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Hail and Farewell

by Ron Van Sweringen

I’m old now, but I was young then, younger than I knew. I walked among human beings destined to become giants in history. Those who sought and for a time created the charmed world of Camelot.

We had a major snow storm that night in Washington, D.C. and it was biting cold when I looked out of my bedroom window the next morning. It was inauguration day for incoming President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. I had a ticket to witness this historic event, but I had less than roaring enthusiasm because of the snow-blanketed streets and icy wind. I could go back to bed, I thought, watching the frost form on the inside of my window pane. I’ll freeze my ass off out there.

Two hours later found me bound up head to toe in scarves, gloves, boots and two coats, trudging down Massachusetts Avenue toward the Capitol building. ‘Trudge’ is not an exaggeration, the snow was easily up to my knees.

I was in my early twenties and attending art school on the GI bill, as a veteran of the Korean War. I lived on Capitol Hill, about ten blocks from the inauguration site, on the east side of the Capitol building. In those days, access to all government buildings and grounds was easy; the word ’terrorist’ was not yet active in my vocabulary.

The green-painted wooden bleachers in the shadow of the Capitol were partially snow-covered and almost completely filled when I presented my ticket to the uniformed police officer, with my stiff blue fingers.

They arrived shortly after I was seated. The handsome young man in the black topcoat and the tall young woman at his side. Dark hair framing her pale skin, wrapped in a bright pink cocoon of designer hat and coat, she was set apart from ordinary women. I watched him swear his oath, she by his side.

An hour later, I trudged another eight blocks to Sixth and Pennsylvania Ave. N.W. Here stood a five-story yellow brick office building from the turn of the century. It was unused and somewhat dilapidated, belonging to the family of a friend of mine. Through this connection, I found myself on the third floor, leaning out of an open bay window, looking down on Pennsylvania Avenue and the parade in progress. Baked ham and turkey were provided along with beer and wine. A fire was going full tilt in the fireplace and good spirits filled the smiling faces around me.

Then a cheer went up from the thousands of people lining the sidewalk and someone shouted, "Here they come!"

The open limousine crawled by beneath us, carrying the now President and First Lady. A cheer went up from those of us in the open window as we raised our glasses.

That magic moment has never faded from my memory. The handsome young president and his beautiful wife looked up and pointed to us with a smile.

Remembering that snowy day in Camelot, the world and I will remain forever young.

Copyright © 2009 by Ron Van Sweringen

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