Sunday, November 13, 2011

Lee Harvey Oswald - An Exerpt From THE EIGHT-FINGERED CRIMINAL'S SON

An exerpt from The Eight Fingered Criminal's Son
“LeAe Harvey Oswald (1963)"
by William Snyder
© 2006 William Snyder

It was 1963 and I was in a Sears’ department store elevator with my grandmother. The doors slid silently open. An enormous black woman filled the doorway. Her face was soaked with tears. “They killed Kennedy!” I looked up to my grandmother and she was crying too. Scanning the towering occupants of the elevator, I could see that they were all weeping and things seemed out of control. Although I hadn’t the slightest understanding of what was happening, I was scared to death.

My memory jump cuts to the dinner table at my grandparents’ home. We were having Jell-O. Tiny chunks of pears, peaches and bananas bounced around inside the cubes. My grandfather, who had been eating in silence, suddenly slammed his great lumberman’s fist on the table, “Goddamit! I knew they’d never let a Catholic run this country!” My Jell-O reverberated wildly in the glass bowl. On the wall behind my grandfather hung a picture of JFK and another of the blonde, blue-eyed surfer version of Jesus Christ.

My memory jump cuts again. Sitting with my my legs crossed, Indian style on the giant oval rug in front of my grandparents’ black and white television set, I watch a scene that I have already carefully observed at least a dozen times. Lee Harvey Oswald’s hands are cuffed as he rounds the corner in the underground parking structure. Dwarfed by giant gray men in cowboy hats, he wears a five o’clock shadow and looks like one if the guys who work on their cars behind my apartment building. I hate him because he is the man who killed the Catholic president. A man appears from nowhere, his broad back to the camera. I know that his name is Jack Ruby. He bum-rushes Oswald as the towering cowboy policemen stand by - useless. There is the muffled sound of gunshots. Oswald’s face looks almost funny. His eyes are shut and he looks as though he is trying very hard to whistle.

This incredibly chaotic, enigmatic scene is cemented into the foundations of the husband, father, and teacher I have since become.


Unknown said...

Really well-written, because you recaptured something that is truly sensitive. You brought the sense of that day to life for me, someone that wasn't even a thought, with details like the jello. "Trying to whistle" is perfect; sounds like a thought right at the time it actually happened (good autobiography). The violence of the world is horrible, and those events are tatooed upon the American consciousness- the memories of men and women. Your ending is 'for better or for worse' and that is the reality, because Kennedy's death really crushed people- a turning point. Talk to anyone on the streets about it that aint a young punk and you'll see! Actually, don't do that.

Jack Kennedy's Catholic standing also renews those cultural tensions. You do give the subject verbal irony and innocence at the end (E.g. what you knew was, "he shot the Catholic president"), which was great. Nice and subtle, Bill.

Rick Rivers said...

yes, seen that clip a hundred times. I was in the Army in Germany at the time. I wept. I liked this catholic president. My mom had the picture of he and Jackie disembarking at the airport on her home altar with a candle lit in front of it along with all the other saints.

JJ said...

I have my own recollections I will not share at this time. Very moving.

#167 Dad said...

Thanks, "Unknown."