I was sitting in the tree with my sister and next door neighbor Jeff. I must have been about 5. I blurted out, "LBJ is an SOB!" I don't have a clue where I had heard that and although I remember saying it, I don't remember whether I had a clue about what either of the acronyms meant. It did have a certain sound to it, though.
My sister jumped out of the tree and into the house, reporting my disrespect to mom. It was the only time that I ever remember getting my mouth washed out with soap. "You do not talk about the president that way," my mother scolded. (And mom and dad have not, to my knowledge, ever voted for Democrats.) I soon realized that talk about politics carried a certain weight one couldn't get talking about cars or careers.
I was 7 when Robert Kennedy came to our little town of Yuba City to campaign for the California primary. I went down to watch him with dad and my sister. I had never seen such a crowd in our little town. After, fascinated by him, I broke away from dad in this big crowd and weaved through the crowd to see him up close.
RFK was in the back seat of a big, black convertible. He was leaning out into the crowd to shake hands while assistants held him, keeping him from being pulled into the mob. I was shocked that people were literally trying to pull off his cuff links, pulling at his sleeves, wanting a souvenir of the man. I pushed through, using my small size to get close. I reached up to shake hands and for a moment, he stopped, looked at me - the kid - made a wry smile, touched my hand briefly, and then rode through, continuing to touch and shake hands as the car drove off, his sleeves in tatters.
My dad came up to me, yelling, "Where were you?" When I found Kennedy, I lost my dad. When I told him what I had done - not having thought to explain my impulse in advance - he looked mollified.
Days later, RFK won the California primary, gave an acceptance speech, and was shot and killed. That was 40 years ago.
How could the kid who was me not grow up to find politics fascinating?