Jack Kennedy, the last wooden-floor president
When President John F. Kennedy died, the wooden floors started to disappear.
People still have wooden floors in their houses, of course, but so many of them in new houses are installed as a kind of a cozy wink. When the wrecking ball took the 19th-century cotton mill where my immigrant grandmother worked 14 hours a day in hellish heat and humidity, they sold the old wooden floors for flooring in new houses, where it will go well with the ecru walls and granite-topped kitchen counters.
When Kennedy was elected president, I lived with my parents in a rented two-story house with wooden floors. My father tended bar in a side-street tavern with nicked and burned pine floors, a place with 10 stools at the bar and a workingman’s bookie taking dog track bets in a back booth.
On my father’s day off, he’d take me downtown and we’d eat breakfast in a wooden-floored joint where my father’s breakfast consisted of three ingredients: a corn muffin, butter and a cup of black coffee.
One place was called “Sarge’s.” In the 1960s, that meant the owner had been a sergeant in World War II, where he had learned to manage a grill full of eggs.
There was also a corner store called “Mac’s,” the owner’s last name being “MacDermott,” a wooden-floored, single-story place with two wooden shelves of groceries, newspapers, milk and soda and a wood and glass case full of bright penny candy.
And my father’s big hands on the wooden counter, a counter grown dark from 70 or 80 years of hands putting down bills and picking up change or, more likely, putting down change and picking up smaller change. My small, red-sneakered feet stepped on the honey-colored wood floor and my father’s initial pinky ring winked in the sunlight as we stepped out of Mac’s and he handed me a package of white-squiggle-on-the-top cupcakes.
And the fiercely clean wooden floors of the Catholic grade school I attended, a school in a French-Canadian neighborhood, a school that taught half the day in French and half the day in English. The day Kennedy died, the mother superior came on the intercom and started to tell us in English and then began to cry and told us the rest of it in French. I was as shocked by the sound of mother superior crying as I was by the news that the president had been killed.
My father got a better job and we moved so he could keep it — away from the ice-bound poverty of our New England mill town to Midwestern suburbs where no one spoke English with an accent. We began to eat in McDonald’s and Pizza Hut. All through high school, I lived with my family in “garden apartments” with wall-to-wall green shag carpeting, off-white walls and white kitchen floor linoleum.
Jack Kennedy was in the ground and we were on the way up, away from wooden floors and toward a future of unknown footing.
To find out more about Marc Munroe Dion, visit http://www.creators.com.