Jackie, We Hardly Knew Ye

I had a dream about Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis the other night.

I was manning a table at a charity bazaar when she approached.  Can’t remember what I had ‘on offer,’ but I remember a display of doll-size Bentwood rockers, with elaborate wicker scrollwork on the sides.

Since I was pretty sure she had already given a donation in support of the charity–and probably attended the bazaar on the observance of good form alone–I thought she was entitled to take whatever she liked, and any necessity to pay was superfluous.

She looked at the miniature Bentwood rockers, and I told her to take one.  She hesitated a moment, and then unfastened the clasp on her handbag and quickly dropped a Bentwood rocker into it.  I judged at that point that I might be inhibiting her shopping experience, and so I made myself scarce.

A little while later she came over to where I was, and she was modelling some lovely gold-finish bracelets and a necklace.  She held her arms out with a flourish for my admiration and comment.  I said that they looked lovely, and appeared  quite authentic–not being too brassy-looking in the usual way of costume jewellery.

She gave me a cheque for $209-plus-change (I can’t remember the exact amount), and that’s all I remember of my dream.

I have no idea how miniature Bentwood rockers came to feature in my dream.  As for Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, there could be a variety of reasons for that, I suppose…dusting my bookshelf and noting the location of the Pierre Salinger interview CDs (couldn’t remember where I’d put them), or watching a documentary about JFK Jr. and Carolyn Bessette on television recently.  Or was it perhaps that I’d rooted-out my Camrose Jacqueline Kennedy reproduction jewellery to wear during the festive season just past?

I also have a book entitled, “Cooking for Madam, Recipes and Reminiscences from the Home of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis” (1998) by Marta Sgubin (and Nancy Nicholas).  Marta was the family cook in the post-presidential years, and apparently her book was encouraged and endorsed by Caroline  and John Kennedy Jr.  I was very interested in what food was served in the household–and how Jacqueline maintained her weight so successfully!  (She loved chocolate cake?  Really?  Hmmm…perhaps as a table decoration.)

thin Jacqueline

Am I a fan of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis?  To a degree, I suppose.  I admire her style, and the way she managed her public persona.  But I’m not a devotee.  If I could admire her unreservedly, I’d probably never give her another thought.  (Sad to say, but  I never think about Mother Teresa–there are no questions in my mind about her.)  I thought that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was very wise to  guard her privacy as much as possible, and try to give her children as normal an upbringing as possible.

Some might say that she avoided publicity in order to attract people through her mystique.  At least one cannot look at her and say that she was professionally packaged for sale to the celebrity-market consumer.  She apparently gave them nothing, and what would be the benefit to her if she did?  Granted that there were third-party benefits:  newspapers, magazines and television programs attracted consumers when they featured articles or segments about her–due to her history and her glamour and her aloofness.  And perhaps in some sense she (and they) understood the laws of supply and demand.   If a commodity is rare, it is intrinsically more valuable.

Then there are her marriages…JFK was an exceptional man from all appearances, who appeared to handle power judiciously.  But evidently he was a philanderer, being unfaithful to her and their marriage with a number of women.

Let’s compare Jackie’s marital experiences with Princess Diana’s for a moment (Diana is another complex topic).   Diana collaborated with a writer in producing a book about her husband’s infidelity with another woman.  Just ONE other woman.   The fact that it was only one other woman doesn’t make Diana’s circumstances any better, but one of the two betrayed wives laid out her problems for the public, and one didn’t.

I’m sorry in both cases that they were disappointed in their husbands, but I have to say that Jacqueline Kennedy was the wiser one for not inviting the public to judge or to comment on her marriage.  I’ve read somewhere that Jacqueline’s silence on the topic of her husband’s infidelity was bought with her father-in-law’s money.  Seems unlikely.  Just speculation and gossip–who could ever know?

Maybe she didn’t care, anyway.  Perhaps she really had no deep feelings that could be outraged by her marriage partner’s betrayal.  I’ve read it somewhere that she might have been impervious to emotional hurt in this way, having experienced the results of her father’s infidelity and her parents’ failed marriage.  So she may have been desensitized.  Was it that…or did she merely have a sense that she would not wear martyrdom well?  It simply wasn’t done, and especially for someone of her class in society.

What a background and history she possessed…such glamour and elegance, good taste and style.  She had all the privileges of an upper-class American upbringing, but spiced (or spoiled?) by a dashing father, “Black Jack” Bouvier, who was a source of drama and insecurity in her life.  Jacqueline’s stepfather, Hugh Auchincloss, had to walk her down the aisle at her wedding when her father was reportedly in ‘no fit state’ to perform his father-of-the-bride duties.  But there’s no mistaking where Jacqueline got her striking good looks…


Jacqueline, as we know, married an American politician who became the first Irish-Catholic president, and the youngest president in the history of the United States, at least to that point in time.  They created the new ‘Camelot’–a brief, shining moment in time when younger people led the country and encouraged the arts to flourish:  a dîner français after the stodge of the Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower years.

