Saturday, July 28, 2012

Happy birthday, Jackie

Today, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis would have turned 83. If she were still here, I imagine she'd be kicking around the Vineyard, reading a book. Or perhaps that's just how I'd like to spend my birthday.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

My Cape Cod vacation coincided with the JFK Hyannis Museum’s exhibit on Jacqueline Kennedy’s summers in Hyannis Port. (Kennedy Secret Service Agent Clint Hill will be giving a talk there later this month.) Although I’d been to the nearby Kennedy compound years ago for a political clam bake, I’d never been to this museum, a fitting tribute to a local son. So it was not surprising that pictures of Jack, mostly in color – all wind-swept hair, kids swarming, Secret Service lurking, khakis and blue blazers -- that first greet you inside, along with his quote on the wall: “I always come back to the Cape and walk on the beach when I have a tough decision to make. The Cape is one place I can think alone.”

Seems like he was rarely alone, though, or idle enough to think. There he is being interviewed by Walter Cronkite on the expansive lawn; deposited on the ground by Marine One with Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson; golfing at the Hyannis Port Golf Club; leaving Saint Francis Xavier Church in Hyannis; conferring with Secretary of State Dean Rusk and Undersecretary Averell Harriman in the living room of the family home; and piloting the Honey Fitz.

Jackie is rarely seen here, but makes an appearance in one crammed extended family photo – part of a series taken between Sept. 7 and 8 of 1962 -- where she is kneeling next to her seated father-in-law, with whom she was close.

The photo is a subtle segue to the Jackie exhibit, where there are some letters from her in later years – one to a person who helped “rescue” her at sea and another to one of JFK Jr.’s teachers who was living nearby on the Cape. There is also an unrelated video about her trip to India with her sister Lee.

The payoff, if you will, is brief but glorious, with two fairly rare photos of her on the Cape. One (taken by Jacques Lowe in August of 1960) is of her in a swimsuit, holding a pair of flippers and wearing a bathing cap adorned with what appear to be scales. She’s looking directly at the camera, smiling broadly. The other (also by Lowe) is of her in a blue cotton dress where she and JFK hold hands with Caroline, happily in the middle, their faces tilted toward the sky. You can almost feel the ocean breeze in the picture.

While the sun seems to shine in every picture, there is a melancholy about it all, because we cannot help but anticipate the ferocious storm to come. Add to that sadness the fact that Lowe – the Kennedys’s personal photographer who also took many of the famous 1960 campaign photos – had stored his negatives in a vault in the World Trade Center, and lost them in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, and the whole thing is wrenching. I watched those towers burn and then collapse around me. The shock of it was made more horrible by the fact that it was a day, only just begun, with the most spectacular blue skies.