A Perfectly Well-intentioned Person or November 22, 1963


Last July in the newspaper I read: A perfectly well-intentioned person she has never met approaches her to say…almost anything that they believe is filled with heartfelt sincerity and the secret connection they share together. The “she” is Caroline Kennedy and I must confess that on the anniversary of her father’s death I would probably be one of those people if I ever got the chance.

On November 22 , 1963 just after Kennedy was shot I boarded a school bus for the afternoon session of kindergarten with Mrs. Serfling. Life was relatively carefree. I don’t know if my mother knew he had been assassinated yet but by the time I returned home it was clear something was very wrong. I crept up to my parents’ bedroom and listened to my mother sobbing face down on her bed. My father was sitting in the car listening to the radio and didn’t roll down the window to speak with me when I knocked on the door.

The days that followed were somber and quiet. I remember having the whole upstairs sections of the house to myself as my family sat before the large black and white television set in the basement and watched a slow moving story. The phone rang and I was surprised nobody went to answer it because we normally raced for the receiver, and being the youngest I usually lost. It was my father’s brother and he wanted to talk to my dad. I went downstairs and told my father who was on the phone but he didn’t say anything. I looked at the screen and saw the President’s two children in matching coats. I stared at the girl. She looked through the television set and I felt a connection to her. Then we watched some soldiers and I went back to the phone to say something to my uncle but the line had gone dead.Image

The next day in the newspaper Caroline Kennedy and her brother were on the front page. I pointed to her.

“How old is she?” I asked.


“Like me.”


Look and Life magazines showed up and I combed the black and white pictures of the President and his family. One picture showed moving men packing up the president’s rocking chair.

“Why do they have to move?” I asked.

“Because there’s a new president now.”

That didn’t seem fair to me and I worried about where Caroline and her little brother would play now that they had to leave the White House.

Over the years I checked in with Caroline when she happened to be in the news. She had long thick light brown hair just like mine. We both graduated from college in May 1980, but her graduation made the paper.

She got married in the summer of 1986 just like me. Two of her three children are the same ages as mine and her son is named Jack and so is mine, and we’re both half Irish. After that the trail goes cold and I have no more dots to connect…she’s rich, ambassador to Japan, daughter of a U.S. president and owns a 375-acre estate on Martha’s Vineyard. I teach art and live on a fifty foot lot  and can’t afford to go to a restaurant again until my daughter graduates from college.

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about her but when I come across a news story about her I read it. If I ever did meet her I’ve decided I wouldn’t be the perfectly well intentioned person that she forgets about seconds later because I would stay in the background, remembering when we secretly connected through the television set in 1963.


Me in 1963

3 thoughts on “A Perfectly Well-intentioned Person or November 22, 1963

  1. Doris Martel Hernacki says:

    Beautifully expressed recollections, Phoebe. I’ve sometimes wondered how vivid Caroline’s memories are or if they are from TV and print reports….I was in HS at play rehearsal (Annie Sullivan in ” The Miracle Worker”) when I heard the news. Was it a cruel joke? I also remember the days that followed in front of my family’s black and white TV set…. ( Love your 5 year old photo!! 😀 )

  2. Christine Herzog says:

    Love the little person and the connections. I was a junior in high school at a college fair in Albany at Christian Brothers Academy. First, it can’t be true — who is this person speaking? as the news came over the loudspeaker. Soon enough our nun escort came into the classroom where we pondered our futures. Her eyes were filled with tears and her checks red. Such sadness and tears all weekend; such disbelief that this was happening to our President. Yes, the rest of the weekend around our black and white console TV.

  3. Well said. I didn’t realize just how impacted your parents were by the JFK assassination. I suppose they closely identified with the Kennedy family. Thanks for the story!

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