Photo of Jackie Kennedy

And there followed his tragic, public murder and her dramatic, heart-rending part in the events that followed.

Johnson oath after assassination

But consider that the funeral was orchestrated by her (according to reports), and it became a national event of great future historical importance.  How did she muster the strength of mind and character to put her imprint on a national event that was such a huge personal tragedy?  Think of the imagery from the funeral:   little John Jr.’s salute as his father’s coffin is carried by, and later the black-veiled widow walking with the late president’s brothers, Robert and Ted Kennedy, to St. Matthew’s Cathedral.  This was the first time that a first lady walked in her husband’s funeral procession.  Very dramatic and memorable–she seemed to epitomize the strength and endurance of American womanhood.

Jacqueline in JFK funeral

Later in her life there was her marriage to the Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, and all the public opinion against that, and all the subsequent trouble–conflict with his children, and so on.

Why did she marry Onassis?  Such an unlikely pairing, on the surface of it.  After Bobby Kennedy’s assassination it was popularly reported that she said something to the effect that if ‘they’ are killing Kennedys, her children would be prime targets.  I don’t believe that she said anything of the kind.  Why would she imagine ‘they’ wanted to kill her children?  I can more easily believe that she was simply attracted to Onassis’s wealth, power and personality.  Of course, she no doubt  knew that there would be a public outcry from Americans who would have great difficulty letting go of their idealized image of her–the assassinated President’s tragic widow–and accepting her marriage to a wealthy Greek.

IF she did say that she thought her children were in danger after Bobby Kennedy’s assassination, possibly she thought that saying so might provide an acceptable explanation for marrying Onassis–essentially trading on public sympathy in connection with the assassinations to buy acceptance for her decision to marry Onassis.  If anyone were foolish enough to believe that the Kennedy children were in danger from assassins, they would likely be capable of believing that this would be the reason for her marriage to Onassis.

And then at her death we read the synopsis of her life in the People Magazine article of June 6, 1994.

Among other things, we are asked to believe that she was a shopaholic who once bought 200 pairs of shoes in a single foray, running up a tab of $60,000.   Consider for a moment that $60,000 in 1973-ish (approximately the time this event might have taken place, since Onassis died in 1975, and they were separated prior to that) is equivalent to around $320,000 today.  This is a time before Manolo Blahnik became popular, as well.  I cannot imagine the sort of wild-eyed, frenzied, frothing-at the-mouth shopper who might be able to buy TWO HUNDRED pairs of shoes in a single shopping trip.  And at that cost?  If I could imagine this poor, demented creature, I’m quite sure that she would in no way resemble Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.  I suppose she never said that she didn’t buy those shoes–but why would she?

It might be something similar to the royal family in Britain not taking the time to deny every outlandish accusation levelled at them in the popular press.  Once you start that, you can never stop.

But ultimately we cannot know anything for sure.  Her children seemed to be level-headed people, for as much as they have shown themselves in public (prior to John Jr.’s tragic death).  And I was very impressed with Caroline in her explanation of the early release of the 8.5 hours of the Salinger interviews of her mother (it was intended to remain ‘sealed’ for a much longer period of time, but Caroline authorized the release to coincide with the 50th Anniversary of her father’s inauguration as President of the United States.)

I liked Jacqueline Kennedy in the Salinger interviews, which were done only four months after the assassination.  She was so candid and open, and natural.  What follows is a quote from the transcript of the interview, this being a comment on the events shortly after Nixon conceded to Kennedy in the presidential election.   She said:

“And then–oh, then I had to see the press in Ethel’s house–all those women saying, “What kind of First Lady will you be?”  Those horrible women.  And then we all had our pictures taken together in the big house.  Then we were all going to go down to the Armory and Mr. Kennedy didn’t want to come.  So sweet, he always tried to stay in the background.  I remember just grabbing him and saying, “You have to come now.”  He was so sweet.  And we all went down to the Armory.”

I love it that she said the press (women for the most part, I suppose) were ‘horrible.’  That’s an honest assessment!  And saying that her father-in-law was ‘so sweet.’  I have to believe that that was an honest remark as well, because it was something he would never hear.  There cannot have been any self-interest behind it.  We all make these assessments of one another (hard for some to admit), and I find it so refreshing that she said exactly what she thought, and felt.

I believe that, ultimately, the best indicator of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis’s character might be the type of people John Jr. and Caroline became as adults.  They appeared to be her primary focus, and she did pretty well there, I believe.

I’ve read somewhere that Jacqueline was very much opposed to her son’s enthusiasm for piloting small airplanes.  After her passing, he supposedly devoted more time to this hobby, and of course it lead to the tragic accident in the summer of 1999.

Was Jacqueline prescient, or is the story of her concerns about John’s airplane hobby apocryphal?

Just something else that we can’t know for sure.

Jackie and John Jr



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