Driving and Biking in the Big City

Remembering Marina, Kennedy and My Dad

with 2 comments

Charlie Bray

Charlie Bray

Of course I remember the day Kennedy was shot because it was only one month after my dad died. Thus, a romantic, imaginative 9-year-old watched funerals for two months — often confusing the two deaths and thinking the nation was mourning my loss.

We had spent the summer on the banks of the Angelina River as my dad helped to build Sam Rayburn Dam. I felt like the luckiest kid in the world that summer, picnicking every meal and swimming every day, even if my mom required me to wear a life jacket because of the deep, deep water.

My brother and I were like Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer, swinging the rope to the very middle of the muddy, muddy water where it was deep enough to float a tanker. I had cheese sandwich after cheese sandwich and went to sleep to the sound of owls and katydids. When he was home, my dad played checkers, dominoes and double solitaire with me. He never seemed to get tired of it and neither did I.


John Kennedy

Then we moved to the city of Jasper for school and he was dead by October at the age of 52 from “natural causes” of 1963 – meaning too much smoking of those unfiltered Camels, too much drinking of any kind of brown whisky and too much heart that caused him to be as angry as he was loving.

We moved from Jasper, back to my hometown of Port Neches where I was perhaps the only kid who didn’t have a two-parent family. At least it felt that way. I spent many years trying to blend in and not remind folks that I was different, but, of course, I was too different for it not to go unnoticed.

I don’t believe that experience made me any more obsessed than the rest of the nation 50 years later, but I’ve certainly read, visited and looked at anything to do with the Kennedy family since then. Most recently my family visited the Sixth Floor Museum (a structure I saw burned by protesters during the 1984 Republican National Convention when I was deputy city editor of the Dallas Times Herald) and then listening to the breathy tape recordings Jackie Kennedy made to the Warren Commission only two months after the assassination.

Marina Oswald Porter

Marina Oswald Porter

But I would be remiss not to mention that — only 20 years after the assassination — as a young reporter at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, I was given the assignment of interviewing Marina Oswald Porter. I was the only reporter she talked to that year, a lot because of my persistence, certainly not because she had anything profound to say at that time.

She was 39, 10 years older than me, and I considered her quite mature and experienced. Remember, this is before I’d lived anywhere but Beaumont and Arlington. Heck, she was from Russia. I was in pretty deep with that simple fact. Add to it that her husband had killed Camelot, and I couldn’t have been more unprepared for her commanding presence.

The highlights are this: She still thought her husband was a lone gunman at that time in 1983. And she reminded me that she was a mere 19-year-old when her husband assassinated the president.

I can still see her face today as she leaned forward, locked eyes so carefully with me and said, “Who were you at 19?” Of course, I’m not that person and am sometimes shocked at the person I was compared to the person I became. “I’m not that person and neither or you,” she said.

I still have directions to her house with the swimming pool in the front yard. I suspect she’s redecorated from the stories I’m reading these days. You are welcome to join me for a road trip someday.


2 Responses

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  1. Very interesting!

    Janet Wallace

    November 24, 2013 at 1:23 am

    • Much more interesting in retrospect, Janet, because, at the time, it felt like I didn’t get much of a story. Thanks for reading.


      November 24, 2013 at 6:22 am

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