it on the casket as they whispered goodbye. My eyes stung as they filled with tears. My mother took my hand in hers and lead me to the casket. She grabbed the dirt and whispered her final goodbye, and threw the dirt down into the hole. I felt as if I was being controlled by a greater power, as I went through the motions of taking dirt in my hand, and walking to the hole. The feeling of overwhelming sadness filled my body as I told my father’s lifeless body how much I loved him, and that I would miss him more and more everyday. With that, I threw my handful in, and watched as strangers buried my father.
My mother wanted nothing more than to leave the White House as soon as we could. When we arrived home after the funeral, we found our belongings already being packed into boxes. My mother had us pack a bag of a weekend’s worth of clothing. “I think it’s time for us to leave.” she declared during dinner that night. It was only my mother, John, Caroline and I at the table. “I truly believe there is nothing left for us here, and I think that we should try to move away as soon as we can.” A tear rolled down my mother’s face as she sipped her wine, “Where where will we go?” I asked, “For now I think the summer home in Nantucket will serve us well until we can find a more permanent residence.” my mother answered cooly. “Do you really think leaving now is such a good idea?” my brother asked. “Father loved this house so much, shouldn’t we enjoy the time we have left here?” I tensed as my brother’s voice became louder and louder. “How can you bear to be in this house? Your father is gone John! There is nothing left for us! Staying here won’t bring him back, and the longer we stay the more we will become attached.” My mother responded with the slightest twinge of hysteria. She shook her head, “I wish it could be different, I wish I could be as strong as you are John, but I cannot bear to be here a second longer.” My brother placed his hand over hers, “I’ll start packing tomorrow morning.” and with that, it was decided that we would leave.
The next days were spent packing all of belongings for the move away. My uncle Bobby and Aunt Ethel went up early to Nantucket to prepare the house for us. I couldn’t decide how I felt about us leaving. I knew that it would be easier for my mother who looked as if she had lost her reason to live, but I didn’t want to forget about my father. “Lily!” my mother called from her bedroom. Her bedroom had been the first to packed away, “Yes mother?” she was sitting at her vanity putting in her favorite pair of earrings, a gift from my father, “I have something to give you.” she said with a sad smile. I watched as she pulled a neatly wrapped box from a drawer. “I discovered this in your father’s desk drawer, it was his gift to you for your 16th birthday.” In the midst of all that happened in the last few days, I had forgotten my upcoming birthday. “I know your birthday isn’t coming up for a few days now, but I thought you’d like to have this.” my mother handed me the gift. A tear rolled down her cheek, “My only wish, is that he could be here to watch you children grow up.” she smiled, “Caroline told me she thinks he’ll watching us up in heaven,” she sighed, “I can only hope that he is.” I pulled my mother into a tight hug, it was the first time she had broke down in front of me. I knew my mother felt she had to put on a brave face for us, but she was only human, and she had watched the love of her life die in her arms. My mother often told us of how she wished she had been stronger for us, but it was her that pushed us forward, and it was her that gave us a reason to keep living our lives to best we could.
I decided to open my father’s present once we arrived in Nantucket, because I knew it was his favorite place. I went to bed that night knowing it would be the last day in the place I had called home for three years. I barely slept, how could I? I thought about the day we moved into the White House. My brother, sister and I raced up to see the bedrooms my mother had designed for us. We spent hours exploring the grand mansion, playing hide and seek and tag for hours and hours. My mother was already busy at work with a team of interior designers to “give the place a much needed lift” as she said. My father laughed watching her become so worked up over curtains. She smiled as he teased her, he lit up whenever he saw her, it was obvious to everyone. I remember after we had fully unpacked, my father turned on the radio as he and my mother danced to the music. They looked so happy in eachother’s arms. What a promising start to the next four years of my life I had thought to myself. If only I had known that it would be ripped away from me before I had experienced it all.
