Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Memory

I am sad tonight because I just found out that Jack Kemp passed away. He was a former pro quarterback and US Congressman, but more than that, he holds a special place in my childhood memories. Jack Kemp was running for President in 1988 and during the primaries, I was 10 years old. He was part of Reagan's team and my dad adored him. He made a stop in my little hometown, at the small local airport, to make a speech. My father took me with him to hear it. I can remember the moment so is imprinted in my mind flawlessly. It is one of my first major memories and my first experience with politics, the US government, name it, it was a first. It was a very "big girl" thing to do and I was so excited. I was a Daddy's girl and worshiped the ground he walked on. (still do!) I was thrilled beyond belief because it was just me and my dad mom and no little sisters. Just me and Daddy, skipping school to do very important daddy/daughter business. I remember the crowd was huge, or at least it was in my 10 year old mind. I was tiny for my age in those days and I recall very well that I could not see a single thing and I was clinging to my dad's hand. Finally, the speech was over and everyone was clapping and waving flags and it was very loud and chaotic to my little self. I was upset because I had yet to lay eyes on Mr. Kemp and I wanted to be apart of everything. My dad grabbed me and tossed me up on his shoulders so that I could see the stage. Suddenly I was high above the crowd and there was Mr. Kemp, waving from the podium and shaking hands. He looked up right as my dad lifted me and we caught eyes. This whole moment is frozen in time for me....he smiled and started walking toward me. The crowd parted for him automatically and everyone turned to look at who he was heading for. It was me! He walked right up to me and shook my hand, holding it in both of his big ones. I don't remember the details of our conversation, just him introducing himself to me and saying my name perfectly back, which nobody ever could do. I remember the warmth of his eyes and his sweet genuinely happy he looked to see me and how very nice he was to me. I felt like a star when the whole crowd started cheering around us. I decided at that moment, in all the wisdom of my ten years, that I was in love with Jack Kemp. I was extremely proud and decided immediately that the day could not possibly be topped. I was hooked on politics from that moment and I followed that election like it was between the New Kids On the Block. I was devastated when Kemp lost the primaries to George Bush. I was bound and determined that Kemp would be President and I would be able to walk around school telling everyone that the leader of the free world was also my close personal friend. It was not to be, but it continued to be a famed story in my household and as the years went on, Kemp would hold lots of offices and frequently show up on the news. Much to the chagrin of my whole family, I would always loudly announce, "Everyone be quiet! My friend Jack is on the news!" or something equally annoying. If Kemp was speaking, I could be counted on to lean into your ear and whisper loudly, "You know he knows me, right??". It was a moment that has carried on in our family folklore. Tonight I called my parents to make sure they heard the news. My mom and dad got on speaker phone and we were talking about it. I had to add, "You know, we were close. Meeting me was probably a big deal for him.". My mom said with the certainty that only a mother can muster, "I am absolutely sure that it was. Absolutely." :-) It was a really big deal for me.
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