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Memories of a ‘Kennedy Girl’: Sneed

In this Nov. 22 1963 file phoPresident John F. Kennedy his wife Jacqueline Kennedy arrive Love Field airport Dallas. |

In this Nov. 22, 1963 file photo, President John F. Kennedy and his wife, Jacqueline Kennedy, arrive at Love Field airport in Dallas. | AP

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Updated: December 23, 2013 3:46PM

The Kennedy legacy: The way it was. . .

I was so young then. It was late 1960.

A high school kid, a “Kennedy Girl”, I was a 16-year-old Catholic knocking on doors for votes to help elect the nation’s first Catholic president.

Back then, everything seemed possible; visibly clear, full steam ahead; even winning votes in the tough Republican stronghold of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula for an Irish-American Democrat: John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

It was “JFK: All the Way” for me.

But on Nov. 22, 1963, a twist of the American kaleidoscope had turned the nation’s focus from confidence into conspiracy.

A Texas drifter named Lee Harvey Oswald slaughtered the country’s youngest elected president; the man who had inspired me to knock on doors of strangers, deer hunters, fishermen, miners; voters in the big tree country of the Lake Superior north; a candidate who never came to the U.P.

Oswald’s rifle had shredded the skull of a man I would never meet; whose sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, was the only Kennedy to take tea with me in the U.P. along with the “Teen Dems” rally I helped organize in 1960, when I was a high school senior in Marquette, Mich.

Surprisingly, it resulted in my invitation to JFK’s inauguration; now a framed piece of cherished paper; an invite to a ceremony I never attended because it was so far away and not within the family budget.

I was a junior at Northern Michigan University when Kennedy was shot; standing outside my political science class clutching textbooks that soon would need editing.

There were no cell phones then, no computers, no CNN instant news. Television sets were primarily located at home. I was standing in a school stairway.

So we watched by listening; news finally ignited by a student screaming, trailed by a cacophony of tears; followed by radio reports with little information ... and a novena-sized hope Kennedy would survive. Surely, anyone that extraordinary would not give in to a bullet.

Then it was over. A weeping TV legend, Walter Cronkite, was the one to tell the nation. It would never be the same again.

The lights in Kennedy’s shining house on the hill dimmed; our Camelot mission of doing good for our country veered off track. Joining the Peace Corps to help the less fortunate around the world seemed far away. Hell, we were the ones who now needed help.

Kennedy’s message not only sent us to college; it even encouraged us to walk!

I don’t quite remember what Kennedy’s physical fitness walk required us to do, but it became the reason for flagging down a car in May, 1962, just before exams — and asking the driver to take me to the hospital with a knee torn during an early morning stroll in the woods.

◆ Truth be told: It was a ripped meniscus after a rambunctious evening of dancing the Twist with sorority sisters in a cabin in the U.P. woods when we flagged down that car. (The knee has since been replaced.)

Kennedy’s legacy is now being assaulted; time is always the great leveler. But it can’t change how we felt then. Pundits and playwrights have described it as a “brief, shining moment known as Camelot.”

This I can tell you. It was, indeed, quite a time.

The women’s room. . .

Veep Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin will stop by the dedication of the first domestic violence shelter to be built in the city in the past ten years Monday.

◆ Translation: The shelter, to be called WINGS Metro, is a pet project of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s — and is being paid for partly by a $1.8 million settlement that VIP’s, a strip club, reached with the city after 19 years of litigation.

◆ Backshot: The $5 million shelter will receive funds from a three-part collaboration of nonprofits that, in addition to WINGS Metro, includes Metropolitan Family Services and the Greater Southwest Development Corporation.

Sneedlings . . .

Friday’s birthdays: Billie Jean King, 70; Mariel Hemingway, 52, and Jamie Lee Curtis, 55.

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