In February I wrote about our childhood fascination with the two pages of presidential portraits in our grocery store encyclopedia.
The presidents were in the middle of volume fourteen, Pil-Raf, of the Golden Home and High School Encyclopedia, copyright 1961. (LCCN 61-13292). Mom began collecting the encyclopedia set for us about the time I began learning about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln in school. Of course, we pronounced it "Worshington". The Safeway grocery store ran this promotion about the same time our Conoco gas station began giving out pastel thermal coffee cups, tumblers, and pitchers.
I don't know what year I finally convinced Mom to get rid of the worn-out plastic tumblers, but it was probably in the late-Eighties. I never would let her get rid of the outdated encyclopedias because of the Great Assassination Conspiracy.
This was not a JFK assassination theory. It was the fascination of children trying to get a handle on cosmic order, destiny, and fate. The presidents who had been assassinated when we got the encyclopedia, Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, and Harding lined up in one column of the portraits. We did not know why Truman had not been assassinated, but thought it might be due to FDR's four terms.
After November, 1963, we struggled to understand how our president, John F. Kennedy, could have been killed by Lee Harvey Oswald. Unlike the rest of the nation, we felt something had gone horribly wrong because JFK's portrait was not in the "assassination column" of volume fourteen. We worked out a grim reasoning that 16-14=2. Lincoln was the sixteenth president. It was volume 14. That was why Kennedy was two pictures away from the column.
Once in awhile it helps me remember the sort of magical rationalism elementary students do. When the whole world seems out of order, blame it on the encyclopedia. In case you are wondering, Obama would be in the column with FDR and Woodrow Wilson.
I admit trying to sell my neighborhood playmates on my theory, but I was nine at the oldest. After that I didn't go into either politics or broadcasting. Now I wonder what grocery store encyclopedia Lou Dobbs, Fox News, and the other "birther" nuts have been studying. Same for Sarah Palin with her fictitious "Obama death panels". As Timothy Egan writes in today's New York Times, "quit makin' things up." None of their theories make as much sense as 16-14=2.
© 2009 Nancy L. Ruder