I walk by 1040 Fifth, Jackie Kennedy’s longtime address
(1964-1994), most mornings. Sometimes I gaze up to the 15th floor, other times, like today, stop to pay a brief homage. A girl was standing nearby, so I assumed she too knew that was where she lived, up till the day she died.
I smile in innocent camaraderie, a smile she doesn’t return.
Suddenly she’s beside me, looking, at what I can only describe with passing contempt.
“Do you need something?” I ask with curiosity.
“You were thinking of that awful woman, right? That wife of the Kennedy guy?”
It was then I realized our vast age difference.
“Jacqueline Kennedy, wife of our 35th President, lived there, and yes, I was indeed thinking of her. Are you an American?”
“Yes I am,” she said, defensively, “born in Louisiana.”
I knew I was courting trouble asking, “Why did you call her awful?”
“Cause she was a whore….married that ugly Greek guy, for his money. All she cared about was money. My mother told me everything.”
“Can I ask, how old you are?”
“I”ll be 19, next July.”
“I’m born in July too, and so was Mrs. Kennedy, by the way.”
The start of a smile quickly vanished though we stayed in step.
I knew I had a choice. To insult, or educate.
“Do you read at all?” This is when that smile broke through, reaching in her bag bringing out a dog-eared paperback of Jane Eyre.
“This is my favorite book. I love to read.”
She sounded like someone else we know who just happened to be approaching her building.
“My name’s Susannah, what’s yours?”
“Harper…what a beautiful name, and if you wait a second Harper, I have something for you. Okay? Talk to Nate.
(the young, cute doorman). Be right back.” I ran up the stairs, two at a time, coming back with a bio on Jackie.
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis…The Making of a First Lady. “I love to read too,” I said, “and this will give you a better idea of a woman you might even end up liking. If nothing else, you’ll learn about a very important time in our history.”
To my surprise, without argument, she took it.
“Was very nice meeting you Harper. Have a great day.”
I left before she could change her mind.
Nate told me, she started to read,
as she walked. 🙂 SB
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New York City
reading the classics
Teaching American History
The Kennedy Years
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