Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

JFK and My Grandmother

Last week, marked the 49th anniversary of JFK's assassination. There were several events around Boston commemorating this sad day, including an opening of his Brookline childhood home, which is now a historic site but is usually closed to the public during the winter months. As I was listening to a report about our 35th president on NPR, I remembered a photograph sitting on my desk.

This old polaroid photograph is one of my most valuable stored treasures. I found it, amongst the hundreds of photographs I've inherited over the years. Deeply stowed beneath aging family portraits, was a remarkable black and white snapshop:

This faded print of John F. Kennedy and Jaqueline Kennedy waving at the crowd, in their convertible, has been sitting on my desk for more than a year. I keep it there for several reasons—the obvious being—it's an amazing shot, taken up-close, shortly before he died. The main reason this photo remains on my desk is to remind me, that it's part of my genealogy puzzle, a small piece of my family's history, a clue to an unsolved mystery. 

Like many of photos in my collections, this one is not labeled. Unavailing the story hidden behind this photo requires detective skills. My first educated guess is, that this polaroid was taken by my grandmother, Ethel Alzofon (Bloomfield). It's fairly safe to assume my grandmother, a huge fan of instant photos, a woman who practically singlehandedly maintained the polaroid company for many years, took this 1963 polaroid. Ever since I can remember, she was snapping away with the latest model polaroid camera. Usually, the subpar quality of these photos, far inferior to 35 mm photos, did not deter my grandmother.  She loved the idea of instantaneous results! I remember the excitement of having to wait only thirty seconds before pulling the polaroid tab. I aslo remember how frustrating it could be to have to retake a photo because it was blurry or overexposed. Oh, how she would have enjoyed a digital camera! From the look of this picture, it's jagged edges and the triangular tab, I can surmount that this was a pre-1963 polaroid roll film (later discontinued).

November 22nd,  Thanksgiving day, was the actual anniversary of JFK's assassination. It reminded me to ask my mother about the Kennedy photo. "It's from the day before he was assassinated", she told me, "He was in Houston that day". She doesn't remember why she didn't go see him, maybe she thought there would be other chances. To this day, my mother regrets not going to see him. Only her older brother Larry and her mother went that day. Since the polaroid cameras did not have a zoom feature, we can deduct that they were probably in the front row, and quite close to the motorcade. 

As we pondered how close my grandmother and Larry were to this moment in History, I remembered something else I found in my grandmother's boxes. A related mystery. An invitation to Kennedy's inauguration. 

It's a beautifully preserved, embossed invitation, with an official golden seal at the top. Inside there is a schedule of events. Unfortunately there is no envelope. I can only assume, that, this remarkable invitation, pasted into one of my grandmother's photo albums, was intended for her. I have no idea why my grandmother received this special honor. My mother does not recall her ever mentioning being invited. In 1961 she was divorced and a single parent of four young children. She hadn't attended law school as of yet. My mother ventured a guess: maybe my grandmother worked on the campaign? I've made a note to myself to research this tip. She was quite certain that her mother did not attend the historical inauguration. Why not? Why would she miss this once in a lifetime opportunity? Was she planning on going? Maybe it was too difficult to leave her children behind? Perhaps the impending snow storm in Washington which almost lead to the cancellation of the inauguration, derailed her trip? Maybe she just couldn't afford the travelling?

These two tiny clues from my grandmother's past, raise many more questions than answers answers about my grandmother's life from 1961-1963. One of the most fascinating aspects of studying genealogy is how personal history becomes when we can related it to our ancestors. I thank my grandmother Ethel for leaving me these clues, glimpses into the past. 

I'll leave you with JFK's famous quote from his inauguration speech continues to resonate today:
“And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country.”

Do you have a story that links your family into history? Do share!

To read more about my grandmother, see my book: Stored Treasures, A Memoir.