As Big as the Kennedys

"They're just like everybody else," said the Secret Service agent.

In the winter of 1964, my family drove from Brewster, WA, to Sun Valley, ID, for Christmas.

Sun Valley was not our usual society; we lived on a farm five miles outside a town of 900, and my folks had made the reservation at the Challenger Inn five years earlier. We'd been saving money for the trip. When we arrived, on Christmas Eve, the hotel desk said they'd canceled our reservation because the Kennedy family had flown in and their big family would take our big family's place in the lodge.

We were assigned to a Quonset hut with concrete floors and shared bathrooms. This was more our style. But the Challenger Inn didn't cancel our restaurant reservations, so for about 10 days we ate in the same dining room as Jackie and her children, Bobby and Ethel and family, the Shrivers, and others I didn't then recognize from the news.

Of course, we looked at them. Jackie wore a huge silver fur of some kind, and, recently widowed, she seemed to glide sadly about in the evenings. I recall seeing her walking in the snow, all silver, looking down at the frozen sidewalks. The rest of the family was active and boisterous.

Secret Service agents would walk by our table and say, "Don't stare at them--they're just like anybody else." Of course, if they _had_ been like everyone else, they wouldn't have been given our reservations in the lodge.

But they were a remarkable family to watch. At day's end, Bobby stood beside the bus that took the skiers back to their hotels, and he'd pull the skis out of your hands and put them in the racks. Ski patrolmen piggybacked John-John and Caroline on their shoulders, and I remember watching Jackie, in her giant fur, take stem-christie lessons. Ethel visited with my mom in the local clinic, after mom broke her ankle the second day we were there. They talked an hour about big families.

A girl who worked in the lodge told me that she assisted the Kennedys in the evenings, and that Bobby was so exhausted he could only lie on bed and point at what he needed. "Socks," he'd say, and she would get them.

Bobby had recently climbed, with REI founder Jim Whittaker, a remote British Columbia mountain named after the assassinated president. My family went to a slide show in the resort's theater, and listened to Jim and Bobby talk about the ascent. Afterward, while the audience mingled, John-John and Caroline jumped around on a piano on the stage, and then John-John came running up the aisle toward where I was standing. I must have been slightly in his way, because he hauled off and slugged me in the stomach, as hard as a little boy could.

"Don't touch him! Don't touch him!" said the Secret Service men. I hadn't even thought of that; there were enough evidences of privilege. I was irked, but I felt kind of lucky.


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