Prologue to Listening to JBKO

Shirley and I started work at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library on the same day, September 13th, 1971.  We worked together in the library’s temporary quarters in Waltham, although not on the same projects.  We were still colleagues when the Library moved to its new building – stunning, out of the way, and leaky – on Columbia Point in Boston.  I left in ’83 to have my first son, and Shirley left for the Boston Globe in ’84.

Waltham staff at JFK Library / 2008

The Waltham staff of the JFK Library gets together for reunions about once every two years – when someone who has moved far away is back in town, when the JFK Library Foundation puts on a big bash, sometimes unfortunately at funerals.  I go because my work there was over-the-top and my colleagues, for the most part, were very bright and interesting people. I’d go to more of the events, including the Hemingway Awards in the spring, but I live more than 3 hours away, and I’m very content at home.

I am so happy that Shirley and I are still friends.  The date of our meeting, September 13th is a very significant day in my life. It is also my marriage date, the date I started work as librarian at Lowell National Historical Park, and the date that my husband found out he had lymphoma.  Meeting Shirley is in there with some of my biggies.

For my 65th birthday Shirley gave me the book of Jacqueline Kennedy’s interviews with Arthur Schlesinger.  They were recorded  just four months after the President’s death in 1964.  The book bears Caroline’s signature.  It was a wonderful present.  I don’t know if I would have bought or read the book otherwise.  It was a boxed set with CD’s.

With Jacqueline Kennedy at the opening of the Hemingway Room 7/18/1980

I met Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, or JBKO, as we referred to her in the library, several times.  The staff thought it undignified and too familiar to call the former First Lady “Jackie,” but Mrs.Kennedy or Mrs. Onassis was too formal.  I was curator of the Ernest Hemingway Collection and I would see her at Hemingway events, which she often attended.

At one of these events I introduced JBKO to my husband. The next time we saw her — a year, two years later — she amazed us by remembering him and our conversation.  She asked us about our house that we had told her we were building. Even after I left the library Clark and I would return and see her.  We told her we had opened a children’s bookstore, Book Nooks & Krannies in New Hampshire.  Months later a big unmarked box of The Fisherman’s Song by Carly Simon, illustrated by Margot Datz, arrived at the store.  They were all signed “Love, Carly Simon.”

The Fisherman’s Song

I think I walked around in a daze for a week or two.  I was overwhelmed.  Where did these books come from?  Were they a mistake?  What should I do about them?  There was no note, no paperwork, no bill.  I didn’t want to be presumptuous but I thought perhaps JBKO asked Carly to sign them and  had Doubleday send them to me.  JBKO was Carly Simon’s editor at Doubleday, and the editor, songwriter, and artist knew each other on Martha’s Vinyard.  Wondering how to thank her, and still not being sure if I should thank her for fear of embarrassing both of us if she hadn’t, I did nothing.  I thought next time I see her . . .

Of course, next time never came.  And that is one of my regrets.  How does one thank someone who has passed away for having done something so thoughtful?

I have lots of books in piles around the house waiting to be read.  I wondered when I would get to Jackie’s.

Then I remembered.  I used to love listening to books when I was by myself on a long car ride.  I would occasionally be so engrossed, in Water for Elephants for example, that I missed my exit to Moultonborough and almost made it to Canada.   I eventually wore out the player and turned to NPR and singing with my ipod.

Now I have a new car with a functional CD player, and a new 2-hour each way drive to visit my mom in New Jersey every week.  I could listen to the book.

And I am.  My first thoughts were about JBKO’s voice.  It is very feathery, and reminds me, unfortunately, of Marilyn Monroe.  She has an accent.  I cringe when I hear myself saying “cawfee” for coffee, but if JBKO can speak with a somewhat unflattering accent, I can too.  I hope it is endearing.

I’m more than half way through.  It’s sometimes hard to hear what they are saying.  I’ve got to fill in the blanks in my memory.  I’m curious to compare the book and the CDs.

In the meantime I’m going to send a copy of The Fisherman’s Song off to Shirley this afternoon, and start writing about my impressions of what I have heard so far.

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