Yesterday when I was in Padova I went to my usual bar where they have wifi and when I walked in I noticed that the owner had put up black and white photos of past historical events. Almost in the center was a photo of John Kennedy shaking the hand of Nikita Krushchev, and I had to tell the owner that my hand had also shook the hand of John Kennedy. I got a double take on that one and he asked me to explain, which I did in my elemental Italian.
When I was 9 years old John Kennedy was making a tour of the United States before declaring his candidacy for President. This was in 1958 and in June he made a stop at the airport of Colorado Springs where my family lived. My father knew of the Kennedy family because he had been stationed in New England after WWII, and he told me that we had to go to the airport and see Kennedy.
We watched the plane land and taxi up to the terminal. They used a moveable staircase such is now used for budget flights here in Europe, and soon the door opened and men in suits deplaned. John Kennedy stepped out of the plane and waved to the small crowd. I remember that it was less than a hundred people, more like 50. My father told me to go up and get a closer look, so I pushed myself through the reporters and photographers and was soon face to face with Kennedy. He was talking to everyone, and I just stood there watching but not having a political clue as to just what I was viewing. BTW I was the only kid there, completely surrounded by adults.
Kennedy looked down at me and said, “Who are you?” I told him my name, and told him that my father had brought me to meet him. He was looking over the crowd, probably wondering what bigshot had brought his kid. I extended my hand and said I was glad to meet him and he shook my hand. He said, “Who is your father?” I pointed through the crowd at my father standing in the back. Kennedy said,” What does he do?” I proudly told him that my father was a plumber. A smile grew on Kennedy’s face and he shook my hand a second time. I remember he said something like, “I am glad you came out.” I was then pushed by the crowd as they moved away from the plane and I went back to tell my father what happened.
That was my big moment in history. Well, not the only one, thank goodness. But it was one that I think of often and when I saw that photo of Kruschev and Kennedy I remember how Kennedy managed to remove the nuclear missiles that the Soviet Union had sent to Cuba. Of course I remember how my entire high school was informed over the intercom of the assassination of Kennedy.
During my youth, there were times that I acted and thought like most teenagers, thinking my parents needed a ‘second education’, etc. Later I realized how wrong I was, how my father the plumber was so aware of history. I was the only kid who got to shake Kennedy’s hand that day. Bravo, Dad!