Richard M. Berlin


HOW JFK KILLED MY FATHER

"Within recent medical times psychologic investigations have
reawakened interest in the psychological settings in which
illness develops. Reports in the literature have singled out
loss as a precipitating factor in a variety of disorders . . .
including ulcerative colitis."
                                               —
Arthur H. Schmale Jr., M.D.
                                                  in Psychosomatic Medicine


It was a time when men wore fedoras
banded on the crown, each band with a feather
tucked into a bow, and inside,
sweat bands carved from calfskins
with their sweet smell of animal and earth.
I remember the photo over my grandfather's desk,
a sepia-toned panorama shot
from his ninth-floor factory window,
Broadway below a surge of ticker tape
and hats tossed in the air for FDR,
hats pouring into the street, hats
waved in exaltation, hats
taking off like America.

After two war-time winters in Greenland
my father came home, hat in hand,
and bought the sweat band business,
made it grow like his young family,
presidents and hopefuls motorcading down Broadway:
Truman in a Scala wool Homburg,
Ike's bald head steamed in fur felt,
Stevenson's ideals lost in the glory
of a two-inch-brimmed Stetson.
But when thick-haired Kennedy
rode top down and bare-headed,
men all over America took off their hats
in salute, in praise and imitation,
flung them into the street forever.
Hat factories closed quiet as prayer books,
and loss lingered in my father's guts
like unswept garbage after a big parade.

Years later, yarmulke on my head,
they asked me to view him in his coffin.
I can still see his face shaved smooth as calfskin,
his dark suit, crisp white shirt and tie,
how I laughed that they dressed him for eternity
without a hat. And I can still hear
the old men murmur in the graveyard,
Kennedy did it to him,
fedoras held close to their leathered hearts.