Dear Mrs. Kennedy | Overstuffed Overstuffed

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Dear Mrs. Kennedy

 I am not much of a history buff.  I have decided that this is due to the incredibly boring manner in which the history books I studied in school were written.  I might also lay blame on less-than-stellar history teachers, too.  Suffice it to say, I usually don't enjoy reading history books, but every once in a while, one comes along that makes history come alive and draws me right in.

Dear Mrs. Kennedy by Jay Mulvaney and Paul De Angelis was one of those books for me.  It is not just a collection of letters written to Jacqueline Kennedy upon the death of her husband, though that is what the book centers around.  It is a time capsule of feelings, frozen in its pages and ready to be felt again by the reader.  I was bawling by the end of the first chapter as I realized what it must have been like for The First Lady and how amazingly she dealt with the entire ordeal.  The letters evoked all sorts of emotion in me, and most of them made me cry.

If you ask anyone who was old enough to remember the Kennedy Assassination, they will most certainly remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the news.  Some of the letters even addressed this aspect of the tragedy, and one in particular really painted a poignant picture.  

A letter from a Mrs. Charles Casteen from Hyattsville, MD dated November 27, 1963 read:

Dearest folks:
     This has been a long, sad weekend.  The silent crowds are gone, the muffled drums are stilled, and the wheels of government begin to grind again...
     I think everyone, as long as he lives, will have indelibly stamped upon his memory the exact time and place he happened to be when the news came.  I happened to be, of all places, in the supermarket.  The loudspeaker was blaring the word that the president had been shot as I walked in the door.  Everyone was standing as if frozen to the spot, disbelief and horror on their faces.  After a few minutes, I had the presence of mind to get a basket and move along the aisles...As the bulletins came in, people gathered in little knots--strangers, trying to get comfort from each other.  Finally, there was a long pause, and the announcer began--"Ladies and gentleman," and here his voice broke, "The President is dead."  There was a gasp, then dead silence.  I remember seeing a boy unpacking boxes of cereal, put his head down on an unopened box and weep quietly, his shoulders shaking.  Another man, grey-haired and well-dressed, standing at teh end of the aisle, his head in his hands, his elbows resting on a stack of Pepsi cartons standing there--unmoved.  Ten minutes later he was still standing there.  No one talked...the horror was too great.  Al of a sudden I had the urge to get out of there--it seemed incongruous, almost disrespectful, to be there amid the brightness and color, the gay displays....At the checkout counter, the clerk worked mechanically, only his stricken pale face betraying his feelings.
     At home, we sat, stunned and transfixed in front of the television...I think we were waiting for somebody to step in and say it wasn't true, that we were just dreaming.  But they never did...
                                                                                                            Much love,

Perhaps that letter was particularly touching to me because it was eerily reminiscent of my own experience and feelings on 9-11, which is, of course, the only thing in my life that I can relate to the death of JFK.  No matter how you look at it, his assassination rocked the country (and the world) and is something that people will always remember, as well they should.

This is an amazing book, and even if you don't always love history, I think you'll really enjoy it.  I have one copy of the book to give away (US/Canada only), so if you'd like a chance at winning it leave me a comment and tell me where you were when President Kennedy was shot.  Obviously, many of my readers will not have been born yet, and if that is the case, you can tell me about another event (9-11, Princess Diana's death, etc.) that you will always remember.

I will announce the winner on Thursday, November 18.

Thank you to TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to review this book.


Today on my review blog:


  1. 9-11

    I was getting read to go help at my youngest school. I find it hard to describe my feelings at the time, other than disbelief. As I walked into the school I saw that they had a TV in the hallway for all to keep track of what was going on. In the classroom we were faced with many children knowing that something was going on but unable to understand or grasp the gravity of the situation. A day I will never forget.

  2. I was born in 1975...

    but I remember vividly where I was on 9-11...

    I was actually at home with my husband and 2 children. We had just moved back to Logan few weeks before. We had the news on just because and saw the live footage of what we thought was just a freak accident... a plane had crashed into one of the towers... but then, I will NEVER forget the feeling of dread and fear when I saw the second plane come... this was NO ACCIDENT! I remember crying out and grabbing my family. Not wanting to watch, not able to look away.... as the events of the day unfolded... the town was very similar to the letter in your post. Everyone seemed frozen in shock and gathered together in small groups whispering to one another. We had to go to the post office that day for some reason and when I was at the counter, I was given a slip of paper that read something like, "Because of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon today, the U.S. post office will not be able to ensure the timing of the delivery of your mail until further notice. 09/11/01" It was there in writing. It really happened! I still have that paper.

  3. on 9-11.

    I was in fifth grade. I had just walked into the classroom and had a seat at my desk in the corner of the room. My teacher was acting very estranged and zoned out, yet still alive enough to not worry those of that didn't know. The announcements came on and without any knowledge of the tragic events still i noticed to took 2 moments of silence instead of just one. Being the quistive children we were we all asked my teacher why. I remember her breaking down and telling us what was going on. I remember sitting at my desk crying my eyes out, thinking that maybe just maybe there would be a war and my cousin Chance would be leaving to go serve. Or perhaps there would be a draft and my whole family, my brother, my dad, my uncles, everyone would have to go. I remember the rest of the day was solemn and quiet, getting off the bus my dad greeting me with tears in his eyes, held me tight for the rest of the night as the events unfolded again and again on the tv. I will never, ever forget that day. Where i was, or who i was with. I will never forget the aftermath of that day and the war we faced. I will never take my life, my family, my friends for granted. In fact, today being Veterans Day, I have never been more proud to know as many soldiers as i do/did. Thank you for this post, it surely did hit a special spot in my heart. I LOVE history and reading. This looks like a truly wonderful book.

