Sunday, November 22, 2009


That is right and you read it here first. It is finally safe for us all to breathe a collective sigh of relief and let those muscles go slack. What brings this new age of relaxation?  Here is it:

Mary Louise Clare Gordon Brannigan, aka: Mamie, Mummy, Ma, Marlon, Weezie, Red, Little Red Rooster, Mrs. B, The Queen Bee stated in a telephone interview this afternoon that "EVERYTHING IS UNDER CONTROL."   Thus spoke the final authority on the state of the world.
Mamie surrounded by part of her royal court at Deep Creek Lake.
The entire quote was "Well, I've been cozy all day reading a great book and a wonderful thought came to me: Everything is under control. So, Ruthie, everything is wonderful."  I responded that I was totally thankful for the update, and, after thinking about my respectful, but still quite smart mouth remark, something dawned on me as well. MAMIE IS 100% RIGHT.  Everything is under control and it was a relief to hear it, be reminded of it, and feel it.

This is not to say that everything is going the way we all want it to go; but, it was a fantastic reminder that it makes no sense to twist ourselves into a bundle trying to smooth out the wrinkles beyond the length of our own arms.  I am relieved. I am uplifted. I am thankful.  Mom is one smart lady even in the midst of all her memory loss and struggle with dementia.  She has laid down her cross and has come to terms with where she is and, probably for the first long term phase of her lifetime, she is mostly worry free because she has snuggled into a grip with her limitations.  Impressive that with saying only one statement, and giving it only a minute or two of follow-through, she has managed to maintain her ability to be a great role model.

November 22: Today is a major milestone in American History.  It is the day Camelot was brutally ended with JFK going not so gently in to the night. 

I remember the day itself.  Sister Helene, RSM came into our seventh grade classroom and whispered something to our homeroom nun's ear.  She calmly stood and told us to line up, in the usual semi-military format the 1960s Catholic schools were famous for, that we were going to church. It was weird, but no other information was given. Once we were in the pews of St. Paul Cathedral, we were directed by our principal, Sister Mary Peter, to pray for special intentions. That was it. Still no further information.

It was easy to see that every member of the Religious Sisters of Mercy, within our eyesight, was horribly upset. Most of them were crying or praying, or both, in a very controlled manner. Shortly, Monsignor Andrew J. Pauley climbed the steps of the pulpit to address us. He was our pastor and spiritual leader, and resembled Pat O'Brien from the movie "Boys Town" in action, word and deed. (yes, I saw that movie...but not as a first a rerun on KDKA, thank you). I loved him and the alcohol induced roseacea that mapped his warm face.

He stood there in his long black cassock and told us in gentle steps that our president was dead. He told us this was a sad day and that, because of all the sadness and change this would bring, that we needed to go home to our parents. Monsignor Pauley always had the right answer for everything, but this was beyond our wildest dreams!  He told us we would also not come to school the next day.  This was incredible news exceeding the usual thrill of being hauled into church every St. Andrew's Day only to be released early with the directive to celebrate his feast day.

At first it was a thrill to be let loose; but, we all could tell it was for the wrong reasons.  As students, we had no way of understanding the impact or importance of any thing remotely related to the gravity associated with John Fitzgerald Kennedy's assassination.  We did understand that it was serious and not a time to be giddy even though we were being given an early release followed by an entire day off.

Home I went to find my sainted grandmother, Grieggar, rattling her crystal rosary beads and crying.  The black and white portable television set was at attention on its faux brass stand. We didn't dare turn the knob in the hopes of a cartoon show. No, this was serious.  The broadcast was non-stop taking us through the steps of all that followed. Mom was seated beside her on the gold brocade sofa. She had abandoned ironing Dad's shirts, leaving the board upright with the water-filled Coke bottle with the sprinkler head stopper since we didn't have the incredible steam technology of today's appliances. It must be important as she hadn't unplugged the iron. She never let that stand alone in the on position unsupervised.

Eventually, while watching the one-eyed monster non-stop, I saw Jack Ruby shoot and kill Lee Harvey Oswald at the theater where he was hiding. It scared me that a policeman, Officer J.D. Trippet, was killed in the process. The impression was so powerful that I still recall the man's name. It made me wonder how soon Dad would be home safe with us rather than driving his patrol cruiser.

I was confused and, like many kids my age during that time, I wasn't asked my opinion. Nor was I asked to share how I was feeling about all this news. Anxiety wasn't as readily labeled or bantered about much like pro-actively addressed. We just dealt with it the best way we could.

We all plugged into the television set without much conversation for days to come. We cried mostly because our parents were crying. That just didn't happen all that readily. The only other time I had ever seen Dad cry before that point was when he was told his sister and my namesake, Ruth, had died. That was a much different and deeper level of pain and crying. This was a calmer, more staid, quiet projection of emotion. I was relieved it didn't reach the level it had with Aunt Ruthie, but both passages of time were hard to witness. It hurt me to see my parents and all the other adults in my world reeling from this calamity.

Since those days we've seen JFK immortalized along with Martin Luther King and the current Pope in a triptych on nearly every dining room wall. We also seen them all replaced by objects d'art as not that many people display these three together in their homes much.

A few years back, I was in Dallas for a conference. As any self-respecting child of this era would do, I took a cab to the book repository and walked the grassy knoll. The theater where Oswald was confronted by Trippet is now a bar. The marquee is still there as a silent sentry of the events that took place that day. It is as if Dallas would rather be known for a few other events, and can you blame them?  There is a log cabin which belonged to Sam Houston nearby which was interesting since that is where I discovered he was born a Virginian. Dallas has done a wonderful job of maintaining respect; yet, moving on to the future, as it should.

Interestingly, today's milestone of JFK's assassination wasn't even brought up during the 6 o'clock news.  It has been moved out further away from shore by the ripples of more current news splashes. Today makes me not only think about JFK but also about his place in history and mourn the robbery of his life.  It also makes me mourn the days when he was missed more. Maybe because I was younger and it was such a seminal benchmark for me. Maybe it was because it was better to mourn the magic of Camelot rather than the current debt, war and other stressful headlines that won't go away.

Now, even with all this, please know that Mary Louise Clare Gordon Brannigan is still 100% right even in the face of all this negative history. We are okay. We made it through that. We'll make it through more. Everything is under control. Now, go get good and comfortable and start reading your book. Everything is under control. Go relax.

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