On the evening of November 8, 1960, when the Presidential election was called for John F. Kennedy, my father, Bill Hardy, woke me up, took me outside, pointed to the starry sky above and told me, “This is the dawn of a new era!”
Now that I come to think of it, maybe the reason he woke me up that historic night had less to do with ushering in Camelot and more with getting me to pee in an actual toilet. I was a chronic bed wetter; for years my parents woke me before going to bed themselves in the off chance that my bed would be dry come morning. They were dreamers in so many ways.
I trace my interest in politics to that 1960 campaign. My Dad was teaching at Purdue at the time and Indiana was a very Republican state. Its long-serving Senator, a Republican, was up for re-election against a Democratic upstart – Birch Bayh. The name Birch Bayh might sound funny, but, trust me, to an eight year old, the Republican’s name — Homer E. Capehart – was hi-larious.
My understanding of politics was pretty basic back then: Democrats were good and Republicans were ridiculous at best and evil at worst. Come to think of it, that’s still pretty much what I l think. One of the first, indeed, one of the only two songs I have ever written, was about the 1960 senatorial election. Sung to the tune of “Hey, look me over!” it went like this:
Hey, look me over! I’m your kind of guy!
Vote for Indiana’s own Birch Bayh.
He’s Indiana’s own family man.
With a little of this and a little of that,
He’ll beat that old Republican rat.
My brother Peter and I used to sing this to the general amusement of our parents, although he claims to have no memory of this. I suppose he thinks he could have done better and perhaps he’s right. Over the years he has proven himself an accomplished lyricist, while my only other stab at song writing was in eighth grade — set to the tune of Beautiful Dreamer and entitled Beautiful Strata, it featured such rhymes as ‘strata’ with ‘data’, ‘quartz’ with’ two or three sorts’ and ‘delve’ with ‘Continental Shelf’. I know. Don’t quit my day job.
When Kennedy was shot three years later, I was devastated, even once I was disabused of the idea that he was all that was standing between America and Nuclear Winter. When the Kennedy silver dollar came out a few years later, I had one made into a pendant to wear about my neck – a talisman, an amulet. So many Kennedys gone now, including the little boy saluting his father’s casket as the funeral procession rolled by – but JFK was my first and his loss, the hardest to bear.
I eventually stopped wetting the bed, but I never outgrew my belief in the possibility of Camelot. Feet of clay notwithstanding, I have my heroes: FDR, JFK, RFK, MLK and now Obama. They are my father’s heroes as well and we cling to them as we would the wreckage of a foundering ship on a high sea. For, you see, hope floats and it’s one of the only things that does.