I awoke from a dream about being a cowboy riding a horse. I looked around my room – my stuffed toy sentinels Bugs Bunny, Pinocchio, and Mickey Mouse stared down at me from the shelf next to the bed.
The smell of pancakes drifted up to my room from the kitchen. I got out of bed, grabbed Bugs, and went across the hall to piddle. When I was done, I didn’t flush the toilet because I could see my baby sister still sleeping in her room, and Mom always told me not to flush when Karen was sleeping unless I made poop.
When I went downstairs I saw Mom standing next to the stove in a halo of sunshine coming through the window looking like my own pancake angel. “Are you hungry, Vinny?”
Nana walked into the room carrying her teacup on a saucer. “When is a three-year old not hungry?”
“Three and a half, Nana,” I said proudly.
She touched my cheek with her cold hand. “Yes, dear.” She looked up at Mom. “I’m going into the living room to watch the president.”
“Ok, Mom,” my mother said.
“The president?” I asked.
Mom put some pancakes on a plate, dropped a lump of butter on top, and placed them on the table. As she poured syrup over the stack she said, “Yes, he is in Texas and making a speech.”
“Will John-John be there?” My only interest in the president was that his son was around my age.
“Oh, I highly doubt it.”
“Shucks!” I said before devouring my pancakes.
Mom hummed “Blue Velvet” as she changed Karen’s diaper. I sat on the floor next to the crib playing with my Tonka trucks. Right after I arranged a pretty nifty crash, I heard Nana scream up the stairs, “They shot the president!”
Mom looked at me. “What did Nana say?”
“They shot the president,” I said.
“Oh my God!” She quickly fastened the pin on Karen’s diaper, lifted her into her arms, and started downstairs with me following.
Nana sat in front of the TV dabbing her eyes with the little flowery hanky she always kept in her pocket. The man on the TV looked really sad as he spoke about what had happened. Mom started crying, and I leaned against her and rubbed her arm like she did for me when I was crying.
After a while I left the room and went up to my Dad’s office. I usually never went in there when he wasn’t home, but I crept in and walked behind the big wooden desk. I stared up at the picture of the president that my father had on the wall. I always noticed it there when I came in to talk to Dad when he was busy. I liked the president’s face. I couldn’t help but wonder about John-John. My Dad was a cop, and sometimes I worried about him getting shot too because I had heard Mom and Nana talking about it.
The phone rang and I ran back downstairs because sometimes when Dad called from work I could talk to him. “Yes, of course I understand, Vince. Be careful!” Mom said and then hung up the phone. She looked at me. “Daddy has to stay late at work today because of what is happening.”
I didn’t like when Dad was late, so I hung my head and walked into the hallway, grabbed Bugs Bunny from the table, and went upstairs.
A few days later as Dad was getting ready for work I asked, “Can we throw the football, Dad?”
He put on his jacket, stuck the snub-nosed revolver into the holster on his belt, and picked up his gold badge from the table. “I have to go to work today, Vinny.”
“Yeah, I know. You’ve been working a lot lately.”
Dad took my Jets cap off and kissed the top of my head. As he put the cap back on me he said, “Look, I’m on a big case right now. I promise we’ll throw the football around on Thanksgiving before dinner. Okay?”
After Dad left I went to the window and watched him walking down the street. I knew he would take the subway into the city, and I wished I could go with him one day and see everything that he saw on the way. I kind of wanted to watch over him the way Bugs, Pinocchio, and Mickey watched over me.
As I walked downstairs I heard Mom and Nana crying in the living room. They were watching TV, and I looked at the screen and saw John-John. He was standing there next to his mother and sister. His mommy was dressed all in black and it was scary.
Mom touched my arm. “This is the president’s funeral.”
“Oh, you mean like grandpa’s?”
Nana nodded. “Yes, like grandpa’s, except today the whole country is crying.”
“Oh, Vinny, get out of the way,” Mom said.
Nana sniffled. “Leave him alone, dear.”
I sat on the floor and felt really sad for John-John. He lost his daddy and I know I was always scared about that too. I watched the rest of the funeral quietly, and then I saw the horse pulling the coffin with a flag draped over it.
“Why isn’t someone on that horse?”
“It’s a tradition,” Nana said.
Later in the kitchen as Mom made lunch I sat at the table drawing a picture.
“What’re you doing, Honey?”
“Making a picture for Daddy.”
“Oh, how nice.”
“He can keep it in his wallet to keep him safe.” Mom put my peanut butter and jelly sandwich down in front of me. “I wish John-John had done that for his daddy.”
Mom sniffled as she turned to the sink and said, “Don’t we all.”
Photo credits: jfklibrary.org, NY Daily News
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