    Take Care.

  4. You would have loved my history classes...history is so much more exciting that fiction!

    As for the Kennedy assisination, that was before my time. However I was at home waking up right about the time 9/11 started to happen. It was a long day. I also remember when Princess Di was killed. I had just moved to BYU and my friend and I just sat in our apt crying because we couldn't believe it. I remembered watching her wedding when I was a little girl and just falling in love with her. I still love her.

    But, this Jackie Kennedy book looks very interesting, I'll put it on my list. :)

  5. Thanks for the opportunity Lara. It sounds like a very moving book.

    I was at work (a real estate office) in Logan when I heard the news. Only a few of us were in the office yet, but one of them had the radio on and was listening to the news. Then I had to go to class at USU, and there were more reports. One of my classes ended up being canceled because of it. It was such a strange thing. I didn't know what to think or how to feel.

  6. I also thought of 9-11.

    And then I thought, if that happened NOW to Pres. Obama or a few years ago to Pres. Bush, would the Nation react the way the writer describes at the death of Kennedy? I don't think we would. I think MANY would celebrate the death of either man, President or not. 9-11 was an attack from external forces against us ALL.

    Our Nation is now so divided over politics I have to wonder if it would have the same impact now? Scary thought.

  7. I will NEVER forget where I was, what I was doing, and my feelings on 9/11. Neither will my children. We talk about it often. We MAKE ourselves remember.

    I think Cynthia's comment is dead on too.....the reaction of the country now if that were to happen would be much different.

  8. It was my freshman year in college on 9-11. I remember I went to my first class and no one said anything, it was early.

    But my second class of the day, which started at 9:30 mtn time, the professor walked in and said "I'm sure you all know why. Class in canceled."

    Thanks for the book review!

  9. I was at work on 9/11. I turned the little radio on and heard what had happened. I was transfixed and couldn't tear my eyes away from my little radio.

    That afternoon I taught 7 piano students. It was hard knowing what to say because each child wanted to talk about it. My husband served his mission in NYC so it was especially frightening for him.

  10. Sounds like a good book. My mom was pregnant with me when Kennedy was killed, so I always feel an historic connection at the least.

  11. The Challenger Accident.
    We were watching the lift-off on a small TV in my sixth grade class. My teacher at the time had applied but my favorite teacher (Mrs. Balderamma - Spanish) had actually made the semi-finals of selection. One second it was there, and the next gone. I felt happy and guilty that I was happy it wasn't my favorite teacher up there.
    I was dropping off my baby girl at my mom's house because she was taking care of her while I worked. There were the towers, one with smoke trailing out of it. We were thinking it was just some inexperienced pilot who made a wrong turn or lost control. I remember with horror the sight of the second plane hitting the towers and then the collapse. It all seemed to happen so quickly and yet so slowly at the same time. I went to work and we kept the radio on. I remember thinking "what was happening to our world" when reports of planes going down and striking the pentagon kept coming on. The bank was errily quiet, no one came in. I was worried because I couldn't get in touch with my Army husband whom I had left because of abuse. I still loved him and I was worried because no calls were reaching his base. There was no information anywhere. It almost made me change my mind about leaving him. My entire world and how I felt about it changed.

  12. I was 11 months old. I was having my portrait taken. A portrait I still have, and always associate with the assassination, because my mother told me the story over and over and over again.

    Ah, I suffered a dearth of stellar history teachers as well, and my background knowledge in history is sadly deficient. There is hope though -- my daughter has had two outstanding history teachers at key points in her educational journey and LOVES history! Yay!

  13. On September 11 I was in our little apartment standing and rocking my four-day-old baby when we turned on CNN and saw that an airplane had crashed into one of the towers. How strange that was! How weird. Why? How did you miss those (or rather not miss them)? We watched it all unfold and I can clearly remember all the thoughts and questions that came into my mind. Talk about tension. Shallow breathing, knots in both stomach and throat. Over the course of that hour I feared so greatly for my country and was both grateful (because I thought it was unsafe) and sorrowful that I was so far away at such a time.

  14. Fantastic review! I'm sad you didn't have better history teachers. My daughter has a teacher this year in 8th grade that is really making it come alive for her, and I'm so grateful for that.

    Thank you so much for being on the tour.

  15. I was not alive when President Kennedy was shot. But, when the towers fell, I was at the beginning of my eightth day of my teaching career.

  16. My mom has told me stories of where she was when JFK was assassinated—it left a huge mark on her, especially since she was a child at the time. I'm definitely adding the book to my to-read list; Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was a fascinating person.

  17. I'm Paul De Angelis, co-author of DEAR MRS. KENNEDY, and I want to register a gentle protest about the idea that the country as a whole would not react with unified horror if President G.W. Bush had been or President Obama were to be assassinated . . . In fact some of the vitriol being spilled about the Kennedys in the days before November 22, especially among many white folk in southern states who felt threatened by the rising tide of the Civil Rights Movement and the Kennedy Brothers' support for it, was just as vicious as anything you'll hear today. But it faded away completely the afternoon of November 22 . . . for awhile.