Issue 7 - Fall 2013
  • Girls at slumber parties have séances. Girls at slumber parties in the early 1970s had séances to raise the spirit of John F. Kennedy.

    In the unfinished basement of our duplex rambler, a few girls and I sat in a circle, holding hands. A space heater blared red stripes and rumbled. Our sleeping bags were spread across mattresses on the floor, and we perched on the edges of the mattresses in flannel pajamas, our stockinged feet on a frayed square of green carpet.

    Who among us brought the séance lore? Not me. But we all went along, closing our eyes and holding the sweaty fingers of our neighbors. The space heater made the basement smell like singed hair. Upstairs, my mother’s footsteps crossed the floor.

    Laura whispered: “John. John.” A crackle from the space heater.

    Tina, louder: “John?”

    Outside, Wisconsin snow filled the window wells. I peeked at the hulking furnace. The fingers in my right hand twitched. It would be my fault if he didn’t come.

  • “John!” Laura said, as if he were standing behind the furnace.

    Tina breathed, “John.”

    Then Cathy took it up, and I joined my reedy voice to theirs, opening my mouth around the syllable. We called out to him, to John, John, John.

    What did I know of John F. Kennedy? Only that he was the handsome president, cruelly shot. The assassination was only ten years behind us but it might as well have been in the Middle Ages for all the reality it had; there was no Internet to spread rumors so they moved through the walls of our narrow school: Did you know that Abraham Lincoln was killed in the Ford Theater? And did you realize Kennedy was riding in a Lincoln when he was killed? And that it was made by Ford?


    Laura was the one who opened her eyes in time to see him. Laura was always the one. She shrieked. My eyes shot open to see her point a trembling finger at the small, high window by the  ............

  • furnace. “I saw him! His eyes! He was looking in the window.”

    “Did you really see him?” Tina asked. The red light of the space heater flicked across her skin.

    “His eyes. Those were definitely his eyes.”

    We looked over our shoulders. Even the puzzles and games heaped on the metal shelves looked sinister. I asked Laura if I should turn on the lights. She shrugged, “He’s not coming back again.”

    I pulled the string of the overhead bulb. We blinked. Shadows retreated behind the furnace.

    Laura opened my orange and white plastic record player and set the arm on the 45 record she’d brought. “Anybody here seen my old friend Abraham?"

    By the time the singer was asking if we’d seen his good friend John, tears were streaming down our cheeks. The good died young, and weren’t we good?

  • But I was crying for more than my young self; I had absorbed my parents' feelings. My tears were vicarious tears; I wanted to feel a pain as deep as theirs. What the séances called forth was not an assassinated president—it was an inherited sorrow.

    On one hot August day, my father waved goodbye to my mother and a barely two-month-old me and drove to Washington, D.C., to join the 300,000 people who’d already arrived to hear Martin Luther King, Jr., give the speech that would later become the most famous in U.S. history.

    A couple of weeks later, we went to Alabama to visit my aunt and uncle. In Birmingham, we stopped for lunch at a diner where the radio broadcast the story of a bombing of a Baptist church right there in Birmingham, just a handful of hours before. The bomb had killed four black Sunday school girls. My dad looked out the window at the car with out-of-state plates. He looked at himself and his wife and baby. Southern whites could be suspicious of whites from out of state, assuming they were there to agitate for civil rights. “We’re not eating here,” he said. He hustled my mom and me out the diner and back into the car, and we were on the  ............

  • road, hungry and sweating.

    When I hear these stories, I feel nostalgic, not for a time I knew, but for a time I didn't. Growing up, I often felt that I had missed out on everything exciting and important. My earliest hippie memory is in Seattle’s Volunteer Park; a young woman paints a butterfly on my arm while my parents watch from a picnic blanket. I look up at the woman’s beatific smile, her silky hair, and then I look down, craning to see the pink and purple butterfly near my small-pox vaccination scar. The young woman takes my hand and leads me to the dancing circle. By the time I was her age, the hippies were gone from Volunteer Park.

    I first heard the term “Generation Jones” when Barack Obama was running for president in 2008. Coined by sociologist Jonathan Pontell, it refers to those of us born between the mid-1950s and mid-1960s. He says that because we were born into idealism but grew up in the cynical 1970s, we’re jonesing for something more, but we’re not sure what it is.

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