Wednesday, December 14, 2005

A Mammoth Thanksgiving, Part II: The Kennedy Room

Wonker promised to get back to HazZzmat fans with more on the excellent vacation he and Mrs. Wonker took to the cave country of Kentucky late last month.

As you remember from our last episode, we'd arrived in not-quite-so-scenic Ashland, KY, on the way to the caves and found the town interesting if paradoxical, a washed out relic of rustbelt days, south-of-Ohio style, which nonetheless possessed some of its faded glory still, as personified in a series of magnificently restored Victorian mansions.

Whilst in Ashland's environs, we stayed in a charming if slightly eccentric B&B slightly south of town called the "President's House," so named because its last owner or so has avidly collected original Presidential memorabilia to the extent where each room is named after a President and contains many of these appropriate historical artifacts.

Typical of this area, we'd suspect, proclivities tend to be Democratic, alas, and we stayed in the charming "Kennedy Room" on the main floor. (The "Carter Room" is upstairs.) From signed proclamations to vintage copies of LIFE magazine featuring the ubiquitous Jackie on the cover, the room was a sort of late 1950s-early 1960s time warp, bringing back bittersweet memories of an Ohio childhood and the first shattering experiences of adulthood. Wonker recalls when the good nuns at his Catholic grade school lined up all the kids outside to greet then-candidate Jack Kennedy as his motorcade, headed from Cleveland to Lorain, passed by the school on the main thoroughfare. This was back in the soon-to-be-no-more open top days when candidates motored from event to event seated in the back of open convertibles, which allowed them to rise up and seat themselves on the "boot" to wave to their adoring fans.

And, candidly, Jack was a looker, no doubt. TV never did him justice. At 43 or so, he looked, at a slight distance, as if he were 10 years younger. And to this day, I remain a bit surprised that his ample head of hair, which always appeared brown in color photos, actually radiated a surprising background of red. Kennedy's motorcade slowed, he climbed up, smiled broadly, and waved to the youthful crowd. Girls swooned, even churlish guys were impressed, and we all went back to class feeling pretty good about this guy.

For, as perhaps few remember now, Jack was attempting to surmount the same taboo that defeated Al Smith much earlier in the century--his Catholicism. Then as now, individuals, particularly hardline Protestants, or, worse, the hardcore atheist left, still clung to the Know-Nothing beliefs of the 19th century that regarded, among other things, Catholics as nothing more than mindless papists who were crude to boot, distinctly not representative of America, and thus, entirely unfit to run for President let alone win an election.

Jack Kennedy shattered the myth for once and for all, and it is hard today to convince anyone of the chest-bursting pride that Catholics all over the country felt when he won election. It was as if on that election day, 1960, that we Catholics had finally achieved full citizenship in this country. Blacks are not the only group of citizens who've been discriminated against in this country, although what happened to them is by far the greatest blot on the early history of the US. But Catholics, too, largely derived from Irish and Italian waves of emigration in the 19th and early 20th centuries, have long experienced a subtler kind of discrimination that still persists today in pockets of the country, as do persistent pockets of racial discrimination.

The main thing is, though, that Protestant fundamentalists have long since--for the most part--recognized that most Catholics are inherently law abiding and conservatives, save for a few rabid liberation theologians and there followers here and there. And thus, fundamentalists and Catholics have joined in a common cause to restore a moral tone to a relativist universe.

However, Catholics continue to be, quite literally, persecuted for their beliefs, as evidenced by the (thankfully successful) Senate hearings for now Chief Justice Roberts, and the ongoing charade of "fairness" playing out with prospective Justice Alito, whom, we hope, will likewise be elevated to the Nation's highest court. Both judges, of course, being Catholics--Alito being the worst one since he's also Italian like Justice Scalia--have dared to question the central sacrament of the Church of the Left--abortion--which simply confirms today's Know-Nothings in their anti-Catholic righteousness.

But this is the discrimination that's condoned by the press, and so it isn't discrimination at all. The Roman Catholic clergy, currently fatally corrupt in its higher reaches, didn't help any with its silent condoning of pederasty. But even without this, Catholics remain a severely put upon class.

So, as we've mentioned, it was nice to think again on those thrilling days of yesteryear when one of our own actually broke the anti-Catholic barrier to become President. Of course he's been disgraced posthumously, and shown in retrospect to have had the sexual morals of a feral tomcat. But 1960 was a magic moment, and one whose memory still feels right, at least in that respect.

Needless to say, we've been diverted once again in our journey, so why don't we get our Saturn VUE back on the road, onto the Blue Grass Parkway (now being re-named for some politician, alive or posthumous, who, no doubt, stole enough money from the taxpayers to build it and take credit for their work), heading west to Park City, the somewhat shabby entryway to what is billed as the World's Longest Cave.

More anon.

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