The trip to Massachusetts seemed to take much longer than usual. It gave me a lot of time to think about my father. I thought about the time we spent together in Nantucket. It was no secret that my father was fascinated by the White House, but everyone knew he truly loved the tiny town of Nantucket, Massachusetts. He had been born in Brookline, Massachusetts, but he spent his summer’s in Nantucket with his grandparent’s. He always told me of his time spent there at the beach, working in the local ice cream shop, and his hours spent sailing in the sailboat he built himself. He loved sailing, and often took me and my siblings. My parents were even married in my father’s favorite church on the island. Shortly after my parents were married, my father’s grandfather died, and left the home my father stayed in as a child, to him. It was where my mother and father would live for 2 years before my father became a Senator and they moved to Washington. Arriving home was bittersweet, my siblings and I no longer felt the urge to bound out of the car into the ocean. We all solemnly grabbed our personal things and walked to the house. The neighbors were polite, and perhaps already prepped by my uncle, in giving us peace to unload our things, but I could feel glances from the windows of nearby houses. I suppose everyone was wondering what to expect, however we ourselves didn’t seem to know either.
I went straight to my room, I didn’t want to waste a single moment more in opening the last gift from my father. My hands shook as I slowly untied the pale pink bow from the neatly wrapped box. I gently, and uncharacteristically, unwrapped the paper from the package away to reveal a bare box. I lifted the lid to discover plethora of gifts. At the bottom, was the most beautiful hat I had ever seen! My heart stopped in my chest, I knew exactly what this was for. My father and I had planned to go to the Kentucky Derby this year, something I had wanted to do for years, and my father promised once I turned 16 he would take me. The familiar sting of salty tears filled my eyes, as I clutched the hat tightly. I lifted a small box from the package, I opened the top to see a delicate locket. In the locket was a picture of my mother, and next to it, a picture of my father holding me as a baby. a tear trickled down my face as I turned the locket around to see an inscribed message. “I will love, and be with you always. -Your Loving Father” Silent sobs shook my through my body as I held the necklace tightly in my fist. Tucked under the hat lay a thick envelope. I opened the envelope carefully, and unfolded the note it read, “To my sweet Lillian, first of all Happy Birthday! I hope you have the most wonderful 16th birthday! Second of all, I wanted to write to you so you will always be able to read this when you need a reminder of how much I love you. I am as proud a father as I could possibly be, you my sweet Lily are everything a man hopes his daughter is. Kind, intelligent, caring, compassionate, witty, humorous, and oh so beautiful! I wish I could put into words how much you mean to me! Everyday I grow more and more amazed by the young women you have become. Oh how you remind me of your mother! You two are similar in more ways than looks, and I am am truly grateful that you have your mother to look up to, so please remember dear Lily, how important your mother is. She is my best friend, and I hope that one day you too will find a man who is not only your greatest love, but your best friend as well. Speaking of love my dear, don’t fall into love with a man who doesn’t understand how lucky he is to have your heart. Sometimes even I forget this, but I can always count on your mother to remind me. I hope that in your lifetime you have the opportunities that I did, and that you take them, even if they're a little bit crazy. Follow your heart, and let no one tell you that can’t do something. All things are possible if you put your mind to it. Remember if all else fails, I will always be here, and I will always love you. That is something that will never change. -Your Loving Father”.
I sat there is silence as I listened to the sound of my heart beating. If it was one thing that I knew, it was that my father loved me. I always knew that and always would. But if was one thing I didn’t have, it was him. What I would do to sit and simply be with father, I suppose I can’t even put into words. I missed him. More than I thought possible, and I was afraid that I would spend the rest of my life missing him. I read and reread the letter at least 10 times before I realized something. My father always told me and my brother and sister that he would always be with us, even if he was away in another place, whether it was campaigning, or giving a speech, he would always be with us. His death was certainly different than his temporary absence, but it didn’t change his promise to us. That no matter what happened, he would always be with us. I suppose my father would never really leave, maybe physically, but he would still be with me. I couldn’t help it if I tried, my father was a part of me, and I was determined that I wasn’t going to lose that part of me, no matter what happened. I slid the letter back into the envelope, until I felt a small, sharp object at the bottom of the envelope. I reached my hand in, to feel a cool, circular, metal object. It was my father’s Presidential pin of the American flag. My father always asked my mother to help him pin it to his suits when he had a public appearance. It was my favorite pin that he wore and I often told him that, “Don’t worry sweet Lillian, one day it will be yours,” I smiled and pinned it to my dress. Life without my father was never going to be easy, but my father always told me that I could do anything I wanted to if I put my heart into it. I suppose that everyday, little by little, the pain will become more bearable, and I will be able to look at his picture and smile because I had the honor to call John F. Kennedy my father.
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