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Jewish World Review July 29, 1999 /16 Av 5759

Bob Greene

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'Can you imagine the
gift you gave me?' --
BEFORE THE DEATH OF JOHN F. KENNEDY JR. and all the commotion and controversy around it are swept away by the next big national news story, perhaps it is worth spending a moment or two on a lovely lesson -- a lovely reminder -- that came out of the sad series of events.

The reminder emerged from an unlikely place: the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace in Orange County, California.

In the archives of the Nixon library are two handwritten thank-you notes.

They were written after Jacqueline Kennedy and her children had dinner at the White House with Richard and Pat Nixon on Feb. 3, 1971.

Richard Nixon and John Kennedy were bitter political enemies -- Kennedy's victory over Nixon in 1960 had put him in the White House. By 1971 the official White House portraits of John and Jacqueline Kennedy were ready to be unveiled. Mrs. Kennedy and her children had not been back in the White House since just after the assassination in 1963.

Mrs. Kennedy reportedly was dreading it, and all the memories it would bring back. So to make it easier for the Kennedys, President and Mrs. Nixon invited them for a private dinner so that they could see the paintings. No press, no photos -- just the Nixons and the Kennedys.

In the Nixon archives are the thank-you notes that followed. The one from President Kennedy's son -- he was 10 -- is on brown note paper with the words "John Kennedy" embossed in black. There are a few misspellings that children tend to make, but the courtesy and the emotions are vivid:

Dear Mr. President, Dear Mrs. Nixon,

I can never thank you more for showing us the White House. I really liked everything about it. You were so nice to show us everything.

I don't think I could rember much about the White House but it was really nice seeing it all again. When I sat on Lincolns bed and wished for something my wish really came true. I wished that I would have good luck at school. . . .

I really really loved the dogs, they were so funny as soon as I came home my dogs kept on sniffing me. Maybe they rember the White House.

The food was the best I have ever had . . . I really liked seeing the Presidents office and the cabinet room alot. Thank you so much again.

Sincerely, John Kennedy

Jacqueline Kennedy's note was in dark blue pen on light blue stationery:

Dear Mr. President, Dear Mrs. Nixon --

You were so kind to us yesterday. Never have I seen such magnanimity and such tenderness.

Can you imagine the gift you gave me? To return to the White House privately with my little ones while they are still young enough to rediscover their childhood -- with you both as guides -- and with your daughters, such extraordinary young women.

What a tribute to have brought them up like that in the limelight. I pray I can do half the same with my Caroline. It was good to see her exposed to their example, and John to their charm!

You spoiled us beyond belief . . . I have never seen the White House look so perfect. There is no hidden corner of it that is not beautiful now.

It was moving, when we left, to see that great House illuminated, with the fountains playing.

The way you have hung the portraits does them great honor -- more than they deserve. They should not have been such trouble to you. . . .

It made me happy to hear the children bursting with reminiscences all the way home. Before John went to sleep, I could explain the photographs of Jack and him in his room, to him. "There you are with Daddy right where the President was describing the Great Seal; there, on the path where the President accompanied us to our car."

Your kindness made real memories of his shadowy ones.

Thank you with all my heart. A day I always dreaded turned out to be one of the most precious ones I have spent with my children.

May God bless you all.

Most gratefully,


What is the lesson in this -- both in the invitation extended by the Nixons, and in the notes sent by the Kennedys?

The lesson, in a cold and mean-spirited age, is to remind us of a quiet human quality that is seldom adequately praised or celebrated:


JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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