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Looseleaf laureate: On idealism, cynicism and conspiracy theories

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By Terri Likens, Editor

It has taken decades to realize how much a series of bullets — fired half a century ago by a lone gunman, or maybe not — has impacted the life of one preschooler.

I was a 5-year-old in hand-me-down dungarees. The knees, judging by most of the pictures from the era, were worn bare.

I don’t remember ever seeing my mother cry before that day; perhaps that’s why my memory of  President John F. Kennedy’s murder is so vivid.

The weather must have been mild because I was outside, sitting on the curb near our house. My mother called me in.

I have since learned the hard way, at times like that, you desperately want your loved ones close.

The president was a handsome man whose eyes, when he smiled, reminded me of my father’s.

I try to hold onto that memory, but it is easier to pull up darker footage in the grainy black-and-white TV in my head.

The president lurching forward in the convertible; the president lurching back.

Those memories are probably from viewings of assassination film years later, but I clearly remember watching Kennedy’s funeral as it was aired.

Even now, the chain of events is troubling to process:
• Nov. 22, 1963, JFK killed in Dallas.
• April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King was killed in Memphis.
• Two months later, on June 5, 1968, U.S. Sen. Robert Kennedy — JFK’s brother and a presidential hopeful himself — was assassinated in Los Angeles.

Their lives and causes were closely intertwined, as those of that era will recall.

While I generally consider myself a reasonable person, I will admit that I count myself among those who believe there is more to these assassinations than powerful people wish us to believe. I don’t subscribe to any one conspiracy theory, nor do I spend much time studying them.

I know I am a more cynical person because of these events.

I also realize that I am also an idealist, thanks in large part, to these three men.

They were imperfect. That has been made clear since their deaths.

But all three were able to impart something bigger than themselves.

It is something that continues to ring out long beyond the echoes of the gunfire that silenced them.